The onset of spring is usually a prompt for many people to give their homes a thorough clean. Spring cleaning is also something that CIOs could benefit from doing; by clearing away or cleansing existing activities, tasks or initiatives CIOs will ensure that they and the IT function stay focused on the areas that really add value to the business.
So, to help get the CIO’s spring cleaning started, here is a list of five areas that are likely to benefit from being cleansed:
1. Projects and changes
IT departments always seem to have a long list of projects and changes at various stages of the lifecycle from requested and initiated, through to live, on-hold and closed. It is also quite likely that the resources and investment required to deliver the complete portfolio exceeds the capacity of the IT function and the wider organisation. Project and change portfolios can get cluttered over time with new requests being added frequently and older requests not being reviewed or rationalised on a regular basis, if at all.
The starting point for spring cleaning the project and change portfolio is to look for items that have been at either the requested or on-hold states for some time, say three months or more. If the business has been able to operate without such a change or project for more than three months then does it really need to happen at all? Perhaps a workaround has been developed that means the change is no longer required or the business process or priorities have changed to make the change irrelevant.
CIOs should also review the technology roadmap to see whether a planned upgrade or a new system will negate the need for a number of smaller project and change requests. And finally, CIOs should look for projects or changes that have a long tail, i.e. projects where the majority of benefits have been delivered but which are still live and continue to consume resources. Where possible such projects should be closed as quickly as is practical and the resources reallocated to new initiatives that will generate more significant benefits.
Business needs and expectations change over time and the IT function’s services have to evolve to ensure they continue to meet these demands. An annual review of IT’s services will help identify any gaps between the needs and expectations of the rest of the business and the capability of the IT function. If services are not reviewed on a regular basis then any gaps between IT and the rest of the business are likely to grow and may be filled by shadow IT activity and by other functions bypassing the IT department to deal directly with IT vendors that provide services that do meet their needs.
As with the project and change portfolio, the IT vendor list also has a tendency to grow over time. The vendor market is constantly changing; new technologies, start-ups and consolidation are all affecting the services and capabilities of IT suppliers, and new offerings and solutions are launched on a regular basis. At the same time business needs are more dynamic than they have previously been and this places demands on both the IT function and its partners.
Spring cleaning the list of IT suppliers involves looking at whether services or contracts can be consolidated, reviewing whether existing vendors are still meeting business needs, and identifying alternative vendors and new offerings that can better meet the needs of the organisation. CIOs also need to ensure that the scope, service levels and terms of their vendor contracts remain in line with the evolving needs of the business.
4. Standards and policies
The IT function is shifting from its traditional role as the gatekeeper of technology to that of a broker. However, it still needs to define and implement relevant standards and policies to enable the business to access and use the services it requires as easily and quickly as possible whilst ensuring security, privacy, service levels and data quality are maintained.
The rate of change within technology has never been so fast. Every day new and improved products, services and devices are launched into the market place. And some of these will make existing corporate standards and policies looked dated or, in some cases, irrelevant. As a technology and service broker, the IT function needs to ensure that the governance measures it puts in place to facilitate the organisation’s use of technology remain current and up-to-date with new technologies and business needs.
As part of its spring cleaning activity, the IT function should review its standards and policies to ensure they continue to be relevant and do not restrict or hinder the business.
5. Skills and roles
For many years IT functions have acquired a broad range of skills and roles in response to specific business needs. Often there was no choice at the time a new skill was required but to develop an in-house capability, as there was no credible option for buying in such skills from suppliers. In other cases the business may have felt that for reasons such as competitive advantage, time to market, security, etc, that it had to acquire its own resources to perform certain activities instead of engaging a partner.
But the digital world moves quickly; systems that were a differentiator a year ago may not be today, and vendor offerings are evolving at a fast pace so the reason why an activity could not initially be acquired from a partner may no longer be valid. Regularly reviewing existing skills and roles, and challenging whether they really need to be retained in-house will ensure the IT function focuses its resources on the areas that add the most value to the business.
A key thing to remember when performing the IT spring clean is to involve key stakeholders. Decision about projects, services, policies and suppliers cannot be taken in isolation of the rest of the business and without appropriate consultation and, where necessary, agreement. In fact CIOs may find that their stakeholders are more radical than the IT function about what projects, services, policies, etc, should be cleansed.
As well as improving engagement with the rest of the business the spring cleaning activity will result in an IT function that is aligned with the needs and priorities of the rest of the business, and focused on the areas in which it can really add value.