There has never been a better time to work in IT; never has technology been so fundamental, so strategic and so important as it is in the digital age. Technology is being used to create new types of products and services, enhance existing products and services and create deeper, more rewarding customer experiences. And it is also being used to enable entirely new business models that are transforming industries.
Technology has moved from supporting the back office to driving revenue streams at the front of the organisation. This shift creates opportunities for the CIO and the IT function to play a new and more valuable role working alongside the rest of the business as a proactive partner instead of operating as a reactive support function. But to exploit this opportunity it needs to be the right type of IT; to operate at the front of the organisation requires new skills, new ways of working and new capabilities.
In my role as an adviser to Boards and CxOs, I am quite often asked by CIOs, CEOs and other members of the executive team what the right type of IT looks like for their organisation, how their current IT capability compares with this vision, and what they need to do close the gap. To help answer this question I have developed a 10-point framework that describes the key characteristics of the IT capability that organisations need to support their digital journey.
The first seven principles of the framework, which cover the CIO, the IT function and the board’s attitude and approach to technology, are based on my book, Disrupt IT. Since writing the book I have added three additional principles that describe the key characteristics of the type of IT platform required for operating in digital markets. For each of the principles I have developed five maturity levels that describe the stages of progression from using technology as a back-office support function to using technology as a source of revenue and competitive advantage.
It is worth noting, however, that the framework is not meant to be a blueprint of the perfect IT capability and nor is it meant to be prescriptive. The right type of IT will vary by organisation and will need to be informed by its vision and strategy. Hence the main purpose of the principles and the maturity levels is to prompt and guide a discussion about what type of IT capability is right for the business given the markets in which it operates, the needs of its customers and how it plans to embrace digital.
I use the framework whilst working with CIOs on a one-to-one basis and also with IT leadership teams, executive teams and boards. In all cases I use a two-stage process with the first stage focusing on assessing the organisation’s current capability against each of the principles (the orange line in the example), and the second stage defining the level of maturity required to support the organisations vision and strategy for digital (represented by the blue line).
When working with a group, the discussion about the target maturity levels is just as important as the resulting score, as it helps to establish a common understanding of the role that technology can play and also creates a shared vision of what the right type of IT looks like for the business. The output also gives an immediate visual indication as to where the business needs to focus in order to create the right type of IT capability.
For CIOs, being involved in a group discussion about how they and the IT function are perceived by their peers can sometimes be challenging. However, it can also be very rewarding. In the example above, the CIO in question got a clear mandate for change within the IT function and for investment in the IT platform. And, perhaps more importantly, that mandate was understood and supported by the entire executive team. The CIO also got a personal commitment from the CEO to help them reach the higher levels of maturity required against the three CIO principles.
Having the right type of IT capability is fundamental to succeeding in the digital world. To be successful in digital markets, organisations need the right type of CIO, the right type of IT function and the right type of platform. And they also need the right approach to technology at board level and across the wider organisation. The maturity framework above provides businesses with a tool that helps them define what the right type of IT looks like for their organisation and to identify the changes required to create that capability.