Over a decade ago I was introduced to a book that had a major influence over my subsequent career. Strategic Planning for Information Systems by John Ward and Joe Peppard constructed a model of IT management driven by business outcome rather than technology. It’s also one of the most impregnable books I’ve never finished.
Ian’s new book Disrupt IT: A new model for IT in the digital age describes a structure and series of competencies that will make an IT function business outcome-focused in 2014 and beyond. It’s thankfully written in a much more practical and conversational style than the hardcore academia of Ward and Peppard’s, and as a positioning for IT leadership teams there is clear, sensible thinking here.
Cox describes how the landscape of technology in business has been transformed in recent years by the consumerisation of devices, the commoditisation of computing power and systems through the ubiquitous nature of the internet, and the resultant devolution of IT decision making out of the CIO’s hands. In that world, IT management models that focus on centralised control of technology, rather than the procurement and delivery of services, are no longer fit for purpose.
To address this new set of challenges, Ian proposes a new set of core competencies for IT majoring on themes such as enterprise and data architecture and project management rather than tech in-depth. He then looks at how the CIO, the IT department and the overall organisation needs to change to make this a reality.
There’s a way in which I found Cox’s book a little depressing. The advice to CIO’s in about their own approach can be summarised as “don’t be a nerdy pillock and for heaven’s sake go out and talk to people”. That any CIO needs to be told that is a tragedy for the profession, but I know that so many still do.
I also wonder, as the eternal iconoclast, if Cox goes far enough to paint a picture of true disruption. If you were to design an organisation from the ground up today, would their even be an IT department? Whilst that kind of green field isn’t reality, going through that approach can be beneficial. It gets one past the paradox summed up in the old line
“‘How do I get to the town?’
‘Well, I wouldn’t start from here…'”
I’m still of the view that a radical transformation of IT could place it in the realm of the “soft” and people and change rather than the hard of systems and process. But Ian is better attuned to an audience that needs to be told they need to talk to people as part of their job than I.
Disrupt IT is a good point from which to help move the technology function from the clichés of old to a business-focused partner of the present and beyond, especially for organisations in industries where broader digital disruption is in its earlier stages. It’s practical, and actionable, which can so often be the downfall of such titles.
But if any of this stuff is news to you and you are, say, the CIO of a media company, you probably won’t be for much longer.