Getting Time on Your Side

Getting Time on Your Side

“For technology executives to become business executives, they should possess the ability to improve time to market”

Part 5 of CXO Priorities | AGILITY

CEO optimism isn't perhaps quite as widespread as it was back in late 2006 and early 2007 when Gartner's report "Creating Enterprise Leverage: The 2007 CIO Agenda" showed two out of three enterprises wanted to grow faster than the market that year. Nonetheless competitiveness remains a key goal for company heads. In this year's report "Making the Difference: The 2008 CIO Agenda", improving business processes was the number one business priority for the fourth consecutive year, while creating new products or services (innovation) moved from 10 in 2007 to three in 2008.

If CIOs indeed intend to "make a difference" regarding competitiveness, they'll have to get extremely creative in building customer intimacy and just as clever with product design.

"It means that in your competitive marketplace you just have to run faster than the next guy, so there is a lot of pressure on introducing new products and new product features," says Gartner EXP research director Andy Rowsell-Jones. "That requires levels of integration, levels of agility which have been hitherto absent in large firms."

Making the IT operations group more client-focused, and including development as a client, can make a big difference

In the relatively small numbers of companies making widgets, time to market is all about how long it takes to design and manufacture the widget, and clearly IT used properly can accelerate that process, Rowsell-Jones says. In the rest, time to market is about prompt delivery of IT-related or highly informational products like a new insurance product, a new type of bank account or a new piece of software. Those sorts of products can present major challenges for CIOs, and the best way to speed up development is to build systems for agility, whether that means virtualizing the server farm to improve capacity or strongly defining and ruthlessly reinforcing standards.

A large institution with billions of dollars tied up in infrastructure is like a super tanker - it's not going to change direction easily whatever you do, so making such organizations "fleet of foot" above all means overcoming complexity. The ideal aim is to have the lowest possible variety of technologies that are rigorously defined in terms of standards, which allows you to be agile, Rowsell-Jones says. It's just that achieving that ideal can be extremely challenging and makes for an interesting judgement call for most CIOs.

"It's that you have to be dogmatically and unreasonably structured in your approach to new products because if you're not, it takes you too long to implement them. But in that dogmatic approach you may of course run into problems because you may be seen as unyielding and inflexible. I think that is the management challenge for most people involved in new product development.

"And it's tough making business cases. It's extraordinarily difficult to make a business case to increase the agility of the IS organization, because agility is so difficult to value - you just know when you don't have it."

Speeding Things Up

Time to market implies a product-centric view that brings ICT services to bear just when the organization's business units need them to improve their competitive position by becoming first or at least early adopters.

Aligning IT as a key enabler for changing business - for example, by facilitating accelerated decision making through extended mobile offerings - is one key to improving time to market, says Sony Abraham, a manager with Capgemini in the US. CIOs can also drive efficiencies through IT consolidation, by achieving common architecture standards and through reusable enterprise services, and by eliminating redundant processes. And they can promote innovation through collaboration; for instance by harnessing the power of social networking to bring ideas together.

The CIO's primary role should be one of enabling the business through systems and process efficiencies, notes Carl Tidwell, CIO at American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), a private, not-for-profit biological resource centre. The CIO must be a significant and trusted business partner able to assist with identifying and removing bad processes. He or she must help the business overcome the notion that it is unique, and help business leaders understand that other companies have very similar processes and business objectives. This in turn will help the BUs adopt known best practices.

"To get there CIOs must break down the technological mysticism walls they create around technology and deal with the realities of business, understand that technology is not always the solution, and apply their natural analytic thought processes to solving business problems," Tidwell says.

"If CIOs took the time to study the holistic medicines approach to treating patients, and understood what that means in the context of a business, where the BU customers are the patients, and the CIO is the medical treatment team leader, they could work with the 'patient' to identify the best treatment options that match the patient's expectations for quality of life," he says

Alan Perkins, CEO at Sydney-based Profound Information, fully concurs, saying building high levels of trust is vital. If the systems the CIO presides over are trustworthy, and the information provided is trusted, the organization will be more likely to take risks in going to market, Perkins says. "Reliable information provision (based on reliable source information, reliable systems etc) leads to confident decisions. So decisions to proceed or not to proceed will be made without room for vacillation."

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