For years, going back to the days of data centers, people in technology thought their first priority was to make sure the computer systems were operational. Key statistics focused on uptime-making sure the servers, networks and applications were functioning. Meeting such targets was considered success.
This focus led many IT leaders to play defense. Their primary objective was making sure nothing went wrong. Thinking that IT value is self-evident as long as you achieve your system performance metrics and deliver on stated requirements is approaching IT defensively.
Perhaps defense was once enough. Before infrastructure and applications became readily available in the cloud, defense might have been a pretty good game. But no longer. While defense isn't bad (and at some level, it is necessary), it doesn't excite anybody. It's hard for users to think of IT's defensive game as adding value, leading to pressure to reduce IT costs.
Now IT leaders have to add value by putting points on the board offensively. You need to provide technology that delivers a competitive advantage and contributes to top-line growth, proactively adding to revenues and earnings. Keeping the systems working while lowering base costs isn't enough to remain competitive. You have to provide new solutions that augment business value.
Play for Keeps
Whether you're hosting a BlackBerry server or maintaining a CRM system, you're playing defense. Nobody will congratulate you for it or think you've added much value. Users consider these activities ho-hum and believe you could easily outsource them at a lower cost. Playing offense, on the other hand, means focusing not only on using IT to generate revenue, but also doing it with leading-edge technologies, preferably ahead of your competitors.
For example, you're playing offense if you support salespeople using Facebook's new e-mail service, if you're delivering content via mobile applications, or if you're deploying a location-based-services solution such as FourSquare to create opportunities for customers to purchase your company's products. These can be competition-busting applications.
Historically, however, CIOs have been too willing to wait until another business leader specifies a need, then engage in prolonged negotiations about what the user will have to give up to get something new. Today's IT leaders have the obligation and the opportunity to proactively help the business be more successful.
As a first step, create an IT team whose goal is to identify at least one revenue-producing technology opportunity. Then, work with business units to create a revenue and ROI case. Simultaneously, the team should create an implementation plan. Once you have your first hit, the value of IT will become clearer and opportunities to play offense will begin to snowball.
Adam Hartung is a consultant specializing in innovation and the author of the book Create Marketplace Disruption. Currently managing partner of Spark Partners, he is a former senior partner with Computer Sciences Corp. and a former executive at DuPont and PepsiCo. Contact him at AdamHartung.com.
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