Even perfect execution won't lead to perfect IT. You must encourage business users to develop some IT smarts of their own.
You have probably noticed the recent research and magazine articles about "the agile IT organization". Agile is a great word for IT because it speaks to the core IT issues of "too little, too late, for too much". To be agile is to have the ability to move quickly, with suppleness, skill and control. It's a noble ambition for CIOs, but it's unachievable as long as IT's role is unchanged.
The research on agile IT organizations boils down to a recommendation that IT be transformed to operate like a business, much like an external service provider. This advice implicitly assumes that if IT's execution is perfected, then the outcome will be agility, and the core complaints of your business partners will be addressed.
But let's face facts: Nobody really likes external service providers, and even the most agile IT organization - featuring perfect governance, resource management, processes, infrastructure, cost transparency and organizational structure - probably will not be enough to satisfy the business's expectations on time, quality and cost.
The role of IT has to change. Your business partners will be satisfied only when they directly control IT service delivery and, therefore, feel accountable for the results. Over time, IT has assumed "surrogate user" roles that the business has been unable or unwilling to assume. The business partners of tomorrow (currently in their late 20s and early 30s) will not take such a passive role with IT.
CIOs can increase IT agility by getting out of the way. They should strive to enable their business partners' ability to satisfy their day-to-day IT needs on their own, without having to wait in lengthy governance lines for project approval, funding and staffing. In short, IT should attempt to disintermediate itself from its own supply chain. In case you think I have lost my mind, be assured that while CIOs are enabling their partners' self-sufficiency, they must also ensure that IT is done right. (See my previous column on the fiduciary role of IT, "Give Away Authority to Gain Control Over IT's Purpose", in the April issue of CIO.) They should establish the IT principles, decision rights and processes that govern strategy, investments, architecture, infrastructure development, delivery, assets protection and compliance.
The IT-Enabled User
The only way that the "enabling IT" vision will become a reality is through an enabling infrastructure - specifically, a development and delivery environment that allows business partners to add or modify capabilities while ensuring integration, compliance and operational performance. The good news is that environments such as this are currently under development; the bad news is that they are being designed for programmers rather than for hands-on use by the business. Take the example of a large financial services company wherein the CIO is focused on improving programmer productivity by 15 percent: He is missing the opportunity to increase his "virtual programmer" ranks at least tenfold by failing to draft business partners to work closely with IT and its products and services.
Realistically, most IT organizations are far from possessing the capabilities necessary to enable their business partners. The key to moving toward the "enabling IT" vision is to ensure that business partner self-sufficiency is a goal of every change that is made - to governance, processes, applications, maintenance, service, staffing, education and so on. For example, an entertainment company CIO has created a document management capability that allows the majority of "instances" to be implemented by the end users who work directly with the records retention organization.
By enabling their business partners' IT capabilities, CIOs and their organizations can free themselves from the futile pursuit of trying to become business experts. Effective use of IT requires intense, senior-level focus on critical issues such as encouraging innovation and managing change, facilitating effective business processes and knowledge-sharing across the enterprise, building quality technical infrastructures that support rather than stymie change, protecting information assets and ensuring legal compliance, and ensuring that benefits are real and the costs are reasonable.
For me, enabling IT makes sense. It addresses IT's time-to-market issue by exploiting the fact that business users have always wanted more control (remember end-user computing?), and it unleashes the resources of the enterprise toward this end.
If you disagree with my view of the future of IT, that's fine. But my challenge to you is: What's yours?