CIO

Throwing more people at the problem no longer works

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Technology is hard. Change is hard. And business requirements are changing faster than ever. Yet, as IT professionals, we sit in the nexus of these three things. Our lives are sophisticated, complicated and mixed with a strange inertia that drives our current state. If you look at the anthropology of IT, one quickly identifies how these three were the very reason for our existence. We have since lost some of that mojo.

THROWING MORE PEOPLE AT THE PROBLEM

The reality is that we need to (re-)embrace this intersection if we are to truly transform our businesses. Over time, as the number of issues increased, we simply added more people to the problem. If we needed a special skillset, no problem. This nurtured the inertia that drives IT organizations to perform work that is increasingly less business-centric and (ostensibly) less valuable. At the same time, increasing the number of skillsets, specialization and sheer organization structure quickly becomes unwieldly.

Does this sound familiar? It is a common cycle that needs breaking. The reality is that we have passed the point where throwing more people at a problem is no longer possible. Enter technology.

TECHNOLOGY IS NOT AN OPTION, IT IS A REQUIREMENT

To understand how to proceed forward, we need to unpack the problem a bit. The first, and guiding factor is by understanding the nature of your business. I often go into organizations where the IT leadership has a limited understanding of their business…and not at the level they need today. To complicate matters, beyond the senior most IT leader, the level of business knowledge drops off precipitously. IT staff further into the organization know little more than what a common person knows about their company. While this has worked (marginally) in the past, it will not serve the company moving forward.

We have long since passed the point where a company can function without the use of technology. Likewise, we have also passed the point where a CIO or IT leader can survive by technology knowledge alone. Hence why the value of the traditional CIO is in decline while the value of the transformational CIO is on the upswing. See my post on The difference between the traditional CIO and the transformational CIOfor more specifics.

THE CIO: LIVING AT THE INTERSECTION OF BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY

Today, the CIO must live at the intersection of business and technology. The CIO must be a business leader first, who happens to have responsibility for IT.

Today’s CIO is a translator that intimately understands the company’s business across the various functions. At the same time, the CIO understands the underlying technology at their disposal. The key here is not just knowing when and where to leverage technology for business advantage, but also able to communicate it in a business framework that fellow executives will understand and relate to.

Simply talking about technology or process creates a confusing symphony of buzzwords that sound interesting, but quickly lose their luster. Mentioning terms like agility, process improvement, artificial intelligence, machine learning, or cloud may garner initial interest but quickly become uninteresting. The more important discussion is the one that outlines the business outcomes that the company strives for and how you, as CIO, can leverage the IT organization to impact them in a meaningful way.

STRATEGIC INVESTMENT IN TECHNOLOGY AND PEOPLE

Companies of all sizes, across industries and geographies are actively looking for new ways to transform their business. Throwing more people at the problem is not the solution. For example, a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) looking to drive toward a ‘market of one’ is not able to solve the problem by adding more people. At some point, scale and complexity gets in the way. Technology is a great way to solve this specific problem and knowing how to apply it is key.

Key to all of this is knowing the value of people and understanding where technology provides the leverage that people cannot.

2 thoughts on “Throwing more people at the problem no longer works

  1. Great point about the need for transformational CIOs.

    Do you think we’re at a pivot point leading to getting the next “status quo” established, or is it going to be endless transformation from here on out?

    1. Thank you for your comment George. Ideally, the transformational CIO will not become a ‘status quo’ but a rather fluid and ever-adapting role to the changing business requirements.

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