Digitization is changing the role – and therefore also significance – of IT in businesses fundamentally. For decades, IT was considered mainly a cost factor. Its task was to support the functions that actually created value. More recently, IT itself has developed into a value creation factor. And not just that. Technology will be at the center of all business processes and business models of the digital future. This change is reflected in the report titled “The Creative CIO” about a survey conducted by Harvey Nash and KMPG, for which CIOs and IT managers from across the world were surveyed. The executives’ roles and self-images are changing as well. One example: according to the study, 63 percent of respondents preferred IT projects aimed at increasing sales; only 37 percent preferred working on projects that would allow costs to be cut. Just a few years ago, the picture was totally different.
As quickly as the roles and importance of IT and CIOs are changing, so do the requirements. The IT department is now expected to provide impulses for the digital transformation of the entire organization and the individual operating departments. This means that outstanding technical expertise is no longer sufficient. These experts also need to understand the business so that they can being the two worlds together in a creative manner. That is new for many CIOs and IT managers, and they have an enormously complex task ahead of them.
Deriving use cases from innovations
And the task starts at a much earlier stage these days. Previously, IT did not become involved in the decision-making until the time came to evaluate the technical feasibility of an idea. It was never about the “what” but only the “how”. Today, CIOs and IT managers are expected to initiate decision-making processes themselves. And the starting point is always the technology. The IT department is meant to keep an eye on developments and check whether the latest innovations have the potential to generate concrete use cases. Can 3D printing make our production more efficient? Are virtual reality goggles of interest in our communication with the customer? The “what” and the “how” are intimately linked.
Of course a CIO’s responsibilities are not limited to regularly providing creative impulses. That is only the starting point for an intensive exchange with the affected operating departments and with management – until an idea turns into a concrete use case and finally a budgeted project. Over the next few years, many IT managers will have to learn to position themselves as business enablers in discussions and to take an active role in promoting new scenarios.
Complexity requires integration
The more projects are realized as a result, the more complex the already multi-layered corporate IT landscape will become. It will not only be the traditional corporate IT that will expand. New devices are being added to the mix all the time, such as VR goggles for instance. And communication with the customer is of enormous significance in the digitized world. New channels are becoming available at ever shorter intervals, and customers like using them. Instagram and Snapchat, for instance, are on an upsurge in Germany right now. If companies want to keep in touch with their customers, they need to at least be aware of all the new channels. Whether those will actually play a role in the B2B environment and in a specific industry will depend on user behavior. Incidentally, General Motors set up a Snapchat account over a year ago.
To ensure secure operation and achieve synergies in view of the growing complexity, integration capability is an important criterion when making choices in connection with a particular technology. For one, this applies to the technical implementation, where the goal is to achieve the most unhampered flow of information between all channels possible. It is also helpful if new hardware and software components are a good fit with the skills of the IT staff. At least to a degree. And finally, it would be helpful to present users with functions and user interfaces that they are already familiar with from other contexts.
Agile project management
The growing complexity and the dynamics of technological progress mean that a second criterion is of importance when making technology choices: scalability. This means that once a system has been implemented it should be possible to add functions or to interface it with other technologies. Because one thing is certain in a digitized world: things that are trendy today will have fallen out of favor by tomorrow.
Consequently, the conventional project management approach with extremely long concept design and implementation phases is hardly likely to achieve the desired result these days. An agile approach is much more suitable. And in concrete terms this means that projects of a manageable size must be set up and realized speedily, evolving in response to the experiences made as the project progresses. The concept of clearly delimited large-scale projects is redundant in the digitized world. The winners will be those who are agile and fast – like many of today’s startups.