While it might seem a bit hackneyed to claim that yet another major change is underway in corporate IT, a confluence of factors is changing the way companies will deliver technology services. In the past year or two I've noticed that IT is increasingly asking business users to slow down, something that would have been relatively unthinkable five years ago.
Traditionally, IT drove technology change, dragging begrudging business counterparts along as the CIO built the case for new technologies, development environments, or methodologies. Increasingly, business units are demanding faster responses and more rapid adoption of new technologies. Tolerance for long, sequential project-based work is being replaced with demands for iterative, collaborative, and rapid development.
Consultants like myself have felt the impact of this change, as clients no longer tolerate feasibility studies or multi-month planning engagements, and expect to see prototypes, experiments, and minor wins in weeks. The CIO who can adapt to this new environment will position his or her team for explosive success, while those who fail will be pushed aside and replaced with anyone from traditional IT consulting firms to increasingly capable marketing and design agencies.
Most IT shops are naturally averse to risk. A poorly planned modification to a core system can literally stop a business in its tracks. We've also spent decades perfecting the delivery of massive enterprise projects based on waterfall-style, sequential activities. Recognizing the failings of this approach, many development organizations adopted rapid build methodologies like Agile, but these still fail to address the increasing need not just for collaboration between the business and IT, but mixed teams of external partners, vendors, and even customers.
Adversity to risk is anathema to what our business counterparts expect, and while it would be foolish to suggest willy-nilly modifications to a core ERP system, rapidly iterating on mobile applications, customer-facing web tools, and employee self-service applications is not only acceptable, but preferred.
Let the results speak for themselves
One of the major drags on many IT-related effort is the months spent building business cases, meeting with each and every stakeholder, and agonizing over building the "perfect" technical infrastructure or choosing the best vendor software. By shifting to a rapid, results-oriented style of development, you can spend the months you would have invested in groundwork into building a proof of concept. Some of these efforts will result in absolutely nothing, but at the end of the effort you'll have a far deeper understanding of the technologies required, challenges, and impact to the business than even the finest analysis would have produced.
The concept of enterprise IT providing various services, to be invoked and recombined to produce new and interesting applications, is nothing new. In the '70s we were told Object Oriented programming was the answer to this challenge, and more recently everything from middleware to SaaS was supposed to turn enterprise IT into a library of components that could be recombined at will.
While the architecture is still challenging, an emphasis on multi-client, multi-channel applications will further the need for an enterprise architecture that provides services and data to a multitude of devices and applications. Rather than merely serving data, enterprise IT will increasingly provide Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that might serve up data and business logic to an ERP client one minute, and Google Glass the next.
What you can do now
While this shift is not happening instantly, companies that resolutely stick to the old ideas of waterfall development and monolithic IT architectures that require custom interfaces for every new client will simply be bypassed.
Corporate IT is no longer the sole agent able to deliver application services, with a sea of cloud providers happy to take the mantle. Start investigating how you deliver new applications and projects. Even if you've embraced a methodology like Agile, are business users and vendors embedded in your Agile teams? Are functions like project planning and application design embedded in your Agile process? As you change your IT infrastructure, are you enabling a shift toward services and API-style interactions with backend systems, or investing in custom interfaces and point-to-point solutions?
If nothing else, showing your peers that you've realized that IT can no longer deliver in months or years, and must adapt to changing expectations, will keep you, and your IT organization, relevant.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.