Date Published: 07/19/2016
Business IT has one job to do: make business work better. Too often, IT does the opposite, getting in the way, imposing rules and slowing down the flow of information. Working better means working more efficiently, adjusting fast to new challenges and competitive environments, making the best use of a business’ knowledge and brainpower. Business IT promises to be the engine of efficiency, yet so often is mired in big, slow projects, the inertia of existing systems and the tarpit of interdepartmental protocol and process.
This way of working is no longer an option. Even long-established companies must operate in the digital world, where people are empowered by technology, change accelerates and the competition is just a finger-tap away.
IT must be enabling, not disabling. It must change from being an inflexible set of disconnected tools to a cohesive, powerful platform that anyone in the organisation can use to build solutions to their needs. Let people use IT as they see fit and it becomes an accelerator for innovation and the power to compete.
The universe began with a big bang – but since then, evolution’s taken over. In the beginning of IT, the big bang was all there was – each aspect of an organisation computerised by a big project, with big timescales and big ambitions.
Nowadays, big is bad. Big can’t be designed fast, change quickly or respond to small needs. Evolution is the answer. That means lots of flexible, small answers to particular needs that can be mixed and remixed according to the needs of the people who actually use them. In fact, size should be irrelevant, with successful solutions scaling without effort.
Let’s look at how IT can be given back to the people who use it, enabling them to do their jobs better while creating a powerful feedback loop for business’ strategy in the process.
Technology has transformed our personal lives but not the corporate IT environment.
An incredible selection of services, devices and options have changed the way we talk to friends, shop, amuse ourselves and run our lives – displacing the norms of just 10 years ago. This has happened because technology enables us to do more, more easily.
Yet at work, IT disables: it locks people into old ways of working with processes that will cost too much to re-engineer. It fossilises company structure with departmental, disconnected IT. It blocks good ideas because they won’t fit and restricts rather than fuels the pace of business. It isolates customers by denying them the experience and access they expect.
This is no longer acceptable. If you’re cutting and pasting between spreadsheet, database and document while your customers expect a single interface that delivers the data they need, you’re not connected enough. If your employees are pulling their workflow into a personal cloud service because that’s the only way to share it between departments, then they’re not connected enough. If you’re stuckin a six-month cycle of project updates, then neither are you.
The modern IT department has seen its role as business innovator and enabler swamped by legacy systems, siloed data, locked-down processes and locked-down budgets.
Employees empower themselves by turning to shadow IT, ‘quick and dirty’ application development or third-party services that introduce risk and instability – but at least get the job done. While it’s hard to impose proper oversight and security on shadow IT, it is harder still to stop it when offering no alternative.
The answer to shadow IT is to beat it at its own game, creating a corporate IT environment in which users can create their own applications of equal flexibility, usability and capability within a safe and secure environment provided by IT.
This will mean corporate IT fulfils its innovation and enablement promises to users and the business. Given a simple application platform to build on, individuals and teams can evolve their own solutions, knowing that they can try out ideas and find the best way to do their jobs without breaking rules or waiting for outside permission. Freeing people creates a truly innovative, digital speed business – while simultaneously resolving the conflicting challenges of speed and governance which dominate todays corporate IT agenda.
Achieving these goals requires us to focus on one major goal: simplicity
Simplicity is the power behind the consumer technology revolution.
Those users have responded avidly, making prodigious use of the technologies by effortlessly adopting and adapting what they’re given. Small applications exquisitely tuned to one job. Data shared at a touch. Interfaces so obvious they’re almost invisible. Underlying processes automated and secured.
Democratising access to application development needs the same clarity of purpose. Simple interfaces for capturing application functionality. Applications deployed and shared across devices at a touch.Underlying IT processes automated and secured.
Achieving these goals requires the creation of a new kind of business application platform, one which presents a simplified, unified environment for users to build business applications and to package, deploy and share the results. It links in data sources, users and distribution behind the scenes. It takes care of security, scaling, deployment and hardware independence.
It provides visibility and governance into the activities of all users.In short it provides a safe and efficient environment for business peopleto create, test and share applications – while giving assurance, control and oversight back to the IT department.
Once you give people a platform for creating simple applications, they can build a broad range of solutions themselves.
IT becomes the support structure for a whole new category of innovation rather than simply a gatekeeper to core systems. Unmet needs can be fulfilled, long standing inefficiencies addressed and frustrating collaboration gaps closed. The platform becomes a factory for ideas, creating a new army of developers that can accelerate business improvement at the edge of the organization.
At the enterprise level all of this innovation will deliver insight to the CIO, creating a data trail that shows what works. The best ideas can be discovered, industrialised, connected and spread – increasing their impact by integrating them into the core processes and systems of the enterprise.
Over time, many small, low cost, low risk changes will aggregate into large benefits. Evolution replaces big bang. And it will work better, because it’ll be a better place to work. One of the fundamental paradoxes of business is that employees want to engage more fully with their job yet are prevented from doing so by the very systems that should be enabling them. Change that, by letting the employees do the changing, and engagement will follow. People respond to empowerment. It goes beyond systems and process, transforming the modern organisation into the truly digital, and fitting it to compete in the global connected age.
The past 10 years have seen extraordinary changes in how technology enables people. The next 10 will do the same for organisations. Change will become normal. Big bangs will be history.
New challenges are already here. Strip away the hype from the Internet of Things and Big Data, and the underlying forces are still there. Companies will see in real time more and more of their supply chain, their supplier relationships and customer behaviour, the dynamics of distribution not just of physical goods but of ideas, services, the flow of value. There’ll be more data changing more rapidly than ever before.
Somewhere in there will be your competitive edge. Finding it will need a huge range of new business applications and processes, something that the old model of centralised project management and control can’t begin to deliver effectively. Yet the necessary analytic skills and working knowledge already exist in the people who deal with the outside commercial environment – the workers who sell and buy, listen and speak, think and deploy. They understand exactly what’s changing, how value is defined and created, how your business IP supports your strategies, because their daily lives are spent dealing with the practicalities. The only way to use this is to give users themselves the power to build, test and deploy what they need.
IT simply cannot take on the entire digital world by itself.
Nor should it try: the very principle of information technology is to use the right tools to automate, to simplify and to secure the tasks that IT is good at, leaving people to do what people are good at. IT people must adopt the right tools to do their job, and that means abstracting and delivering the power of design across an organisation, from edge to core.
For this reason it is important for organisations – and CIOs – to start working with and understanding these tools, finding the value they can deliver today and seeing how they will manage and facilitate the models of tomorrow.
Twenty-first century IT is about reducing the distance between needs and fulfilment, creating stronger partnerships that better match the business environment. Users have been isolated from the potential of IT by the same costs and complexities that leave CIOs hard-pressed to deliver effectively on business strategy, vision and leadership. And customers see the results.
With the right platform to build on, complexity can be tamed and resources released. By providing the tools to enable change wherever and whenever it’s needed, a business can unite its senses and its intellect and become fully enabled for the future – whatever shape it takes.
Taking the next step means looking at your own business needs, culture and technology, and seeing how a platform can unite and reinvigorate them all.
To understand this and how to apply it, CIOs and other leaders must start to investigate how collaboration and user empowerment in application development actually works. The culture shift from passive consumption to active manipulation of technology has already started in everyday life through simplicity, usability and flexibility.
Find out how business-focused application development platforms take these ideas and implement them in concrete, workable ways. Understand how this accelerates the creation and delivery of innovation and opportunity, and the strengthening of IT’s core role within an organisation by seeing the platform at work.The right platform gives users the power to do their job and the business the freedom to move at digital speeds. Waiting for change is no longer an option. The new industrial revolution is already underway. Take the first click to join it.