I’m a firm believer in disaster preparedness. I live through the Thomas Fire, and though my emergency kit was prepared with an earthquake in mind, I distributed every dust mask in my kit, and that was a whole case! This video debunks some common earthquake myths and the emotion behind them, and is entertaining at the same time!
Where does all the money spent on technology go? More importantly, are the dollars getting a return, are they adding value to the organizations? Here are 5 questions we as CIOs should ask, and the answers we should be getting to ensure we are spending our technology budget the right way.
5 Business Technology Questions
- What are the business/organization problems technology is solving for us now?
- Who in our organization is helping technology solve these problems (and who’s not helping at all)?
- Who are the vendors helping us solve the problems (and the ones not helping at all)?
- How are we doing with digital transformation (and the emerging technologies that enable DT)?
- How are we measuring the return on our technology spending?
What are the business problems technology is solving for us now?
The question refers to operational and strategic problems. Operational problems are what way too many executives define as “technology” – email, MS Office, ERP systems, networks and laptops. While these all are necessary, they are not sufficient to technology optimization. Strategic technology supports manufacturing and distribution, finds customers, services clients and optimizes the entire product/service value chain. While the trains have to run on time, they also have to stop at the right places. If you cannot directly link operational or strategic technology spending to a specific problem, you’re wasting money. You also need efficiency. You need to “rationalize” your entire technology inventory every year. I guarantee you’re upgrading and supporting 50% more software applications than you need (or even use). You’re also probably not spending enough on data, data integration and data analytics. You need to make sure your networks, databases and applications – everything – are secure. Hard questions about security (and privacy as GDPR extends to your company) must be asked every day: you are one event away from a major financial disaster.
Who in our organization is helping technology solve these problems (and who’s not helping at all)?
Do you have professionals with the right knowledge, demeanor and ambition to acquire and leverage digital technology? Really? Who are they – and why are they so special? Who are the operational technology experts who know strategic technology well enough to grow your business? You need professionals who see the technology world through operational, strategic and disruptive lenses. You also need absolutely clear governance structures and processes. Who “owns” technology at your company? Is it a central office of the CIO, or is ownership shared across your business units? Do you pride yourself on strict technology standards, or do you “allow” business units to explore the operational and strategic technologies that contribute the most to growth and profitability? How many members of your team deeply understand your business “domain”? How many understand the nature of digital transformation Does the team understand the trajectory of business and that digital technology is changing almost quarterly?
The answers? Technology cannot be owned by one central organization. Business models and processes change too fast. Centralized “IT” should only include operational plumbing. The rest should be strategically compatible with the plumbing, but acquired, deployed and supported by business units focused on traditional and (internal and external) disruptive competition. This means that you must assume the business model and processes that generate revenue and profit today will change dramatically over time (and sometimes over a very short period of time). Technology is the new fulcrum. Track it, leverage it, fear it. If you have Luddites on your team, eliminate them. If you have managers and executives who need to control technology for undisclosed reasons, remove them from all governance teams. If you have professionals weak in either domain or technology expertise, replace them, and if you have professionals who know very little about industry and technology trends, replace them immediately. “Seek-and-destroy” technology cheapskates, skeptics, dilatants and terrorists. They have no role to play in business enabled by – and now completely dependent upon– operational and strategic technology.
Who are the vendors helping us solve the problems (and the ones not helping at all)?
It’s always time to hold your vendors’ feet – and fees – to the fire. This continuous task is job one for companies (like yours) that outsource some, part or all of its technology products and services. List the operational and strategic vendors on your payroll. Examine the costs and benefits of each one. But do so strategically. For example, how fast are you moving your infrastructure and applications services to the cloud? Assess your vendors’ contributions to an aggressive data strategy. Which ones understand your business and technology architectures? Eliminate the ones that compete for your business even when they’re sleeping. They’re only mission is to increase revenue, not improve your business. You are the final arbitrator of value – not your vendors. Be careful not to abdicate responsibility for your business model and processes to vendors simply because they’re “informed,” glib or fun. You must own the business technology strategy of your company. Real vendor “partnerships” are hard to find. Remember that the marriages between you and your vendors are arranged and defined completely by the size of the dowry – nothing more and nothing less.
How are we doing with digital transformation (and the emerging technologies that enable DT)?
How attentive are you to your traditional – and disruptive – competitors? Probably more the former than the latter because it’s hard to see what’s coming at you from left field. So you focus on the competitors you know, which is a huge mistake. Digital transformation (DT) is about both kinds of competitors. It’s a matter of how far you look into the future and how encompassing your peripheral vision is. Some of you will look to the next quarter, while some will look several years out. Where do you sit on the DT spectrum?
The first step is modeling current processes followed by simulated models of future processes. What will these processes tell you? Find the inefficient processes, simulate new ones and then pilot the digital technologies most likely to enable the improved processes. Managers, executives and other stakeholders should require quarterly updates on DT projects, programs, successes and failures, which requires piloting emerging technology-enabled processes and sometimes even whole business models.
Are you piloting the contributions these technologies can make to improved business processes and models? If not, why not? (AI, mobile, etc.?)
How Are We Measuring the Return On Our Technology Spending?
First, the easy answers. Reduce the number of applications you have in your operational and strategic technology portfolio. Make sure that business unit strategic technology spending is compatible with enterprise operational technology spending. If it’s not, you will pay handsomely to get technologies to work together: “technology integration” makes vendors richer. Hire some independent consultants – none of your current technology vendors– to develop ROI models of operational and strategic technology effectiveness. The metrics for both categories are well known, such as the # of security breaches (for operational technology) and social media advertising customer conversion rates (for strategic technology). The metrics should be refreshed on a real-time dashboard for everyone to see. This project team should be treated as an “independent counsel” to the entire business technology environment of your company. No one with a vested financial interest in technology delivery should own any part of it.
Rule #1 – Ideas can come from anywhere. Attendees are there for a reason, because they can add value–knowledge, expertise, or stakeholder value.
Rule #2 – Act on facts, research hunches. Force participants to back up their statements with reliable evidence before making a play on their input. Slate hunches for background research.
Rule #3 – Stay focused on the agenda item at hand. Establish talking points ahead, set the agenda and guide people back when the conversation strays.
Example Agenda Outline:
II. Statement of problem
III. Ground rules
IV. Problem Discussion – 15 minutes
V. Solution Discussion – 30-45 minutes
VI. Action Items
Facilitate Solution Discussion:
1. Open – Write down all ideas and all reliable evidence to support each idea
2. Narrow – Debate. Vet ideas for solvency and doability.
3. Close – Rank and prioritize the next best play.
Rule #4 – No Distractions. Send a signal to side talkers by standing in between them. Invite participants to turn their phones back on after the meeting, no electronic note taking, checking emails etc. This means the meeting should be relevant and adding value to all invited. If that is not the case, invite them to engage in a more valuable activity. Really.
Rule #5 – Co-authored and unique to organizational culture. For example, no one bring a topic that seems to always come up and is not constructive in nature.
Let’s get this out there first; you can’t MAKE someone engaged. You can, however, create an environment where people can choose to bring their best and be highly engaged. One of the best ways to do that is regular 1-on-1 meetings with your direct reports.
I get it, time is the most valuable asset any of us possess. What we spend our time on, then, reveals what we view as worthy of value. Dedicating time to 1-on-1s create the conditions for engagement by communicating to employees on a consistent basis, “I care about you. I have a vested interest in you and your success.”
Why, then, don’t more managers use this valuable tool effectively, or at all? There are three main reasons:
- They don’t know how to do them or are intimidated by 1-on-1 interaction, so they don’t schedule these meetings at all.
- They’re holding 1-on-1s, but only as a status check to monitor progress.
- They say they don’t have time, and this is by far the most common reason.
If you say you don’t have time to have regular 1-on-1s, you are saying you don’t have time to be an effective manager. Good, now you’ve decided to be an effective manager, here are four ways to use your 1-on-1s to do that.
1. It’s not about you
This is not a status update. Effective 1-on-1s are the team member’s meeting, not yours. Ask them to prepare the agenda (provide them with a worksheet or template, if needed). Say, “We’re going to be meeting next week. I’d like you to use this worksheet or one of your own to think ahead of time about the things you want to cover. There are a few things I want to cover, too, but we’re going to tackle yours first.” That kind of language and intent communicates that your team member and their work matters to you.
2. Energy matters
Don’t schedule these meetings at the end of the day when energy is typically low. These are important relationships and deserve our time, creativity and energy.
3. Personal concern
To the extent your team is comfortable, your communication should include the whole person and not simply their professional lives. Ask about their family, their vacations etc. You can’t fake this. You must be genuinely concerned and interested, creating a connection to the team member.
4. “Hold on, someone more important is texting me.”
For this meeting to be most successful, your phone should be out of site/mind. This goes for tablets, laptops, desk phones, smart watches and any other communication device that could interrupt the meeting.
This is a time to learn about problems you can fix to make work go smoother and more efficiently. This is a time to focus on what the employee wants to do next at the company and to give feedback on how to get there.
I don’t think there is any magic when it comes to the frequency of 1-on-1s. Weekly meetings are preferable, but bi-monthly and monthly meetings work as long as the schedule is kept. The duration can also vary. But at least a half-hour needs to be set aside for this to be effective. These meetings should not be rushed.
Besides creating the conditions for employee engagement, 1-on-1s are just as beneficial for leaders. Use that time to learn what you’re doing that’s working (and not working) to build your skillset as a manager.
Even if the feedback is not direct, if you listen, you’ll learn. You’re part of this team, and you’ll benefit from the engagement, collaboration, and camaraderie of regular 1-on-1s.
- Budget overruns.
- An underperforming vendor.
- Changing organizational priorities.
- Resistance to change despite significant risk.
These are real challenges that could have derailed a critical, multi-year, enterprise project. We were able to navigate these and other obstacles successfully, and the key was governance.
First, what is a project? A project is a collection of tasks, involving multiple individuals, organized to delver well-defined products or outcomes (called “deliverables,” go figure) within a defined period of time.
Before managing a project, make sure it has a chance of succeeding. That means answering four questions:
- What, when it is all said and done, is the point of the project?
- Who in authority wants it to succeed?
- Who has the authority to define success?
- Who has the authority to make different kinds of decisions and resolve different kinds of issues, and to delegate that authority when the situation calls for it?
WHAT’S THE POINT?
The point of any government project is to deliver improvement of some kind – a different, better way of doing things. Expending time, effort and budget so everything stays exactly the same as it was before wastes time, effort and taxpayer money.
Government can improve in four ways – mitigate risk, add or improve existing services, reduce the cost of government without reducing service. There are other outcomes, or deliverables, but most of them contribute to the aforementioned big four.
Just because government improves doesn’t mean it does so for anyone working there; almost certainly it won’t improve for everyone working there. Even for executive management there are some winners and losers.
That’s OK. Not everyone needs to want the results. But SOMEONE should! Usually it happens one of these ways:
- Someone has a bright idea…
- Refines it until the description sounds worthwhile…
- And pushes the resulting “business case” into the organization’s project approval process.
- The approval process assesses whether the business case properly and credibly describes cost, benefits, relationship to organization strategy and so on…
- And delivers a decision as to whether it’s approved or not.
Deciding a project is worthwhile isn’t the same as chartering a project that can succeed. To succeed, someone with the authority to make decisions – to provide more time, resources and budget – has to be committed to it.
Distinguishing between the individual who had the bright idea (champion) and an executive who wants it badly enough (sponsor) to commit to it is critical.
Every project should have a sponsor before it is assigned a project manager. Usually the CIO, champion, and project manager try to recruit one. Too often if they fail, the list the CIO as the sponsor the move forward toward near-certain disaster.
STEP BY STEP
To succeed, projects need:
- It has to have a point (a business outcome that warrants the investment of time, staff, and resources.)
- At least one executive has to personally want it enough to take risks on its behalf…
- …and has the authority to commit time, budget and staff if they are needed.
- …And the authority and willingness to decide when it’s finished.
- All stakeholders have to agree about project governance – about WHO has the authority to make different DECISIONS about the project, and HOW they will make and communicate those decisions.
There are numerous approaches to governance, and they can all succeed. They can all fail, too, if they are not executed by the decision-makers.
This problem is magnified if business leaders fail to engage, viewing projects as “IT projects” because they have an IT component, and assume CIOs or project managers will handle of the details and decision making.
- Examine your approach to governance to ensure that it is built around the right decision makers, organizational capabilities and organizational strategy by determining precisely who the decision rights are regarding the issues that must be addressed.
- Persuade those with the decision rights of the importance of their role, the required time commitment, and the need to focus on the business process aspects of a project. Perform these actions, rather than letting leaders incorrectly assume they are “IT projects” by making certain these leaders truly understand that without their engagement, failure will result.
Less is more: Minimalist approach to governance. https://www.gartner.com/document/2136215?ref=solrAll&refval=237436215
Enterprise IT Governance
Government needs to be more innovative and take an outside-in approach to the design and delivery of government services to fulfill the commitments being made by political leaders and government executives.
Developing an understanding and empathy is key to the CCD approach, but the people directly involved in the process are often too close to the problem to be able to think outside the box. This is often the case for frontline workers with a government-centric process-driven mindset. The ability to ideate is dependent on the individual’s abilities to look past how things are done today Establish a cross-functional team that includes a mix of backgrounds and capabilities — from inside and outside of the organization — to maximize the effectiveness of the CCD process.
Government organizations that directly service or support citizens have been early adopters of CCD, and the related techniques are already in use and led by business areas. For example, local governments can take an HCD approach to focus Smart City strategies around the problems that matter to their cities.
Every organization has a value or business model that describes what it does. Although governments aren’t in “business,” they have implicit models that explain what business they are in. Typical government “business models” reflect their mission value: regulatory, legislative, law enforcement, citizen services, economic stabilization or industry support. For example, a local government may issue grants to housing developers to support low-income housing. The capability of issuing, paying and overseeing those grants provides different value propositions to construction companies and citizens, who will pay for that service through some combination of fees and taxes.
Business models consist of customer (or citizen), value proposition, capabilities and financial model (or funding model for government). When two or more of these areas are impacted, Gartner says the organization is going through a transformation. In government, this can happen when agencies, ministries or departments are restructured (combined, divided, created) or when new services are added. Transforming the citizen’s journey by orchestrating activity across agencies, and adding a platform capability to the ecosystem, are examples of government transformation.
Mission and vision are important, but day-to-day leadership involves connecting each team member with an inner sense of purpose. Each action has many levels. I’m typing on a keyboard, writing an article, and encouraging better leadership at the same time. One action-different levels. True leaders walk employees up that ladder to help them find meaning in even small tasks. Asking these five questions is one way to make that connection.
What are you good at doing? Which work doesn’t seem like work? What gets you noticed because you are so good at it? Help identify their strengths and open up the possibilities.
What do you enjoy? During the week, what do you look forward to doing? What do you see on your calendar that energizes you? If you could decide, how would you spend your time? Help them rediscover what they love about work.
What feels most useful? Which work makes you most proud? What tasks are most critical to the team or organization? Helps to identify the inherent value of certain work.
What creates a sense of forward momentum? What are you learning that you’ll use in the future? Where do you see yourself next? Show how today’s work helps get to future goals.
How do you relate to others? Which working partnerships are best for you? What would your favorite team look like? Think about and foster relationships that make work more meaningful.