The popular business book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” offers personal and professional advice based on a simple premise: the skills and talents that got you promoted to a senior level are not the same as those required to succeed at that level. This applies in the corporate world or in our home lives; ask anyone who has been married if the equation for a healthy relationship was the same before the wedding and ten years later. But the concept is particularly relevant to today’s IT teams. Given the current pace of technology, what got IT here definitely won’t get us there.
Where is “there”?
For IT, the destination is creating value for the business through innovation, agility, and responsiveness. This objective stands in stark contrast to the previous era’s idea of success, defined primarily by cost cutting and cost optimization. IT organizations have been measured for decades on their ability to do more with less, but are now required to add demonstrable value, not just subtract budget.
This is much more than a philosophical shift. The skill sets, operating models, and success metrics for today’s IT imperative differ dramatically from their predecessors’. Success used to involve standardization, service-level agreements, incremental improvements, and sweating your assets. These tactics were appropriate for a more stable environment in which IT primarily served a utility function. Standardized applications allowed for easily sourced, narrowly defined skill sets. Service-level agreements around uptime and availability measured IT’s main function, “keeping the lights on.” Incremental improvements kept service and performance inching forward without rocking the boat – or requiring too much cash.
Don’t sweat your assets
Likewise, sweating your assets – i.e., getting as much as possible from what you already have – was an IT commandment practically set in stone. Making the business case for an IT investment involved multi-year payback periods that many organizations felt, and still feel, obligated to honor. The notion of abandoning ROI seems heretical. When decisions are based on cost, every last drop of utility must be squeezed from every dollar spent.
This approach worked until it didn’t. Today’s environment demands far more than base-level service at minimal cost. Attempting to replicate past successes in this new paradigm doesn’t just limit your potential, it leads to failure.
A cost-centric model essentially translates to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This attitude lowers the priority for investments in IT that could have the greatest impact and instills a bias toward maintaining or maximizing the status quo (more on the very real risks of the status quo here.) As a result, innovation is stifled. IT lacks the agility and responsiveness to meet rapidly changing business needs. The systems may be up, and costs may be down, but IT cannot support the dynamic demands of the business or drive value in a meaningful way.
Forget about the past
Relying on past successes even hinders our ability to see what’s possible. Technology is changing rapidly enough that what was unrealistic a few years – or even months – ago may well be a possibility today. Even if you take price out of the picture, it’s important to understand the limiting factors behind decisions so that when the available capabilities change, your investments can keep up.
This goes for expectations as well. While improvements of 3-5% may have been considered a good incremental success five years ago, today’s technology enables 25, 30, or even 50% leaps in speed, performance, scalability, availability, user experience, customer satisfaction, and more. The stars are now within reach – but we have to shoot for them.
So how do we get “there”?
The following five points offer a great start:
- Start fresh with your analysis of what’s working and what’s not
- Treat sunk costs as sunk
- Abandon the relentless focus on budget
- Quantify the opportunity cost of sweating the asset versus investing in increased business value
- Realign your priorities, at every level of the IT organization, toward adding value instead of reducing costs.
Doing more with less got us here. It’s time for strategies that take us far beyond the status quo to a new destination: innovation, agility, and service and support that change the game.