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Transforming IT from shadow boxer to strategic business partner

Part One in our Executive Briefing series. By Teri Cooper

· IT strategy,UX,Transformation

When a hand-picked group of CIOs and senior executives attended our recent breakfast briefing on harnessing transformative IT for competitive advantage, there was much more on offer than just a great selection of Danish pastry.

The Transforming IT Executive Briefing, held at Microsoft’s HQ in Melbourne, featured keynotes from TACT Non-Executive Director and now Aurecon CIO Carl Duckinson, strategic planning specialist Mark Schroffel and Managing Director of The Digital Project, Nikki Scott.

Each presenter set out to challenge the contemporary thinking of IT as a back-office activity, and shine a torch on its value as a key strategic partner. In a three-tiered approach, they examined how combining smart organisational design, a strategic mindset and cutting edge business improvement tools enables CIOs to deliver competitive advantage.

Promoted as an 'informal conversation among peers’, there were plenty of insights shared by those the room, many of whom knew first-hand how tough it can be to shift the long held view of IT as a cost centre rather than a value provider.

This article summarises the key takeaways from the briefing, which was the first in a quarterly series of events we'll be hosting for IT and business leaders. Do drop us a line if you'd like to join us at the next one.

Part One: The role organisational leadership plays in delivering transformational IT

Presented by Carl Duckinson

Carl Duckinson (second from left) discussing the shift in focus for IT organisations towards value-driven outcomes. “You have to earn the right to get out from the nuts and bolts of IT into the more strategic area that we all want to play in.”

As an accomplished CIO who has driven IT strategy for organisation’s such as Aurecon, Toll Group and Newcrest Mining, Carl Duckinson has a strong track record in delivering organisational transformations. He says it’s common to see organisations spin their wheels by becoming fixated on finding the perfect IT solution (a euphemism for not being able to make a decision), or investing in ‘gold standard’ solutions they believe will stand the test of time, but which take so long to deliver they are virtually obsolete before they’ve even got off the ground.

In Carl’s experience, the strategic imperative for positioning IT as a value centre rather than a cost centre means thinking beyond process and focusing on business-critical outcomes. "Yes, big data and Cloud integration are important from an IT perspective, but without a clear business outcome in mind, they are little more than technology solutions looking for a problem," he said.

CIOs need to focus on big picture outcomes that reduce costs (such as enabling offshoring), increase productivity (and empower the workforce), increase profits (delivery excellence) and enable new products or revenue models (digital). These things all add immense value to a business, and IT organisations that deliver them will move beyond the cost centre mentality.

“Business doesn’t care about the nuts and bolts of IT, it cares about value-driven business outcomes which is a very different proposition.” – Carl Duckinson, TACT Non-Executive Director and Aurecon CIO

The building blocks of transformational IT

The following infographic uses broad brushstrokes to highlight the key aspects of transforming your IT organisation from a perceived cost centre to a strategically-aligned value centre.

Infographic: Essentials of repositioning IT from cost centre to value centre

UX is a deal breaker

Dramatic, but true. User experience is no longer a canapé, it's now the main course – and businesses who don't treat it as such risk disenfranchising their workforce and their customers.

Why? Because by the time most of us get to work we’ve already spent a good half hour or more using IT as a consumer – checking emails, reading the news and visiting our favourite Apps. We expect an equally seamless experience from IT we use at work and there’s really no excuse for not providing it.

For one thing, implementing technology is no longer the sole domain of IT departments. Anyone can buy IT services for their enterprise from an App store or from the Cloud without the need to buy hardware or even software – we simply download, deploy and go. This has reduced the time IT spends on labour-intensive implementation activities, enabling IT people to focus on value-creation instead.

What's more, says Carl, managing this widespread access to technology has presented an opportunity, where once it was cause for a headache, for IT leaders.

“I still hear conversations from CIOs and their leadership teams asking how IT as an organisation can control all this IT activity,” said Carl, “but that’s the wrong question. It’s not about controlling it – it really doesn’t matter if it’s the CIO, the CFO or even the Head of Innovation – it’s about supporting it. That should be our focus as CIOs because that’s where we really play to our strengths and add material value to the business.”

“You have to earn the right to get out from the nuts and bolts of IT into the more strategic area that we all want to play in.” – Carl Duckinson, TACT Non-Executive Director and Aurecon CIO

This is the end of Part One of our special series on transforming IT from shadow boxer to strategic business partner. Next time, we'll take a deep dive into Mark Schroffel's presentation on strategy, value-creation and mindset. We look forward to your company then.

Enjoying a lighter moment at the Transforming IT Executive Briefing: (from left) Scott Marks (Fragility Technology), Sean Atchinson (SCT Group) and Tom Bendistinto (TACT)

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About the author

Teri Cooper is a writer, marketer and digital communications specialist who writes about technology, business strategy and leadership. She founded digital consultancy Scoot Communications in 2014. When she's not hunched over a keyboard, she can often be found roaming around Melbourne indulging in her two current passions, Instagram and coffee.

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