Dear CIO and my partner-in-creating-the-future:
I came across this great quote from Rita McGrath that makes me laugh but also wince because it’s such a painfully accurate observation, especially as I think about how many of these barriers we could overcome by transforming the way marketing and IT work together:
“All of our innovation barriers are self-inflicted.”
As the CIO, you lead a function that must demonstrate ever-greater value and impact. The pressure is on to shift away from being a utility provider to an enterprise strategic asset — an active creator of value and a collaborative contributor — a function driving, and driven by, innovation.
Guess what? Marketing feels a similar set of pressures, and I believe the keys to our success lie in how we work together. Not because there is strength in numbers, so much as because value creation in the new economy will happen at the intersection of three of the hats our functions influence, shape and lead within the organization: customer insight and analytics + user experience + implementation capability.
Years ago, I co-led a big initiative alongside one of my all-time favorite CIOs. We were assigned an audacious multi-year, IT-based effort. The CIO gave me a great piece of advice that has stuck with me through many assignments. “Amy,” she said, “you just have to chunk it.”
Chunking complex projects down into bite-size and digestible parts has become one of my personal core operating principles, and is relevant to the challenge of reinventing what we do for a digitally powered world. So herewith are six “chunks” I’d like you to embrace as elements of the answer.
- Connect the future path of the IT organization to the company’s vision. This sounds obvious. Nonetheless, taking the time to confirm that there is a vision, that it is clear and defensible and that it is understood by all constituencies may expose opportunities to get the IT foundation to be as air-tight as possible.
By the way, this advice applies equally to marketing. With all of the intense pressure to generate marketing return on investment (ROI), step one has to be a connection to business priorities.
- Empower IT team members with customer insight. An example of this would be to package and leverage ethnography, including artifacts coming out of in-home/on-site visits and day-in-the-life tag-alongs with customers – and by packaging I mean not the typical, mind-numbing Powerpoint slides, but video and other highly visual, interactive media that bring insights to life and make it easy to draw connections to development decisions.
I’d be happy to conduct workshops with members of the IT team to translate field learning into actions for business performance improvement and potentially disruptive business models.
- Insist upon and work actively to foster collaboration between IT and other functions … abolish the “order-taking” role. I’ve never met an IT professional who enjoyed being an order-taker, but it’s hard to redefine a role that for now-irrelevant reasons is often defined as such. Think like a start-up. How to change? Start by establishing processes grounded in business priorities and customer insight that foster collaboration between IT and other functions. Work with marketing to set the example. Demonstrate your role as a source of value.
One process I’ve seen work uses a repeatable approach to tapping into market insight and customer analytics to formulate hypotheses for growth, vetting and prioritizing them, putting the best ones into a test-and-learn cycle with working user prototypes, reading results and moving to next steps: kill, test again or roll out. This model demands design, analytics and technology skills, along with openness, a collaborative mindset and agility. With these conditions in place, it works.
- Implement an organization structure that enables digital transformation … and transcends the usual silos and politics. Challenge the norms and at least nudge your approach to accelerate IT’s impact on the digital transformation. There is always an “ideal scenario,” and then there’s the reality of anchoring to the company’s history, culture and business environment. These are all part of the context for a pragmatic organization solution that is both future-focused and rooted.
A good starting point is a fresh approach to a user experience capability. To be done right, this unit taps into a range of skills that would traditionally be distributed in marketing, IT, potentially finance or operations. Don’t overlook the impact on performance of co-location and a unified structure, what skills are really needed and how to close existing gaps. Consider the role of external resources who can jumpstart efforts, whether design agencies, big data analytics partners or maybe mobile app developers. IT should have a seat at the table to form this capability but may not be its organizational home.
- Take a clean-sheet approach to what is internal vs. external. Today the questions around what should be internal vs. outsourced, and how those outsourced relationships should be structured, have become more important and more complex. As with internal roles, external providers who know their stuff are more likely to walk the talk on a more multi-functional approach than traditional providers.
For both organization and external capabilities there is no right answer, except to be driven by the business vision and priorities, to be open-minded to new ways to execute and to expect external partners to collaborate, not just take orders.
- Enable a real prototyping capability … not just to see if code will run, but to get continuous and actionable customer feedback on the experience, either live in-market, or minimally in a simulation. This capability should enable speed, iteration and low cost.
On this recommendation, I have seen more examples in larger regulated institutions of what won’t work than what will. Live prototyping remains a challenge in regulated sectors, where there is no room for the downside of risks that might hurt a user, but where businesses are foregoing the upside of user-centered design.
Disruptors make the choice to frame business models that can advance without the permissions and burdens of a regulated entity. Creating infrastructure that assures compliance and predictability while also enabling agility is by itself an innovation opportunity.
Let’s work together on progress toward the Dream Team vision.