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Q&A: The New IT

Technology delivery is no longer the problem, says industry watcher and TDWI faculty member Jill Dyché. Now organizations are examining their organization's structure. Dyché takes a look at what this means for IT's future and why IT must change.

[Editor's note: Jill Dyché is presenting the keynote address, The New IT: How The Next Wave Is Changing BI, at the TDWI World Conference in Las Vegas (February 23-28, 2014). She'll explore new models for IT business engagement, the role of corporate culture in re-defining IT, and analytics in the changing IT landscape.]

The IT organization and its leadership are undergoing an identity crisis. With business staff becoming ever more tech-savvy, cloud options becoming increasingly business-friendly, technology vendors often circumventing IT completely, and IT cost-cutting continuing apace, how do IT organizations plan for the future? Industry evangelist and author Jill Dyché likes to say that "there's nothing more dangerous than an executive who's just read an airline magazine." What does all this mean for the CIO today, and what about tomorrow?

TDWI: Jill, you argue that IT is undergoing wholesale change. What's led you to that conclusion?

Jill Dyché: I've been watching what's happening over the past several years with our customers.

We had clients on both business and IT sides. [Editor's note: Jill was a partner and co-founder of Baseline Consulting, which specialized in management consulting for BI and data integration.] IT used to call us for help with maturity assessments and vendor evaluations. Business people used to call about managing their BI portfolios and creating roadmaps and budgets. It was all about technology delivery.

The conversation is changing. Most companies have established BI standards. They know what their tools are. Multiple executives will admit that when it comes to software tools, their companies have "two of everything." Technology is no longer the problem. In fact, it's a pretty minor issue.

Nowadays, both sides are asking a lot of questions about organizational structures. They want to better understand governance, as well as rules of engagement between the business and IT. They want to gauge their companies' appetite for change and understand tactics for working within their cultures. It's really a lot more about the "soft skills" -- the stuff that folks like Maureen Clary, Dave Wells, Cindi Howson, and I have been talking about at TDWI conferences for a while now.

Are you suggesting that BI experts were in front of this problem, and where business intelligence goes, so goes the rest of IT?

I do think that BI can be a leading indicator of how companies can evolve how their IT departments add value. The operational systems of old were more "plug and play." When you buy a new billing package, you know at the end of the day that system is going to generate customer bills.

BI is different. Companies can't deliver analytics in a vacuum. There needs to be dialog between the people making business decisions and the people delivering the tools. IT folks need to tease out the need, pain, or problem the business has, and business people need to articulate the need, pain, or problem clearly so that there's no gray area and so that everyone is on the same page.

The reason this matters is because it speaks to the larger issue of IT engagement. In dysfunctional environments, you have IT building solutions to problems that don't exist. They'll complain that business people don't communicate and that there's a lack of strategic transparency.

Meanwhile, business people will argue that they understand the problems -- and the optimal solutions -- better than IT ever could. One chief marketing officer at an insurer recently complained to me that "by the time I get in IT's development pipeline, I can engage a systems integrator to build what I need, and I'll have money left over in my budget."

In the meantime, IT wants to build its operating plan for the year and no one from the business side will respond to the meeting invitations. IT takes its best shot at a plan and a budget. Then someone on the business side accuses IT of resume-building, and everyone circles their wagons.

You're writing your fourth book on this topic, called The New IT. That suggests that this problem is complicated to solve. Is it?

It's not that the solution is complicated, it's that there's more than one way to solve it. People don't necessarily like to hear this, but there's no single org chart that represents the future of IT. There's no template for driving this kind of change.

For one thing, CIOs need to decide who they want to be, and even whether they want their organizations to evolve. I'm interviewing C-level executives for the book, and it's fascinating how some of them are digging in their heels and insisting on the status quo, and for good reason: their organizations simply aren't ready for change. One CIO I spoke to explained that anytime someone in a business organization submits a technology purchase, it automatically triggers an e-mail directly to him. He personally vets the purchase request before procurement sees it.

Other executives believe that the train has left the station. As I said in my Harvard Business Review blog, "Shadow IT is out of the closet." It's now parading around from room to room. This can mean scaling IT back, or it can mean a brand-new model for what IT looks like, how it's structured, and what it does.

James Dallas said it best. He's the recently retired senior vice president of quality, operations, and IT at Medtronic. That was a big job. He had a great philosophy of sharing IT with lines of business based on how close the IT solution was to the end-customer. He said, "There's nothing wrong with shadow IT -- as long as you're casting the shadow." I love that line.

Is this an area where executives need outside help? Are you suggesting IT leaders hire consultants to fix these problems?

Not at all. These are issues that leaders in both IT and the business can solve internally.

Until now, the problem has been that the people who foresee the change, the ones who are feeling the heat, haven't had the organizational authority to drive the necessary changes or consider some of the models I introduce in the new book.

Actually, even though the book isn't directly about BI, I have to say it's sort of gratifying to watch internal BI teams unravel some of these issues on a smaller scale. The whole BI competency center model, and the portfolio approach we designed at Baseline and that I talk about in my BI from Both Sides class, can really serve as test cases for centralizing specialty skills and processes. We're going to see a lot more "pockets of expertise" running across IT and the business. What they look like and how they're staffed will depend a lot on the company's strategic focus, and how its leaders interact.

Speaking of leaders, can you give us an example of a change agent you've interviewed for your book, and what that change looks like?

Well, I absolutely love Eugene Roman, who's the Chief Technology Officer at Canadian Tire.

Eugene is a real character. He'll regale you with stories of the Canadian military and how he played a part in the interactive TV revolution. He didn't even come from retail, but here he's chartered with the future technology vision of one of Canada's largest retailers.

Eugene joins Canadian Tire and hands out compasses to his entire leadership team. Compasses. Everyone wore their compasses, and people would get stopped in the hallway and asked where they got those compasses. Of course, the compasses represented a change in direction. They were a tangible and regular reminder that things were shifting.

Eugene says it really well. "The ability to change must be manifest and visible." Everyone initially laughed at the compasses, but then everyone wanted one. The compasses helped cultivate awareness of culture, policy, and staffing changes at Canadian Tire that Eugene continues to drive forward.

What about the business side? What are business executives like the CMO at the insurance company you mentioned doing to collaborate with IT?

Just like IT executives, business leaders need to decide who they want to be and what they want to do. You'll hear a lot of hubris coming from places such as finance and marketing about what their departments can do themselves, but at the end of the day, these leaders don't really want to own infrastructure. They don't have the time to research different solutions or to keep up with market-leading technology trends.

The rapprochement between the business and IT has more to do with organizational structures and process changes. It's more about agreeing on a sustained model of engagement and sticking to it.

I remember right after we wrote the CDI book, an attendee of one of my workshops asked me why her data warehouse couldn't also do MDM. I remember urging her to let her company's systems do what they were designed to do. Don't try to force a system into something it wasn't optimized for.

The same holds true for business and IT organizations. The new IT means letting people do what they do well, driving new kinds of value, sometimes even getting the hell out of the way.

Jill Dyché is vice president of SAS Best Practices. Her fourth book, The New IT, will be published this summer.

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