CIOs: Break these old IT norms to move faster

Speed has never been more critical for IT. Ellucian CIO Lee Congdon shares some strategies to help energize your teams to move faster
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While operating in the status quo is comfortable, it won’t propel CIOs and their teams to the leading edge. Today, there are very few business processes that don’t have a significant or growing technology component. More organizations realize that their business and their IT are inextricably linked. This presents tremendous opportunities for CIOs and their IT organizations.

At Ellucian, a higher education software, services, and cloud company, we’ve worked hard to transform into a fast-moving, cross-discipline business that operates in new ways in pursuit of the leading edge. We’ve done a great deal of work in recent years to evolve from a traditional, on-premises software organization to a flexible and agile cloud company.

To support this, we’ve changed our IT approaches in several areas including customer engagement, how we manage our work, and our organizational makeup. Here are some of the approaches that are helping drive our transformation.

Have a relentless customer focus

Today, you need to understand in detail what’s important to your business partner customer and what they view as a success — not just what the project plan says, not just what you told them during the planning cycle, and not your implicit promises in past meetings.

... the new model of customer centricity requires a higher level of collaboration

In the past, IT organizations met with customers regularly to assess joint priorities. That was a best practice to establish agreement on where you stood and to discuss what it would take to succeed. That’s still a good practice, but the new model of customer centricity requires a higher level of collaboration. IT people need to understand the business objectives, their customer’s requirements, and how they view success. 

This means taking on accountability for customer success metrics in your ongoing collaboration. As an example, we complete an annual Net Promoter Score survey with our director-level and above internal customers to ensure we are aligned with their requirements.

[ Learn how to take customer-centricity to the next level in this Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report, The New Rules of CIO Leadership. ]

Don’t just deliver to spec

If we’re only delivering exactly what we’ve been contracted to deliver, we’re not forward-thinking and we’re not building relationships for the long term. Previously, we were focused on delivering projects according to specs, both for external and internal customers, before moving on to the next thing.

Today, we manage products and value streams. Instead of pursuing a point solution as we did in the past, we’re now managing a set of continuous improvements for the services we provide. This requires that next-level customer relationship, ensuring there is shared value flowing from the ongoing initiatives.

If you consider the types of solutions we provide — and the increasingly sophisticated solutions that many software and cloud companies provide — it’s not a commodity relationship. We’re in the business of partnerships. Moving to this model allows us to deliver higher-quality solutions to customers and it allows them to depend on our services to achieve our joint business objectives.

Agile and lean methods are powerful

If a two-year project was a bad idea five or 10 years ago, it’s a worse idea now. No one feels successful when you’ve embarked on a multi-year project during which the scope and budget fall off track. Today’s delivery model is about quickly delivering a minimum viable product with the expectation that you’ll delight the customer over time as you continue adding new capabilities in response to their direct feedback.

If a two-year project was a bad idea 5 or 10 years ago, it’s a worse idea now.

In this model, teams have people working together, regrouping, and reforming over time. This gives everyone the opportunity to experiment and understand what worked, what didn’t, and recover quickly in the next sprint. Using both agile and lean methods to solve business problems allows people the freedom to iterate and improve at multiple levels within the scope of their empowerment.

As a result, agile has gained great acceptance among technology and business teams and is spreading throughout organizations. In the early days of agile, there were questions about how well a team could maintain control and ensure they were delivering value for their expenditures. Some people were critical. They didn’t understand the jargon. Much of that concern is behind us and people understand that flexibility, agility, and fast solutions are important.

If the services you deliver require custom software development, invest in the appropriate pipeline processes and tooling to ensure you are consistent, efficient, and secure in delivering those services.

[ Read more from Ellucian CIO Lee Congdon, Culture Change: CIO shares skills, tools and tactics to get it done. ]

Lee Congdon is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Ellucian, the leading independent provider of higher education software, services and analytics.

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