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Two Speed IT: Not as sexy as it Sounds (Part 1)

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With ever-increasing interest in technology solutions, IT’s stakeholders give them two competing demands:

  1. Produce new innovative, strategic technology-based capabilities.
  2. Do so with reduced resources.

How can IT leaders step up to the plate and juggle these seemingly competing agendas: to meet the business’ demands for increased innovation, including new digital systems and services, all while cutting costs and slashing budgets?

A Theoretical Solution: Two Speed IT

One popular solution has emerged within IT thought leadership. Often called “Two-Speed IT”, this solution proposes IT doesn’t attempt to resolve the tension between these two ideas. Instead, the solution tells IT to lump all of their technology into one of two broad buckets. Operational technology should be treated as entirely separate entities than innovative technology. Do this, and operations won’t slow down innovation, and expensive innovation investments won’t inflate operations’ budgets.

This idea sounds elegant on paper. But when real-world IT departments attempt to put it in practice, they often encounter problems:

  • Operations & Infrastructure Become Second-Class Citizens
    • When you separate operations and innovation, your stakeholders start to see your operations as the people costing them money, while innovation become the heroes who deliver all the cool, snazzy new systems and services. Operations then faces damage to their reputation, recruitment efforts, and morale—and you’re all-but-forced to repeatedly slice operations’ budget to pay for the one-off technology requests that excite your stakeholders.
  • Shadow IT is Encouraged
    • When IT is asked to reduce many of their budgets, business stakeholders go ahead and make their desired technology investments without IT.  IT becomes increasingly isolated within the role of service provider, instead of being treated as the stewards of technology and creativity.
  • Technology Change Becomes Superficial and One-Off
    • Organizations already face a crisis of appointing digital figureheads, committees, and action groups that look decisive, but don’t produce real change in their organizations. Separating innovation from the rest of IT may look good, but it may not result in any action being taken. And when action is taken, enterprise-wide transformative change rarely occurs. Without holistic vetting and governance of new technology systems and services—that includes voices from operations—stakeholder-requested solutions rarely fit into existing technology environments.

Make no mistake—there is value in the idea of “Two-Speed IT”. At a top-level, it’s wise to recognize IT services and technologies have different requirements, and need to be approached in different ways.

But that recognition tends to be where “Two-Speed” thinking ends. While we’ve seen a lot of theorizing about how the IT organization can meet these two demands, we haven’t seen a lot of boiling down of how to address these competing demands in a meaningful, practical way. And without this practical framework, it’s easy for IT leaders to try to implement solutions that sound good on paper—like Two-Speed IT—but which create the above problems—or worse—when directly implemented in the real world.

A Practical Approach to Doing More With Less

During engagements with clients like Teva and Bayer, we helped them address their stakeholders’ competing demands to both cut costs and innovate. In the process, we developed a practical, proven framework that guides IT groups to a successful resolution of their stakeholder’s competing demands.

Like Two-Speed IT, our framework acknowledges the often-competing nature of stakeholder needs and the many technology systems and services IT runs.

But unlike Two-Speed IT, our practical framework goes beneath the surface of these issues, and directly addresses their underlying tensions—while avoiding the common problems IT organizations encounter when attempting to juggle their competing stakeholder and technological demands.

Your Five Step Framework to Do More With Less

Step 1: Stop Taking Your Stakeholder’s “Two-Speed” Requests at Face Value

Step 2: Translate Your Stakeholder’s Competing Requests into Meaningful Mandates

Step 3: Think Technology Lifecycle, Not Technology Speed

Step 4: Make Your Technology Lifecycle Real in Your Organization

Step 5: Use Your Lifecycle to Frame New Stakeholder Demands

For now, we will explain the first two steps of our framework. Steps 1 and 2 reframe your stakeholders’ competing requests, and provide a clear path towards resolving them. We will explain how to follow that clear path (Steps 3-5) in part two of this series.

Step 1: Stop Taking Your Stakeholder’s “Two-Speed” Requests at Face Value

Before you slice your IT organization in two—and sacrifice critical services so you can invest in one-off techno-buzz implementations—first take a step back and reconsider your stakeholders’ competing mandates driving you to that conclusion:

  1. Produce new innovative, strategic technology-based capabilities.
  2. Do so with reduced resources.

Taken at face value, these requests to “do more with less” form an immature demand.  They are without context or strategic intent.

But it’s not IT’s job—not now, nor ever—to take new development requests or blanket mandates at face value.

It’s IT’s job—now, and always—to first listen, then to dig in to uncover what stakeholders are really asking for.  And finally, to translate true needs into meaningful technology mandates, strategy, and development.

Step 2: Translate Your Stakeholder’s competing Requests Into Meaningful Mandates

How does your business demand to do more with less stand up to scrutiny?

  1. Produce new innovative, strategic technology-based capabilities.

Taken at Face Value: IT’s stakeholders want you to invent or purchase the next iPad.

The Reality: It’s unlikely you have the budget, time or R&D competency to develop truly first-ever technology.   Nor is that what your business desires.

Translation: Your stakeholders want you to continually scan the external landscape and be aware of what’s applicable to your business context.   They want you to have a process for vetting these capabilities and determining what will truly drive business benefit.

  1. Do so with reduced resources.

Taken at Face Value: Your leadership wants you to slash all IT budgets.

The Reality: Organizations are spending more on technology than ever before.

But there are certain types of technology they are allocating these increased budgets toward, and others they want to spend less on.

Translation: Your stakeholders see basic technologies all around them becoming cheaper and easier to use. They want you to “consumerize” basic IT technologies like internet, network connectivity, user support, etc.

At heart, these are the same mandates IT has always faced — keep up with new tech, make it work flawlessly and ever cheaper. As Forbes put it:

“Whether you call it legacy versus emergent systems, Brownfield versus Greenfield deployments or sustaining versus disruptive technologies, the dichotomy between old and new or maintenance and development has been around since the dawn of IT.”

The speed of technology changes requires IT to be more proactive than ever before, and more present with stakeholders.   IT leaders can not afford to remain in the server room –  you must get in front of the issue to demonstrate the real value of IT.

Steps 1 and 2 of our methodology reframe your stakeholders’ competing requests, and uncover the real requirements underlying them.  If you can accept these are not new demands, and they are actually exciting opportunities for IT, you can bring new tenor to conversations with your business partners.

(And if you’d like to go further into this old problem’s proven solution, read Part 2 of this article, where we will walk you through the nuts-and-bolts of the technology lifecycle for prioritizing demand with stakeholders.)

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