4 survival strategies for IT chaos

Your IT survival guide for the new business normal: Four steps for mastering the world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

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4. Lighten Up

At Pearson PLC, a London-based company that offers education services worldwide, globalization and a seemingly insatiable consumer appetite for online learning are driving VUCA to new levels.

"One of the biggest shifts has been from a local to a global focus," says Pearson CTO Graham Calder. For example, with demand for English language training skyrocketing, particularly in Brazil and China, he says, "We're teaching English in a consistent way on a global scale."

The new and growing demand has prompted a seismic shift in IT strategy and technology investments, from on-premises enterprise systems to cloud-based and consumer technologies.

"We put consumer technology at the heart of our technology strategy and made the decision to embrace cloud knowing that it can mean compliance challenges," Calder says. This kind of "asset-light" computing infrastructure enables Pearson to expand quickly into new markets. An added benefit is the ability to "fail fast" and move on quickly, because the technologies are cheaper and easier to drop when something isn't working out.

In comparison, when there's a big financial investment that would have to be written off if a project were canceled, "it makes people continue longer down the path than they should," says Calder. The cloud, he says, "enables a fail-fast culture because it's asset-light. You can quickly figure out whether it has legs, and if it does, build it out."

While building a new messaging collaboration platform, for example, Calder's team made several midstream course changes.

"We lost maybe two to three weeks but didn't write off anything of significance. Often these kinds of things happen on a regular basis and don't get elevated to leadership," he says. "In some ways, that's a measure of success. A big decision can be made because the failure identified is relatively small and constrained and doesn't need a lot of executive support to authorize it."

But an asset-light strategy is a major mindset shift, especially for executive leadership. To be successful and agile, top management must stop viewing technology as a cost to be managed and instead see it as an opportunity to be exploited, he says. "When you start to view technology through that lens, you come to different decisions about how to govern it. As an IT leader, you have to trust your staff's knowledge and choices."

"CIOs used to talk about enterprise-grade technology. Now, it's all about consumer-grade," says Vince Campisi, CIO and Lean Leader at GE Intelligent Platforms in Charlottesville, Va. "It's all about whether technology can stand up in a consumer environment. Twitter and Facebook are how people are connecting, and it's really starting to change how industries operate," he says. "Now you have business leaders motivated and understanding and paranoid about how this stuff can disrupt their industry."

At Covanta, failing fast and delivering projects in chunks are both cornerstones of IT's strategy for delivering business value as quickly as possible in today's VUCA environment, says Kippelman.

Over the past two years, IT created and delivered more than two dozen applications using a tool called QlikView. Each of the applications took no more than two weeks to develop.

"I'd rather release something 10 times over seven or eight months than have one release in eight months," he says. "In a world where Facebook updates their software in some cases every day, I think business is coming around to understanding this. There's more support for it."


Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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