How Not to Fear Technology Assessments
In this article
The nice way of describing IT transformation is that it is a complete technology assessment and overhaul of an organization's information technology systems to improve the efficiency and delivery in a digital economy. IT transformation forms the foundation of an organization's larger digital transformation strategy and is led by business leaders such as the CIO. It can involve changes to—and modernization of—network architecture, hardware, software, IT service management and how data is stored and accessed.
How we got here
Some businesses grow organically, with piece-by-piece, application-by-application construction of internal IT systems as needs were identified or when they changed. Often there was never a road-map or intelligent methodology for how these systems were rolled out, integrated with other systems or decommissioned when they were no longer useful.
Other businesses grow by acquisition—capturing market space rapidly by looking for undervalued assets (similar businesses) and merely purchasing the additional revenue. Unfortunately, that additional revenue also comes with the associated internal IT systems, which are entirely different animals than what the buying business has dealt with before.
In either case, the faster a business grows, the more unmanageable their internal systems become. One day, there is simply no one within the organization who understands what is going on under the covers—they hope and pray that nothing goes "spzzzzzit!" in the night.
What to do?
As in life, the very best and most important thing to do is not to panic. It took a long time to get into the situation, so you can imagine that it will take a long time to extricate. The second best thing to do is, of course, to panic. You are likely mere seconds away from complete system meltdown, so whatever you can do to stop the bleeding, you should get on that right away!!
OK, take a breath. I was kidding.
Seriously, the best first step you can take is to intelligently assess your systems, and I mean an unbiased, razor sharp, objective assessment of inventory, physical and digital capabilities, workforce skill-sets, etc.—all rationally compared to business strategy.
Assessments (specifically assessments from an expert, outside, disinterested third party)—are the hardest things to get approved in a business because the business owners quite realistically ask their IT organization: "Why don't you know this stuff already?" to which the IT organization collectively mumbles incoherently about staffing issues and spaghetti code and 14 different tools for analyzing network traffic and shifting priorities and new project queues of 18 months for applications to meet market needs that died a fiscal quarter ago.
You've probably heard them before, but here are some of the common ones:
- Why have a third-party assessment in first place? What can somebody else tell us that we don't already know?
- Assessments take so much time. And we don't have time to sit with consultants.
- Why would we spend money on a consultant? Wouldn't it be better to use that money to buy more stuff or more people or give raises?
All the objections typically boil down to some variation of the questions above, so let's briefly address them one by one.
You have an idea of where improvements need to take place in your organization, but your view is also inherently biased because you have some stake in the recommendations. This is not a question of integrity, it's just a statement of fact. A consultant serves as a neutral third party and brings an outside point of view. They don't have the bias of internal politics or have to justify recommendations to your employees day-in and day-out.
You likely see many opportunities for improvement, but you don't know where to start. A good consultant can help you benchmark and share what similarly situated organizations are doing. An assessment gives you a roadmap on where to direct your resources to get the highest return on your investment.
There usually are two variations of the time argument. Either your team believes they can conduct an assessment on their own but never get around to it because it takes too much time, or they think that if they hire outside consultants, they will need to spend a significant amount of time working with them.
If your team is performing an assessment on their own then they aren't doing something else. Each position on your team was hired to meet a business need; if they are doing an assessment, who is focusing on that business need? Where can you spend time and money to get the most value for your company?
Even if you have a superb team, assessments will take longer to do internally because that is not a core capability. They have to develop the capability and then execute, whereas a consultant already has the capability and can execute immediately.
There is a tendency to see investment in assessments as an opportunity cost. That is, instead of spending money on consulting, the money would do better somewhere else (perhaps on hiring additional staff or buying additional equipment). The reality is that throwing people and tools at a broken process usually will not fix any problems. In fact, doing so could exacerbate existing problems.
As you contemplate an IT transformation of your organization, understand that it is necessary that you take an objective view of your current design and plan the most efficient and effective road-map toward that transformation. Using a reputable, outside, expert consultant working for your organization is the best approach.
To begin, why not look into an Operational Readiness Assessment?