IT at the speed of business: How to build an agile IT department in a week

Enterprise IT,for all its talk about agility,has trouble walking the talk. CIOs can follow these five unconventional principles to build a truly agile competency – in as little as a week.

Bangalore | Published: June 4, 2013 3:47:57 pm

By Manish Panjwani

Enterprise IT,for all its talk about agility,has trouble walking the talk. CIOs can follow these five unconventional principles to build a truly agile competency – in as little as a week.

The ever-increasing power and utility of consumer technology has analysts and executives asking whether we even need IT departments anymore. After all,employees are getting their work done using free Web applications as well as their own laptops and smartphones!

In addition,the CIO’s power base is steadily being eroded. More and more IT decision-making powers are vesting in executives,managers and even users,leaving enterprise IT departments scrambling to keep control over IT policy and provisioning.

Rebuild or die

It is little wonder they are feeling beleaguered. In an Accenture survey of 152 business executives and 162 IT executives in four countries—the US,UK,France and India—respondents said the business function they would most like to have completely rebuilt is the IT organization.

But Indian IT departments must do more than overhaul enterprise IT infrastructure,applications and the line of business: in order to prove their agility,they need to be able to do so quickly.

How does a week sound?

Ridiculous and impossible—or not

Building IT from scratch in a week —or even a month—might sound unrealistic,but it is the sort of demand for agility that could come the way of any chief information officer (CIO) over the next few years.

After all,CEOs can download apps or software on their home PC in seconds today. Plus,there are clear benefits to having IT that can deliver at speed and scale: faster time to market,beating competitors to new and fleeting windows of opportunity,and responding to rivals.

How?

But for all its talk of agility,IT is finding it difficult to walk the talk. So how does a CIO build IT in a week? The answer lies in innovative thinking and adopting new approaches—not just in the technology or services available but in how the work is done.

The following five unconventional principles point the way to speedier projects delivering more agile IT:

* Invest time in planning. Albert Einstein once said,“If I had an hour to save the world,I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding a solution.” Advances in the software-as-a-service and process-as-a-service models,the broader cloud environment,agile development techniques,and collaboration tools allow execution times to be contracted dramatically. Business and IT heads should invest some of the time that has been freed up by using these technologies into laying down clear objectives of the exercise,setting precise criteria for success,identifying the right team members and evaluating potential solutions.

*Generate many possible solutions through competition: Instead of charging one team to find the best solution,increase the odds of finding a quick,yet innovative solution by having many teams compete to provide a winning plan. Each solution must be evaluated against the criteria set at the beginning of the project: if several teams provide a workable solution,the organisation should choose the most cost-effective and scalable one.

* Bring in teams with new ideas and outside perspectives. Another departure from the norm is running both internal and external teams. Appoint two project leaders: one to organise internal ‘high-speed’ work teams,made up of employees,and another to commission external teams through crowd sourcing and contracting–people not constrained by prior history. Each of these leaders would run multiple teams in parallel.

* Build teams with different characteristics. The in-house teams should be diverse,since it is not necessarily clear what approach will come up with the best solution. One team,for example,could consist of meticulous individuals who take a methodical and highly structured approach to their work. Another could consist of wildly creative individuals,while a third could be made up of new hires who can import practices used in other companies and industries. The project leaders should be explicit: permission granted to break the rules.

* Be prepared to build something imperfect fast,then improve it later. An ideal situation would be for one of the in-house teams to come up with a robust and scalable solution. But the core mission of the in-house teams is to quickly come up with at least one model that meets the minimum requirements,even if it needs to be fixed or discarded in the following weeks or months. Mark Zuckerberg’s motto,“Done is better than perfect,” applies here. To hasten the process,in-house teams should be encouraged to take advantage of existing infrastructures and vendor arrangements.

High innovation potential

Seeking proposals from various unconventional quarters,including outsiders is bound to cause concern among some executives. But this has been known to generate extremely innovative ideas,with crowdsourcing services such as InnoCentive,TopCoder or Kaggle offer tempting monetary prizes.

RailYatri.in is an Indian startup that uses crowdsourced information to give real-time railway updates,including running status,schedule status,location,route and stoppages of trains. RailYatri.in covers 80 per cent of 3.29 million square kilometres of India with 7 500 trains per week,9 000 train stations and 20 million daily travellers sharing real-time updates.

What suits you

The principles above are just some of the possible approaches to building IT in a week or a month. Of course,they won’t work for every project. A more standardised,industrialised approach,for instance,might make sense when companies are replicating a solution that has already been developed.

But is there one place you can try some of these techniques in the next six months,to see what you might learn?

CIOs need to find ways to move quickly when facing a novel or uncertain situation,where standard approaches aren’t fast or innovative enough. Better to start thinking about it now before that urgent meeting request arrives unexpectedly from your CEO.

(Author is Managing Director—Technology,India,Accenture. Views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not represent those of The Indian Express)

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