Faster, flexible, forward looking: How to make IT more responsive to business

To change what your organisation does, you have to understand what really makes it tick.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
flexible business

Business models must be flexible to work in today's changing environments, say CIOs.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Modern CIOs must help their organisations change direction at a moment's notice through the innovative use of new technology.

So do traditional business models -- which focus on a plan for successful operations -- still play a role?

We talk to five experts and discover their best practice tips for making the most of business models in an age of constant change.

1. Create a platform for future disruption

Camden Council interim CIO Omid Shiraji says business models still fulfil an important role. IT leaders must ensure they put such structures to the right use. CIOs should avoid using business models as a safety net and instead think about how they can create a foundation for change.

"Most people take comfort in having a framework -- it gives them a view of the world and a lens through which to look at everyday operations," he says. "It's something I'm experiencing right now at Camden as we explore the best way to share services across and between London boroughs."

CIOs should use business model to establish key outcomes. From this desired state, IT leaders and their peers can begin to think about more exciting projects, some of which will necessarily involve disruption and which -- by definition -- are tougher to describe.

"Use your business model to understand what your organisation does," says Shiraji. "You should use this as a platform to think about what you can disrupt in the future. As in construction, you need your architect's drawings before you build the house. Once you're ready, you can then figure out how to design something really great for the customer."

2. Build velocity into your approach

K. Ananth Krishnan, vice president and CTO at TCS, says the important role of innovation in the digital era means senior executives have to constantly change their business models. He says CIOs developing a strategy must manage a range of vectors, including processes, talent management, products, and services.

He says the technology of the digital consumer is fundamentally changing business models. Krishnan points to opportunities in the finance sector. He says IoT and sensors could allow insurance companies, for example, to monitor changes in activity automatically, offering new services to customers.

"The age of hyper-connectivity presents new opportunities for all CIOs," says Krishnan. "Velocity will be the decisive factor for success -- ideas are cheap; you need direction, not just speed. You need velocity -- and well-directed strategies -- in order to guarantee value for your business."

3. Transform when the time is right

Tonino Ciuffini, head of information assets at Warwickshire County Council, says business models and overarching strategies are still important for CIOs. However, IT leaders also need to work with an increasing amount of flexibility.

"I don't get hung up on structures or concerns about who's in control of particular areas, like digital," he says. "Success is about working with the right people to get the best possible outcomes. Yes, have your principles, but be flexible enough to change when the time is right."

Ciuffini points to the work his council is undertaking with central government bodies, like the National Health Service. He also refers to the increasing role of application programming interfaces, suggesting these will be crucial to the council's plans for the future use of digital technology.

"You can do things now that you wouldn't have been able to five years ago. My job is to make the projects work across all those types of partnership. There is still a strong requirement for CIOs to develop effective working partnerships for key initiatives," says Ciuffini.

"We have to have a high level strategy and we have to take technology in the direction that the business is going. That can be a challenge in itself, because public sector organisations are under severe cost pressures and must deliver value across all areas of provision. But the business models that CIOs help support must be flexible enough to change as required."

4. Make people understand change is a constant

Travis Perkins CIO Neil Pearce is another IT leader who still believes in business models -- but only if the organisation has enough flexibility to change direction as required. Introducing that kind of agility is a challenge.

"I think you still need business models because you need to give certainty to people across your business about how you and the IT department are operating," he says. "But what you've got to do is try and create a business model that's flexible -- that's the key."

Pearce says he is trying to promote that kind of adaptable approach within his IT department. His aim is to create a business model with in-built agility. "That's why we talk of changing IT through evolution and the business has to be set up to use technology to evolve continuously," he says.

"The days of creating a rigid structure simply don't work in modern organisations. But you have to get people to understand the nature of change you're planning to implement. Create a culture that helps your people to understand that change is now just a constant."

5. Think about what's right for your organisation

Matt Britland, director of ICT at Lady Eleanor Holles School, says business models are directly related to context. He says a good IT for strategy for a school depends on what the organisation wants to achieve, whether that involves improvements to grades or new opportunities for independent working.

Britland says he worked alongside senior staff members at the school to think about what they would like the school to look like in the future. "We looked at the main objectives and used my experience to come up with a series of technologies that we wanted to put in place," he says.

"One of those key elements was giving our students the opportunity to use their device to support and enhance their learning. We wanted to give them tools, such as Apple iPads, to allow them to be independent, without being prescriptive about the times and locations they would be allowed to use technology."

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