How your CIO and IT team can successfully balance sustainable and disruptive technologies

When markets move as fast as today, organisations have to keep experimenting with digital innovation in order to evolve at the same speed as their environment. But, at some point, these trials will need to become sustainable projects and be integrated into what is known as traditional IT.

By Jo Coutuer, Partner at Deloitte Belgium

This blog is part of a tailor-made content series centred around the SAS Forum Belux 2015. It is linked with the event track called `Digital Society’. Click here to join the event and learn more about the other 3 tracks (Internet of Things, Data Management and Data Science).

The disruptive, innovative IT projects will then become part of the technology ecosystem that keeps the business going and where efficiency, cost, governance, data quality, reliability and security are of the essence. A Hadoop marketing project that has proven its worth in the lab phase will, for instance, have to move beyond unbridled creativity and testing into a fully integrated and quality-driven stage. One of the biggest challenges in IT today is actually striking the right balance between fast and disruptive technologies that drive exponential change, on the one hand, and keeping traditional IT stable and running, on the other.

Organisations have a lot on their plates in order to bridge this gap between these two different ‘clock speeds’ of IT. Several dynamics can play a role in solving this conundrum: empowering the CIO as a venture capitalist and putting him at board level, regarding IT as a balance sheet, understanding that there are different types of IT workers and knowing where which ones thrive best.

The CIO becomes a board-level venture capitalist

In a world where IT has evolved from tactical to strategic, it only makes sense that the CIO’s role matures as well. He or she needs to start thinking like a venture capitalist and look at the ensemble of his IT architecture as a product portfolio: like a balanced ecosystem of solutions with a symmetrical level of risk. This will induce a change in mindset, because investing in projects with a higher level of risk – and a higher potential for return – will also mean that the failure rate will increase. The trick is just to spread this risk evenly and move on, or re-route when something is not working as it should. This is merely one aspect of how the CIO can integrate the old with the new, and how he can reconcile innovation with stability.

Another aspect of this integration is that IT should be regarded as a balance sheet, with assets and liabilities. That is because technology it is so much more than hard- and software. It is just as much about human capital, skills, facilities or vendors. It’s about having the right organisational culture: one that is driven by change, that knows how to deal with risk, but also understands how to respect and maintain its digital foundations. One where these two seemingly opposing forces work together instead of opposing each other. It is also about putting the customer at the heart of the organisation, rather than the company’s processes and transactions. It is up to the CIO to go beyond just enabling this dynamic but to truly drive it. That is precisely the reason why CIOs ought to be licensed at board level.

The psychology of hiring the right IT experts

Skilled IT workers are hard to find. Though the STEM studies are rising in popularity, the demand is still not meeting the current supply. What makes this challenge in technological human capital even more demanding is that there are two kinds of IT workers. Organisations need both profiles AND – that is the tricky one – put the right profiles in the right places. I believe that good ‘old fashioned’ personality profiling needs to play a major role in this. Let me explain with an example. I know many experts in the very trendy field of big data, analytics, social media or cloud solutions and they all have very different personalities. Some organisations make the mistake of automatically putting these profiles in their digital innovation teams, without taking their actual personalities into account. It does not necessarily mean that someone is creative and innovative because he is well versed in new techniques. He or she might very well be a very structured and efficiency-driven person who needs routine and thrives in an environment with clearly outlined procedures. That is not the person you want to put in charge of change, but it is the employee you want to sustain your traditional architecture. Do not let innovative skills blind you. Look at the personality first, then at the skills and decide where to place an IT worker on the basis of both. There is a very big difference between the advanced analytics specialist who goes home with a smile because he made sure that everything ran according to plan that day and the one who leaves work exhilarated because he successfully implemented a new algorithm. Not many organisations seem to realize this.

IT today is not just about changing and innovating. It is just as much about maintaining and solidifying. Above all, it is about reconciling both – together with a CIO and an IT team who understand why and how – so that each can enforce the other.


Join SAS Forum Belux on October 15 in Antwerp to gather other valuable insights into the digital society, the Internet of Things, data science and data management: