Digital transformation and trust - Kevin Borley looks at a Chief Information Officer's PoV

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Content Copyright © 2017 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: The Norfolk Punt

Effective businesses are built on TRUST (confidence, certainty); if everyone in the internal or external business supply chain has to check every input, every source of information they use, no matter… where it comes from, then there is going to be a lot of wasteful duplication and the business is hardly likely to be very Agile. Even worse, a business that can’t operate on TRUST is likely to operate a blame culture – with people spending more time finding someone to blame for a production issue than they spend on fixing it.

So, a CEO I know has said “The business is going to move to a digital commercial model. I trust our infrastructure and systems are going to be able to support that journey…”.

I’d suggest that this statement should be stopping the heart of any thinking CIO reading this, if s/he values his/her career. The implied level of TRUST in this statement (and its nature) can be both overwhelming and a sword to cut a CIO’s career very short indeed. Which might explain the anecdotal accounts of the carreers of some CIOs, who allegedly come into an organisation, cause chaos (they call it “disruptive refactoring”, if they are any good at this kind of career) and then move on in a couple of years, leaving someone else to clean up the mess. But let’s not go there, I fully TRUST that the majority of CIOs are experienced professionals, who are willing to learn, if there are gaps in their experience.

Enterprises take years to evolve the complex configuration and architecture needed to support flexibility and security of data, process and information. Is it realistic (without a significant risk assessment) to assume that the business has the appropriate infrastructure to support totally new business models? Possibly not.

I’d hope that, given a significant change of business model direction (developed/supported by the CEO and her Board), a CIO is given an opportunity to contribute to the discussion around the change to corporate direction. The CIO needs adequate notice, in order to plan and deliver the changes to re-position the technology stack, skill base and service delivery model, that will be required to support large scale, disruptive, change.

TRUST must be built on confidence in the CIO’s ability to manage risk and deliver in keeping with new needs. TRUST, however, cuts both ways and is also one of those things that is extremely cost effective – but only if you are prepared to pay for it, with adequate resourcing. TRUST depends on, among other things, having the right people operating the company, adequately trained, and (if TRUST is to be maintained during a period of disruptive change) on having a well-managed and adequately resourced cultural change program.

Moving to specifics, a CIO must have the ability (and authority) to challenge the thinking of his/her peers and colleagues (even at Board level), as to the feasibility of delivering the change needed in order to deliver their ambitious Vision.

If TRUST comes with an assumption that anything and everything that is required for the Vision will be delivered, is it real TRUST; is it right to TRUST without seeing and challenging the risk assessment needed behind every change? This is a question that must be addressed, I’d suggest, before any CEO confidently announces his or her disruptive vision for a company’s future to the Press.

Further, from a CIO’s perspective, where rapid change is required and the existing resources are not sufficient to deliver it, he or she must be empowered (and have the ability) to find organisations s/he can work with, in order to deliver the change.

And, remember that TRUST is (or should be) a two-way thing, despite the lamentable practices in some industries. Assuming that the CIO in this position has a complete knowledge of what s/he has to deliver, can s/he TRUST the executive team’s completeness of vision? If the business model is going to be technology dependent, in the long term, does s/he TRUST the judgement of his or her colleagues, as it applies to the tech market-place and the technology architectures it supplies – or might new technology purchases or vendor relationships let everybody in the company down?

So, considering the above scenarios might leave me, as a CIO, feeling very insecure – as I can’t control enough of the change to be certain that failures that aren’t my fault won’t rebound on me.

A question for my readers, in order to TRUST, does it follow that you have to be in control? Would this mean that you can reduce your exposure to the risks of change, and to organisations you cannot manage, so that you can sleep at night, without worry? That feels wrong to me, TRUST isn’t about being in control, it’s more about being able to function effectively even if you aren’t in control of everything. In any case, is anyone ever sufficiently in control to be able to TRUST that all possible risks have been eliminated; and, if they say that they are, will anyone TRUST them? TRUST is a cultural state, involving all of the stakeholders of an organisation, not an absence of all risk (and, as in many things in life, you can only be as safe as the security of your supply chain anyway).

We need TRUST because the risk associated with large scale change is huge. There is a real relationship between all of the issues discussed above. To TRUST you have to manage (not eliminate) risk, but risk management must be shared amongst all of the TRUSTed partners and stakeholders involved. For a CIO to be able to TRUST (and be TRUSTed), all of his or her suppliers and “customers” must share, or empathise with, the same point-of-view, mission, architectural vision and risk environment.

In this world, is the CFO a friend or foe? Individual CFO’s often tend to be risk adverse and process and KPI driven. If the CFO looks to manage cost more than functionality or innovation, will his/her influence result in the CIO compromising his or her direction, and losing TRUST as a result? I’ve already answered this one, more or less: “I’d hope that given a significant change of business model direction (developed/supported by the CEO and her Board), a CIO is given an opportunity to contribute to the discussion around the change to corporate direction”. Note “developed/supported by the CEO and her Board” – the CEO has to get the CFO on board, and committed to implementing her vision.

There are other potential issues, of course. Do CEO’s (and their stakeholders) really understand the scale of change and risk a disruptive change programme involves? How do you ensure the CIO has “air-cover” for when times get tough? The short answer, of course, is that you have a TRUST culture and such issues are resolved in collaborative discussion, including people in the discussion who have the knowledge and experience to provide the answers. The long answer is a book I don’t have room to include in this article, my knowledge of which goes a long way towards justifying my CIO fees/salary.

Nevertheless, always remember that part of what the CEO is paid for is to bring her whole team behind her vision for the Company and to inculcate a TRUST culture. That includes bringing her CFO and other stakeholders on board. It’s not all down to the CIO!