Your IT Organization = Innovation Machine
August 13, 2012

Pamela Roussos

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In my first two blogs I discussed how the ‘new world’ IT department is raising the profile of DevOps, and how this fundamental shift is making visibility across business risk and system metrics more important than ever before. Now I’d like to talk about how you can leverage this ‘new world’ by positioning your IT department to drive innovation at your company.

First, let's take a step back and appreciate how much the role of the IT department has evolved in today's organizations. Gone are the days when IT's main task was supporting the business so it could interact positively with the customer. Back then, folks in the IT department were responsible for applications running in production and supporting the rest of the organization - sales, customer support, marketing, finance, etc.

Now fast-forward to today where technology has customers interacting directly with applications that are supported by IT and DevOps. The rise of DevOps, as well, is driving a cultural shift where IT is concentrating on business results, not just technical details.

Matthias Marschall wrote about this in a recent piece in Agile Web Operations and discusses how with the incorporation of lean principles, DevOps focuses on improving collaboration between developers and operations.

This has greatly impacted the relationship with the customer. While yesterday's successful companies were customer focused, that is no longer enough; today's successful companies are customer obsessed. IT managers and executives are in a unique position to drive customer obsession thanks to the very powerful visibility they have into the business metrics of how the company's customers consume business services. This vision is made possible by powerful solutions available today that provide business and systems metrics.

While IT metrics have been gathered and shared for years now, they have tended to be reported in very technical terms, often rendering them somewhat meaningless to the business risk management team. And more importantly, frequently it is not known if what is being reported is impacting the business. However, using today's solutions allows organizations to easily have a single view of system and business metrics, enabling a more informed business profile.

With this single view, technology executives have visibility into business risk and if/how they are tied to systems risk. This new and powerful perspective not only paves the way for IT management to move from the ‘back office’ to front and center at the business table, it's freeing up the IT team from constant fire-fighting and enabling them to focus on bigger business perspectives, and putting IT in a position to drive innovation at the company.

So IT/DevOps is now in a prime position to both engage the organization in producing real innovation at a grassroots level, and to take a leadership role in developing and executing the plans to bring those innovations to fruition. Are you ready?

First, understand that change starts from within, and that means you may need to adjust how company leaders perceive the IT department. Do you need to evolve your perspective, it's not about managing servers, it's about managing customers' experience and ensuring they have the best possible.

You'll also want to identify the metrics that are beyond those that show “IT is doing its job” to number of logins, abandoned shopping carts, queries processed, whatever is important to the business.

Many people outside of IT perceive it to be so technically complex that they ‘leave it to the experts.’ Take a stand and stop making technology a complexity issue – and show how IT and DevOps are at the nexus of the business and its customers.

Next, embrace the notion that today's business innovations will always have an IT component. It's also important to foster a culture of innovation. My experience has been that innovation is a team effort that develops over time. While we like to picture that light bulb going on, ‘aha’ innovation moments rarely happen. Innovation requires a multi-discipline approach, and one that does not require breaking of the rules, but rather establishing of new rules to foster innovation.

Have you used your unique vision to drive strategic innovation at your company?

Pamela Roussos is CMO of AppFirst.

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