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A Gartner survey of CIOs in Australia and New Zealand found that 41 percent were operating some form of bimodal IT (compared to 45 percent globally). But how does it work in practice? What will the new IT organization look like?
At Gartner Symposium/ITxpo this week, vice president and Gartner Fellow Kristian Steenstrup hosted a panel discussion the topic of bimodal IT and the future of digital business with three CIOs: Chris Turnbull from Queensland Treasury and Trade, Shawn Nesbitt from South-East Queensland Water and Ross McKinnon from Michael Hill.
Q: Are you formally pursuing bimodal IT? Is there a department for short projects and long projects, and do you have a bimodal mindset?
Chris Turnbull: We probably have a bipolar mindset! With government overheads, there is a desire to always do things quickly and cheaply. There’s a good bit of commentary about the political process – ‘Don’t let the good be thrown out in your desire to be perfect’. Sometimes we lose sight of that, and agile brings some benefit and value back into the organization. In the desire to be good public servants, failure is not an option – or at least that’s what I’ve been told. It’s an interesting dynamic to try to balance the political expectation of perfection. Many people here would have heard about the Queensland Health payroll issue. A faster, more efficient delivery of that product probably would have made more sense but it got bogged down in loss of time and loss of people. In my mind the development side of projects should all be agile. We’ve got a major government system that’s worth a couple of hundred million dollars but its lifecycle is projected to be around 8-12 years. In 8-12 years, technology has changed so dramatically that you really can’t say that’s an up-to-date system. Being able to work on processes or technology quickly and get an 80 percent response or an 80 percent perfect rate makes far more sense than trying to get everything absolutely perfect and taking 10 years to do it.
Shawn Nesbitt: Are we bimodal? Yes. At SEQ Water, we’re almost running two IT departments. There’s the traditional technology side of things and then there’s all the other stuff. Because we’re an organization that has been founded upon multiple mergers, there’s a whole bunch of spaghetti that needs to be unravelled. There are still some core capabilities that need to be established around a standardized project management office. At the moment, almost all projects have significant depth and breadth. There is a PMO that turns around really short projects but we are in total infancy in that space. The organization structure doesn’t really reflect it at the moment.
Ross McKinnon: For a while, we’ve been running two teams. We have some shared services for testing, structure, security and support. We call it the rapid agile team. Then we’ve got project management and technology. We also have outsourced groups, which are probably more in the rapid agile space. It leads to a lot more quality. Our agile team has a two week turn around. We did try one week but it was just too quick. But what’s funny for us is that they keep poaching resources from other teams. The guys enjoy doing work for the agile team because they get quick wins, they get rewards and they get gratification. So they’ll sneak a job in for the agile guys and be happy about it, but it doesn’t tend to work the other way around.
Q: Would you agree that expectations of what can be done are changing?
Ross McKinnon: When it comes to updating firmware, customers are used to a 30 second outage when an App is updating. But when you have customer facing software, can you afford to have a 30 second downtime? I think in business, it won’t be acceptable, and I think we need to head more towards the aircraft industry, who have been updating their firmware in the air for 20 years.
Chris Turnbull: With our intranet page, people look at it and ask why it hasn’t been changed in two days. We have technology support people who want to take the network down for a couple of days and we have to say no, that’s not acceptable. Generational change is having a huge impact on expectations. In the book Big Switch, it talks about how technology is being used and consumed. Consider that 120 years ago, simply having electricity was a great competitive advantage. If you managed your machinery with electricity, you had one over the guy who relied on a water mill or donkey. In 1900, that was a real game changer. But by 1920, electricity was the norm. We’re rapidly reaching that stage where technology will be just like a plug in – where people can download an app and we won’t have any part of that process.
Q: What do you think is the future of the CIO role? As CIOs become broader technology managers, does that lead to changes in the organizational structure (where IT fits and who IT reports to)?
Chris Turnbull: My organization has a decentralized model of IT management. It’s always been that IT has to be close to the business and that’s the best place for it. I think the CIO role will change quite dramatically. There will always be a role for a technology manager because someone needs to interpret that world but it’s becoming more about how that technology is used. Compare it to the smartphone analogy. Five years ago, most IT people couldn’t get their heads around the fact that users would be installing apps at will. They worried about what version people were using. But now it’s become commonplace and something IT doesn’t even think about. Our challenge as CIOs is to bring value to the business rather than manage technology and the apps – how you get the benefit of scale, and the benefit of interaction.
Shawn Nesbitt: Technology is an enabler. In terms of reporting structure, I think it comes down to the value proposition. If you see information management as a competitive advantage, then absolutely it should be reporting into the CEO. It should have a seat at the table. Information is a core, strategic asset. For me it’s about information management. When I joined SEQ Water, ICT was very much technology focused. We’re on an interesting journey now to try to recast the function of ICT into a strategic asset for the organization that can provide insights and value to the organization.
Q: Ross, do you think that organizationally, you’re where you should be?
Ross McKinnon: I think I am. I’ve probably got the wrong title. I got the title of CIO over 14 years ago. It was the title given to the head of IT. I kind of disagree with these guys. I don’t look at the CIO as just being about information. I’m lucky enough to have a seat at the table and I’m advising on a lot of technological areas, not just information.