There's a clear upside to a major IT transformation: You're essentially changing everything about the way technology benefits the business. But in the process, there's an equally clear downside: You're trying to mess with everyone's business while they're trying to conduct business.
I joined Avaya in January 2007 with a mandate to launch a major worldwide IT transformation. We're entering our third year, and we're making solid progress along our four-year journey.
See Also: The CIO Strategy for 2010
Any CIO getting into a multiyear transformation initiative needs to keep a few things in mind. I've done this before--in the automotive supply, chemical, technology and financial sectors--and I've learned a number of lessons. One lesson is that having deep experience in these initiatives doesn't mean you have all the answers.
In IT, we often talk about reusing something that works somewhere else. That doesn't work for a major transformation project. Each company has its own size, structure and scope, as well as its own culture. Each company has different goals and different obstacles.
There isn't a single recipe for successful transformation, either. To find what will work, a CIO has to do some homework: understand the company; know where it is and where it's going; and, most important, understand the size of the challenge, from the business side as well as the IT side.
CIOs also have to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the business, their IT organizations and, perhaps the hardest to gauge, themselves. Once you have all this figured out, you have to build trust across the board that your actions are solely to enable the company to achieve its goals. You have to be straightforward, calm and open. CIOs have to ask, "How doable is all of this for your team and the business team?" One of the worst things you can do in such a major project is to set everyone on a journey they are ill-equipped to finish.
When you have solid understanding and forward motion, you can then break up the transformation in logical chunks (three- to six-month phases), which will create a continuous cycle of benefits. By keeping an eye on the pace--not too slow, not too fast--you can rack up success upon success.
One mistake CIOs make in these initiatives is to do major transformations in infrastructure, process/application simplification, and collaboration and information tools sequentially. It is better to move forward on all of these key areas with sensitivity as to how the combination can bring capability faster to your enterprise. By balancing them, you will attain the high-value capabilities while the infrastructure is being transformed. You eliminate having employees feel that the new capabilities will never come.
My plan for Avaya includes five major initiatives. We are currently finishing up making our infrastructure more adaptable. My big focus for 2010 is simplification and productivity, along with what I call "common enabling"--developing Web 2.0 and advanced voice capabilities. We are putting a strong focus on helping our employee base collaborate via Avaya Aura and the full unified communication suite to meet our customers' needs. These collaboration capabilities are about everyone's experience--employees, partners, customers, etc.
Almost everything we do takes six months or less, from implementing a new capability to getting a new product out to the business. We're not working on 18-month cycles, forcing us to be creative in how we plan and execute the various stages.
We're always adapting and always helping the business.