The Five Traits of the Quantum IT Organization

Posted 01-11-2013

The Five Traits of the Quantum IT Organization

By Charles Araujo


The IT we have known it for the past 45 years is dead and we are entering what is being called The Quantum Age of IT. It is an era in which the customer is in charge and in which IT organizations will become highly specialized to deliver value as either strategic sourcers or strategic innovators. It is a time of great disruption, but for those IT leaders who understand what is coming, it is also a time of great opportunity.


But merely being aware of what is coming is not enough. To survive and thrive in this new era, IT leaders at all levels of the organization must actively develop five new organizational traits that will define the Quantum IT organization. Each IT organization must become:

• A Learning Organization

• A Disciplined Organization

• A Transparent Organization

• An Intimate Organization

• A Dynamic Organization


These are not new ideas. In fact, many of them have been discussed for decades. And like County of Orange, Calif., CTO Joel Manfredo, many progressive IT leaders have begun embracing these concepts and applying them in their organizations. But what will set IT leaders apart in the coming era is the recognition that an explicit and holistic approach to developing all five of these organizational traits is required to transform into a Quantum IT organization.


Understanding the Five Traits

These five traits have little to do with technology. They are about creating an organization that thinks and operates differently from the way IT organizations have always operated. They are fundamentally about interactions and relationships. These five traits do not represent a new maturity model. You cannot pick and choose--you will need to develop all five traits to thrive in the Quantum Age.


While these are a bit of a hierarchy, you need to begin by understanding the meaning of these five traits.

The Learning Organization

The learning organization is one in which change is a constant, and delivery is always evolving to anticipate needs and proactively improve services. It is one in which every member of the organization takes personal accountability for improving service–every day. It is about being psychologically close enough to your customer that you have the opportunity to learn. As Bill Wray, CIO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island, puts it, “You must be forward deployed. This job isn’t 90% people, it’s 98% people. IT people have not been able to or wanted to understand that.” Becoming a learning organization is about changing that.

The Five Traits of the Quantum IT Organization

The Disciplined Organization

The disciplined organization is one that employs rigorous processes and management practices to ensure the consistent and efficient delivery of services. This is table stakes. This is simply doing what your customer expects–every day. Doing that, however, requires that a sense of rigor and discipline get ingrained into the culture. Being a disciplined organization is about doing your job, but it is also the foundation of trust on which everything else will get built.


The Transparent Organization

Most IT professionals are good with the first two traits. The traits make sense and there is little risk. Becoming a transparent organization is another matter. A transparent organization is one that unabashedly exposes its financial and operational performance to enable better business decisions. It is not about simply showing how the sausage is made. It is about giving the customer enough information and communicating in a way that together you can make a better decision. “The onus is on IT to stop speaking IT speak and to begin speaking business speak,” says Ashwin Rangan, CIO of Edwards Life Sciences. “My direct reports--none of them are technologists. They are relationship managers.” Being a transparent organization is fundamentally about openness and trust--and it is the starting point for establishing true intimacy with your customer.


The Intimate Organization

Intimacy is not a word that is often used in the world of IT, but it needs to be. Alignment is not enough. It implies two bodies moving independently, but trying to stay in sync. It just doesn’t work. The intimate organization is one that moves the relationship beyond requirements and SLAs--beyond the roles of the order giver and the order taker--to create a deep, business-centered relationship. It is about meeting the customer where they live and not expecting them to come to you. “You need to get to where the people are doing the work,” says Wray. “We need to go 80 percent their way and let them come 20 percent our way.” Call it the Intimacy Line--IT needs to forget 50/50, it is all about going 80 percent. But intimacy, according to Rangan, is also a two-way street. It requires a mutual trust and vulnerability. “When you're in an intimate relationship at the personal level, you agree to be in a mutually vulnerable relationship. That's a mind-bender for a lot of people. The mutual vulnerability defies definition. You have to be willing to let it all hang out.” It is only through intimacy, however, that IT can finally transcend the barriers that have held it back in the past and move into a full relationship with the customer.


The Dynamic Organization

Becoming a dynamic organization brings it all home for IT. It is the only trait that brings technology back into the mix. A dynamic organization is one with a highly scalable and adaptable architecture that enables the rapid provisioning of services to meet changing needs. It is about sustainability and adaptability. It offers freedom to your customers to react rapidly and seize opportunities as they present themselves. But it is more than mere technology--it is an attitude. It requires that you change the way IT looks at itself and the services it provides. “We are in an age where the tangible value of an IT asset is measured in months,” says Rangan. “If you take years to construct the asset when it has a useful life of months, it defeats the purpose. The whole point now is agility and nimbleness.” That is what it means to become a dynamic organization.


 

The Five Traits of the Quantum IT Organization

Start at the Beginning

The five traits represent five pieces of one whole. But there is a form of hierarchy in how they are developed. They evolve dynamically and in parallel, but also based on the success of the more foundational traits. Creating a learning organization is the core foundation because it sets the organizational mindset to one that will be open to change. Creating discipline and rigor is the ticket to the dance. Transparency creates a new and deeper level of trust, which in turn opens the door to a truly intimate relationship. And it is only through a deeply intimate relationship that an organization can understand their customer well enough to create the type of dynamic environment that is needed to drive game-changing business value.

Many organizations are embracing the building blocks of the dynamic organization: virtualization, private clouds and other similar technologies. But those IT leaders who believe they can realize this vision through technology alone will find themselves in a very uncomfortable position. They will have the technology, but lack an organization that has the traits and skills necessary to operate it. It will be like building a sports car, but not knowing how to drive. It will only be those IT leaders who lead their organizations through the process of developing and evolving all five traits that will find their way into the Quantum Age.


It’s About Your People

While his journey in Orange County is far from over, Manfredo has showed his people that change could happen. And the results speak for themselves. In less than two years he was able to create order out of the chaos he first found. There was the 77 percent reduction in SLA exceptions. There was the 75 percent reduction in service restoration time. But the biggest impact was on the attitude of his team. One of his managers said it best when he told him, "I have been here for 18 years and there have been numerous changes in management, but nothing changed in how we worked until you got here."


That is the secret of the Quantum Age of IT and these five organizational traits. It is not about technology or even organizations. It is about people, attitudes and relationships. The future belongs to the IT leaders who understand this and invest accordingly.

 

About the Author

Charles Araujo is the founder and CEO of The IT Transformation Institute. He is a leader and expert in the areas of IT transformation and IT organizational change, and serves on the boards of itSMF USA and The Executive Next Practices Institute. He frequently speaks on a wide range of subjects related to his vision of the future of IT.