Two-Speed IT: Juggling Competing Agendas

By Guest Author  |  Posted 07-12-2017
Two-Speed IT

Two-Speed IT: Juggling Competing Agendas

By Lee Reese

With the ever-increasing interest in technology solutions, IT’s stakeholders are giving them two competing demands:
1. Produce new innovative, strategic technology-based capabilities.
2. Do so with reduced resources.

How can IT leaders step up to the plate and juggle these seemingly competing agendas: to meet the business’ demands for increased innovation, including new digital systems and services, all while cutting costs and slashing budgets?

One popular solution has emerged within IT thought leadership. Often called “two-speed IT,” this idea proposes that the IT organization does not attempt to resolve the tension between these two ideas. Instead, IT lumps all of its technology into one of two broad buckets: operational technology and innovative technology. Do this, and operations won’t slow down innovation, and expensive innovation investments won’t inflate operations’ budgets.

This idea sounds elegant on paper. But when real-world IT departments attempt to put it into practice, they often encounter problems such as the following:

Operations and infrastructure become second-class citizens. When you separate operations and innovation, your stakeholders start to see your operations as the people costing them money, while the people managing innovation become the heroes who deliver all the cool, snazzy new systems and services. The operations team faces damage to their reputation, recruitment efforts and morale—and you’re all-but-forced to repeatedly slice operations’ budget to pay for the one-off technology requests that excite your stakeholders.

Shadow IT is encouraged. When the IT organization is asked to reduce its budgets, business stakeholders make their desired technology investments without IT. Then IT becomes increasingly isolated in the role of service provider, instead of being treated as the steward of technology and creativity.

Technology change becomes superficial and one-off. Organizations already face a crisis of appointing digital figureheads, committees and action groups that look decisive but don’t produce real change in their organization. Separating innovation from the rest of IT may seem like a good idea, but it may not produce any action. Even when action is taken, enterprise-wide transformative change rarely occurs. Without holistic vetting and governance of new technology systems and services—including input from operations—stakeholder-requested solutions rarely fit into existing technology environments.

Make no mistake—there is value in the idea of two-speed IT. At a top-level, it’s wise to recognize that IT services and technologies have different requirements and need to be approached in different ways.

But that recognition tends to be where two-speed thinking ends. While we’ve seen a lot of theorizing about how the IT organization can meet these two demands, we haven’t seen a lot of boiling down of how to address these competing demands in a meaningful, practical way. And without this practical framework, it’s easy for IT leaders to try to implement solutions that sound good on paper but create the above problems—or worse—when implemented in the real world.

We have helped our clients address their stakeholders’ competing demands to both cut costs and innovate. In the process, we developed a practical, proven framework that guides IT groups to a successful resolution of their stakeholders' competing demands.

Like two-speed IT, our framework acknowledges the often-competing nature of stakeholder needs, along with the many technology systems and services IT runs. But unlike two-speed IT, our practical framework goes beneath the surface of these issues and directly addresses their underlying tensions—while avoiding the common problems IT organizations encounter when attempting to juggle their competing stakeholder and technological demands.

A Five Step Framework to Do More With Less

Step 1: Stop taking your stakeholders' two-speed requests at face value.

Step 2: Translate your stakeholders' competing requests into meaningful mandates.

Step 3: Think technology lifecycle, not technology speed.

Step 4: Make your technology lifecycle real in your organization.

Step 5: Use your lifecycle to frame new stakeholder demands.

In this article, we'll explain the first two steps of our framework. Steps 1 and 2 reframe your stakeholders’ competing requests and provide a clear path toward resolving them. We will explain how to follow that clear path (steps 3 through 5) in part two of this series.

Two-Speed IT: Juggling Competing Agendas

Step 1: Stop taking your stakeholders' two-speed requests at face value.

Before you slice your IT organization in two—and sacrifice critical services so you can invest in one-off techno-buzz implementations—first take a step back and reconsider your stakeholders’ competing mandates that are driving you to that conclusion.

  1. Produce new innovative, strategic technology-based capabilities.
  2. Do so with reduced resources.

Taken at face value, these requests to “do more with less” form an immature demand. They are without context or strategic intent.

But it’s not IT’s job—not now, not ever—to take new development requests or blanket mandates at face value. It’s IT’s job—now and always—to first listen and then dig in to uncover what stakeholders really want. And finally, it's IT's job to translate true needs into meaningful technology mandates, strategy and development.

Step 2: Translate your stakeholder’s competing requests into meaningful mandates.

How does your business' demand to "do more with less" stand up to scrutiny?

1. Produce new innovative, strategic technology-based capabilities.

Taken at Face Value: IT’s stakeholders want you to invent or purchase the next iPad.

The Reality: It’s unlikely you have the budget, time or R&D competency to develop truly first-ever technology. Nor is that what your business desires.

Translation: Your stakeholders want you to continually scan the external landscape and be aware of what’s applicable to your business context. They want you to have a process for vetting these capabilities and determining what will truly drive business benefit.

2. Do so with reduced resources.

Taken at Face Value: Your leadership wants you to slash all IT budgets.

The Reality: Organizations are spending more on technology than ever before. But they are allocating increased budgets for certain types of technology and spending less on others.

Translation: Your stakeholders see basic technologies becoming cheaper and easier to use. They want you to “consumerize” basic IT technologies like the internet, network connectivity, user support, etc.

At heart, these are the same mandates IT has always faced: Keep up with new technology, make it work flawlessly and continually cut costs.

The speed of technology changes requires IT to be more proactive than ever before, and more present with stakeholders.  IT leaders can't afford to remain in the server room—they must get in front of the issue to demonstrate the real value of IT.

Steps 1 and 2 of our methodology reframe stakeholders’ competing requests, and uncover the real requirements underlying them. If you can accept that these are not new demands, but are actually exciting opportunities for IT, you can bring new meaning to conversations with your business partners.

(Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article, which will cover steps 3 through 5 of our practical framework. These steps cover the nuts and bolts of how to use the technology lifecycle for prioritizing demand with stakeholders.)

Lee Reese has 20 years of experience in corporate communications, process and program development. As a partner at Rain Partners, she oversees delivery of the firm’s consulting engagements and program content. Reese translates high-level strategy into real-world operating frameworks and tangible metrics, and she drives strategic and operational benefits to clients in functional areas.