Somewhere in between the foggy mists of management consultancy jargon and the babbling verbiage of business analytics specialists there may, quite possibly, lay an untouched land where real business change discussions take place.

The problem with business change and IT innovation is that it too often succumbs to the hijacked efforts of non-technical management figures who fail to understand the real issues at the coalface of application transformation, IT performance management and data optimisation.

So what factors make business change through technology possible? What does it take to bring hard and fast application transformation programmes to bear in the new service-based computing world of the cloud? How do we make IT innovation really real?


The road to operational excellence

Ramyani Basu, is a senior manager in the strategic IT practice at management consultancy A.T. Kearney. Basu says that she has seen a definitive shift in the focus of CIO’s towards operational excellence through cost transformation and smaller investments in innovations.

“Although the future of the CIO role has come up for discussion, we believe that in order to survive, CIOs will need to adjust their position from being a technology visionary to a business change leader. Ultimately the success of tomorrow’s CIO depends on his/her ability to ‘balance and juggle’ between five key business agendas: delivering cost transformation, enabling in faster and better decision making, encouraging innovation, acting as a ‘change champion’ and integrating technology into business thinking,” said Basu.

So are those wise words or this another case of management-speak? Well, Basu did cheekily slide in the expression ‘change champion’, but she’s a management consultant so let’s let that ride. As a whole, it’s quite a nice summary of where we need to go next with information technology as IT now becomes a ‘first class citizen’ (whoops, it’s catching!) in the boardroom.


Shifting boardroom scenarios

Roles have changed on all sides of the boardroom table though: financial directors have become salespeople with an ability to ‘sell the sizzle’ of new accounting structures; sales directors have become web specialists using online tools to ‘socially connect and engage’ with their customer base; and chief information officers have become more than mere technologists, they have become business strategists who need to articulate how new technologies can better position their company for competitive advantage.

Application transformation driven by the opportunities for more flexible on demand cloud computing services can, if executed conscientiously, reposition a company against its competitors and even allow it to enter new markets. But making these changes happen without causing harmfully disruptive side effects means creating channels for ‘consistent and intelligible communications’ throughout the business. This is a ‘prerequisite for stakeholder empowerment in the face of IT transformation’ — and if that sounds like management consultancy language, then you have my apologies.

Mark Ward, practice director at IT and business change professional services firm Xceed suggests that whatever the objectives of a change programme, the leadership has to consider its constituency and structure a communications programme that speaks to the individual and expresses the impact in ways they recognise i.e. in their own language.


To change is to be human

“Equally important is ensuring staff can see the link between their personal objectives and the overall business strategy – by understanding how their individual objectives and workload align to the overall company direction is essential for managing change. Change programmes fail due to natural resistance and reluctance to embrace change. The change team may be practiced in stating objectives, writing a business case and talking about deliverables, but they need to appreciate that the human dimension is often the most significant element to adoption,” said Xceed’s Ward.

So what’s the secret here? Let’s forget the management consultants for a second and look at what the IT vendors are saying. Services are quite clearly labeled as either ‘cloud transformation’ offerings and/or Application Portfolio Management (APM) solutions. These are the kind of products focused on helping enterprises to identify areas for portfolio rationalisation using fact-based analysis against a set of enterprise goals.

HP has talked openly about ‘changing customer or citizen demand’ and the need to produce higher quality products and services and that this is what is driving goals for innovation. The company conducted a survey last year to try and understand what is really driving innovation in the enterprise and asked the respondents to identify their most likely ‘innovation engine’ in the workplace. More than two-thirds of the executives indicated that it was technology.

So management consultant speak or not — treating IT as a ‘business enabler’ appears to be the answer when it comes to application transformation.

Michael Allen, is director of application performance management at Compuware. Allen contends that the role of the CIO is transforming i.e. no longer are they just the head of an IT department responsible for making sure all the lights are on. They are having to develop new skills and demonstrate the business impact of IT.

“For example, if you take an area like IT performance management, once upon a time the CIO would just be looking at metrics such as uptime and utilisation. However, now the CIO needs to be thinking about the user experience when it comes to performance management. They need to think about how IT is working for customers. Are e-commerce pages loading as they should be? Can they tell the CEO the impact that a slow down on the e-commerce site had to sales? Does a page loading seconds faster increase revenue? These are all questions that the modern CIO needs to answer. They need to be able to talk about how they are managing the performance of IT for positive business impact,” said Compuware’s Allen.


Things will never be the same

Many would argue that the transformation process impacting our use of applications today has created a wider change across the IT industry as a whole. The very process of IT change itself has become a discipline in its own right and specific tools now exist to aid the progression(s) that needs to be carried out. Things, as they say, will never be quite the same again — until the next ‘paradigm shift’ perhaps.