bright ideas

IT Roundtable insights- innovation from a New Zealand perspective



03 Nov 2015


There’s something comforting in knowing that the challenges you are facing within your company and IT department are the same as other organisations. At least you know it’s not just you!

Last month ViFX hosted an IT Roundtable event where we got a few of our key customers and industry colleagues together to talk about the challenges and opportunities they are facing. We discussed the various strategic imperatives that are driving them forward as well as those that are driving them mad!

We got some great insights and everyone shared their solutions and ideas for overcoming some of these challenges. We thought we’d share these with you and impart some of the words of wisdom that came out of the session.

Increased competition from unexpected places

In very competitive markets, organisations, in their quest for additional channels of revenue, are looking to complement their core services and are increasingly blurring the industry boundary lines. From our participants we heard the following:

  • Banking Industry – Experiencing increased competition from online auction sites that are now branching into real-estate and mortgages.
  • Tertiary Education Sector – Are now not only competing against traditional local institutes, but also an increasing number of online institutions offering global, web-delivered content (sometimes for free).
  • Telecommunications Industry – Customers are demanding more bandwidth and want new content services – just in order to retain their business.
  • Transport Sector – Facing imminent threats from near-term-horizon technologies like autonomous vehicles (e.g. driverless trucks).

"Technology is changing the dynamics of education, with digitisation and free education content from US providers." Owen Werner, General Manager IMS Operations, Unitec Institute of Technology.

When innovation is seen as a threat

Leveraging technology innovation continues to remains a challenge with the people delivering the innovation sometimes feeling threatened by it. The participants are addressing this issue through a range of approaches:

  • Focus on customer outcomes – There is continual reinforcement that role objectives are based around successful customer outcomes, rather than managing technology.
  • Customer relationship roles – Strengthening the above sentiment, organisations are starting to appoint more customer relationship type roles.
  • Utilise champions – Resistance from the business is lowered by including champions in the scrum teams that develop the new capabilities.
  • Innovation governance – A Dragon’s Den approach can be a good platform for initiating dialogue and governance around potentially risky projects that are in the germination phase (before they begin to sprout).

"Technical innovation is relatively easy, compared to the people and process changes required around it, but it can be hard for the business to give up its attachment to legacy processes. The focus needs to be on good outcomes for customers and IT needs to help communicate that vision.” Owen Werner, General Manager IMS Operations, Unitec Institute of Technology

Communicate the big picture

It seems that getting people to see the big picture is key to communicating your vision.

  • Connect the dots – Use story boards to explain to end-users the relevance of IT initiatives that might otherwise seem like simply back-room, inaccessible projects. For example, more customer satisfaction through better service response times enabled by faster back-end systems.
  • Have a clear vision – In a similar vein, where there are tussles with Finance over funding models (particularly the shift from CAPEX to OPEX), then having a clear strategy and leading Finance is made easier with a clearly communicated vision. It is imperative to get key Executives on board as well.

“To better communicate our vision we’ve changed from presenting roadmaps to using storyboards, so the focus is on what it means for our customers.” Jamie Petrie, Enterprise Architect, Vodafone

Challenge the old way of doing things

With innovation and digital transformation needing to happen faster there are some old or ingrained approaches that need to be challenged.

  • Shorter and smaller benefits realisation cycles – Don’t focus on five year returns for new initiatives. Innovation projects need to focus on building blocks and pay for value along the way. Start small and invest to support success. If success doesn’t come then kill the project (gracefully of course!).
  • Stakeholder analysis – Challenge the need to have a Senior Executive as a project sponsor. Perform some stakeholder analysis: why do you have the role; what is your role; what is your availability to contribute or govern? This can avoid delays due to unavailability and help to increase engagement. The real business owner should be someone to whom this project is important enough that they can invest their time in it, alongside the team.

“When the business owner of a project is involved on a daily basis we can make decisions quickly and move the project ahead more efficiently.” Brad Ward Able, Manager Storage Services, ASB Bank

Rethink training

Everyone knows that technology is changing rapidly and technical teams need to continually learn to keep on top of their game, but training needs a new approach.

  • Shrinking training budgets – Unfortunately, it still remains the case that despite the diversity of knowledge required by IT departments increasing, training budgets either remain static or shrinking.
  • Think differently – We need to start taking advantage of different delivery mechanisms for training other than classroom based, such as online, on-demand, and mobile access.
  • Project based – Training is realistically mostly funded by projects, so that staff can be upskilled for that particular technology or phase of deployment.

“Young people are choosing business degrees over IT. It’s becoming harder to get young IT staff.” Roy Cohen, Enterprise Architect, KiwiRail

Coping with Shadow IT

Shadow IT is still very much alive and well, however IT departments are becoming better equipped at how to manage it and are developing strategies to suit both IT and end users.

  • Listening is key – Recognising that Shadow IT is a reality is important for IT teams, and if you listen to your end users you will get a very loud and clear message about what services they want.
  • Don’t rely on policy – As a knee-jerk reaction some organisations have put in place a corporate policy, however in reality this may have little to no impact. For example, for one of the participants has an established corporate policy for public cloud on AWS, yet they still have are over a hundred active Azure accounts from MSDN subscriptions.
  • Allow a little leeway – Not every Shadow IT trial needs to be arrested. In some cases where there is not a high level of corporate risk it is better to let them run, and if they fail the business is able to learn valuable lessons (more than if they were simply told what to do).
  • Try and be proactive – Set a clear expectation with end users that IT is there to help and to provide options and guidance, rather than being a rescue service for every failed experiment.

“We need to deliver services faster. In some cases it makes sense to deliver what you can quickly, rather than wait for perfect alignment.” Owen Werner, General Manager IMS Operations, Unitec Institute of Technology

Hopefully this has given you some interesting insights into some of the challenges others are facing and perhaps even a couple of ideas for how you might address these issues in your organisation.

We’ll be running a similar event in the near future, so please contact us if you’d like to be involved.

What challenges or opportunities are you facing in your organisation or within your IT team? Do you have any good strategies for dealing with any of the above issues? Let us know in the comments section below.

Author: James Knapp

James focuses on the cloud technology landscape, developing cloud strategies for our clients, as well as being a regular conference presenter on new IT service delivery models.

03 November 2015 / 0 Comments