IT transformations must begin with hearts and minds

Radical IT change starts not with technology, but with collaboration.

The role of the information technology (IT) department is changing. In simpler times it was the bastion of back-office services like data storage, network operations, and ERP systems. Today, both its purpose and the demands placed upon it are quickly evolving. Driven largely by economics, the IT function is outsourcing many of its commodity-type activities; looking for ways to rein in out-of-control support costs; and being asked to be more central in helping to enable new business opportunities. Simply put: the C-suite is demanding more value on its IT spend.

For many IT departments, moving from a largely back-office role to being an enabler of business growth requires nothing less than an IT transformation. This can often translate to painful, but essential change in the way IT is sourced, organized, and operated. But more importantly, it is about shifting the mix of IT dollars spent away from maintenance and into new investment. A successful IT transformation should result in 60 percent or more of all IT spend being available for new projects that can be directly tied to business growth.

Getting there is not easy.

Many IT leaders tasked with this directive leap deep into the strategy by quickly shifting priorities, shutting down projects, and using sheer brute-force to change the dynamics. This approach can work, but it will come with a price.

Like all change, and given its particularly complex nature, an IT transformation must be managed in a deliberate and multidimensional manner. Sure, the heavy lifting is essential, but it should not be the first thing that gets done. This kind of radical change must start with the CIO and his or her managers engaging in collaborative discussions concurrently across the business and with the IT team. As the impact of the change will be experienced by almost everyone, setting expectations and getting as many people as possible bought into the strategy at the outset is essential. An IT transformation will be tough, but it will go smoother and will be better understood and accepted when leadership has won hearts and minds.

As CIO of O’Reilly Media, I’m leading our own IT transformation. Driven by our desire to get more done, more quickly, and to continue to be at the leading edge of innovation in the business areas in which we compete, requires nothing less than a significant shift in how we execute our IT function. We’ll keep doing the things we do well, but we will take a careful look at everything else.

Over the next few months, I’ll be blogging candidly about our experiences: both what is working and where we are being challenged. I want you, the O’Reilly Media community to be part of the conversation in this change. We’ve started to work on hearts and minds and that also means we’ve got to do a lot of listening. So go head, tell us what you think.


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  • Jonathan – It’s great to hear that you’re on board and getting ready to make great things happen. I’m curious if you could elaborate (here or in a future post) about how you’ve racked and stacked the most significant IT challenges for O’Reilly — a company that has been traditionally a publishing organization but has evolved into so much more, especially over the past 3-5 years.

    As someone who has a fairly longstanding relationship with the company as a freelance writer, consultant, and author, there are the usual accounting glitches that catch my attention more often than anything else, and I often imagine more efficient ways to submit/track/and pay invoices, get royalty statements, etc. However, even given the large number of contractual relationships amongst O’Reilly and its many non-employees (contractors/authors/etc.) I’m guessing this probably isn’t one of your top 10 pain points as the new CIO (is it?)

    What about the various tool chains used for generating manuscripts, tracking feedback during tech review, sending final manuscripts into production, etc. — is that anywhere on your list? Laura and I were talking at OSCON about how foundational authors are to the company even as the company diversifies and evolves beyond books, and I’m curious if further improvement and automation in the publishing department is a high priority?

    Finally, I wonder about things such as creating location and time aware mobile apps that would be provide better conference experiences for attendees since O’Reilly is so heavily involved in conferences (and unconferences such as the various manifestations of Foo Camp.) i.e. you’d be able to open the app and it would show you today’s schedule, what talks are happening *right now*, show you maps of the local area, what’s happening later that day, show you the conference’s tweet stream (by filtering on hashtags), allow you to leave feedback for sessions, etc. Maybe this is somewhere near the top of the queue?

    At any rate, I’m really just interested in what specific challenges are near the top of your list. I’ve shared a few of my own ideas and hope that they’re helpful as you consider what to work on soonest.

  • Thanks for your comments Matthew. We will continue to focus on innovation in our core businesses as well as enhance the author experience. You will directly see some additional capabilities as an author during 2011.

  • @Matthew, regarding mobile apps for O’Reilly Conferences, thanks for those great suggestions. We in the Conferences group at O’Reilly are looking seriously at exactly those types of attendee experience enhancements for our 2011 events.

  • Doug Rooney

    Jonathan – I have been in the IT business for about 20 years now and have worked for very small to very large firms, doing everything from basic Admin work to Data Center Manager. It is refreshing to hear of a CIO that is not only open to this type of change but also being the driving force behind it. Too many times IT departments want to run ‘status quo’ well behind the scenes with little or no interaction with anyone outside the department. I have always encouraged getting to know the customer, usually this is a fellow employee, but they are still the customer, and the better we know them, the better we can meet their needs. I look forward to hearing more of the transformation.

  • Joel Dino

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog. In the past 12 months how successful has your transformation been? Is your staff inspired and well directed enough to realize the original vision? Has there been any major hurdles that forced you to take alternative approaches?