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Is organisational change in ICT strategy and the organisation’s capacity to change aligned?

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Many organisation’s operations have been severely shaken these last few years due to forced changes in business practice and customer behaviour. This has shone a light on how ingenious adoption and adaption of the latest technology provides strategic advantage. The need to be even more efficient and effective, delivering enduring benefit and value for customers and stakeholders, has highlighted many gaps in corporate information and communication technology (ICT) capabilities.

Decades long under investment in corporate ICT, and the often-historical lack of any strategic corporate focus on ICT, often meant live services being left to ‘sweat the assets’ until completely obsolete. Suddenly, this glaring error has the attention of many chief executives, whose organisations are now scrambling to catch-up. Government departments and leading private sector organisations alike all now have very ambitious ‘digital change’ strategies to reflect changing operating models and the urgent adoption of contemporary technology to deliver them.

But there is a problem. Much of the work that is technically required to deliver these strategies, and the accompanying business change, is hidden or unknown to the strategists responsible for them. There is often no ‘baselining’ or early consultation with corporate digital or engineering staff, nor any ‘discovery’ with the organisation’s technology suppliers, who will often need to facilitate the proposed changes.

These strategies are usually written by external consultants or early career ‘high flyers’, keen to ensure the senior leadership have a document that clearly maps a path to the organisation’s desired future state. Often, these strategies contain roadmaps that can best be described as ‘somewhat theoretical’. And so, these strategies quickly become accepted as perfectly achievable and affordable (when they might not be), unencumbered by corporate memory, ‘lessons learned’ or validation of any of the assumptions by more experienced hands. These are often presented with no consideration or mention of the environmental impact, the social impact, nor the potentially enormous impact on the organisation’s operational mission, purpose and technology underpinnings of the proposed changes.

So how can experienced project delivery professionals work with these strategies to actually deliver the required change successfully and sustainably?

Only the most experienced technologists, architects and ICT programme managers understand the wider context of ICT change delivery in these corporate environments. Experience is needed to recognise all the dependencies (commercial, financial, security and operational constraints) that must be carefully considered in the actual planning and alignment of multiple technical workstreams to deliver change whilst continuing to run operations. The effectiveness of the corporate change is in part dependent on the ability of staff to work together effectively, which in turn is dependent upon the organisational culture and senior leadership’s competence in change management.

Change planning often shines a light on the organisation’s quality of digital portfolio management and governance. Achieving sustainable ICT change involves coordinating and prioritising multiple technical change workstreams and initiatives across most corporate organisations and their suppliers.

To ensure there is alignment and success, change leaders and programme managers should consider the following areas:

  • Additional or unexpected work resulting from the re-hosting of existing applications on new platforms; ‘lift and shift’ generally doesn’t work well in the long run.
  • Addressing the skills gap and mitigating how long it will realistically take to close it.
  • Systems integration and management (SIAM) that reflects the increasing use of ‘distributed systems’ (there is often a need to substantially develop the existing service model for instance).
  • Continuous improvement to be factored in; operational obsolescence and technical debt still have to be dealt with at the same time as ‘change’ which will divert available resources.
  • Observability, and the tooling and techniques to maintain cyber security and health monitoring of systems, which become increasingly complex as modern technology and multiple suppliers become involved.
  • Budgets needing to be reprofiled from capital spend with traditional depreciation to resource spend which needs active management to control the often unexpected long term increase in ‘run’ costs associated with capabilities provided ‘as a service’.

So what should ‘in-flight’ programme and project managers do in response to a new corporate ICT strategy?

  • Identify ‘quick wins’  and work to deliver those first.
  • Be clear how their existing programme aligns with the strategy, or how it might need to adjust to do so. Ensure any new dependencies are understood, along with the relevant portfolio prioritisation. What would be the impact if the programme were delayed?
  • Be clear on any new resources required and if necessary, push back on altered objectives or targets if the available resources aren’t sufficient, or if there is a lead time to establish the skills that hasn’t been recognised.
  • Understand the future quality of service that will be required and get an impact assessment done on the strategy’s expectation for future programme compliance. What are the tactical options for further developing this capability to meet the new strategy – and will a follow-on programme or project now be required?
  • Make sure business change is an integral part of programme planning from the start. Ensure that ‘discovery’ research indicates how ready stakeholders and customers are for running and working with the future capability, and whether they readily identify with the implications of the strategy. Does the corporate strategy align with theirs? This is particularly relevant for re-inventing a service model involving these stakeholders – which can easily become the ‘long pole in the tent’ if they don’t buy it.
  • Understand any commercial, organisational responsibility or security hurdles to delivering the new strategy and plan in sufficient external assurance reviews to ensure that the capability is developed with service acceptance and ongoing benefit realisation in mind.
  • Analyse similar programmes of technical change within the same industry sector to identify how budgets need to be re-profiled to support the delivery of the new strategy ‘as a service’.

We are living through a time when there is a huge corporate demand for those with the right ICT skills, and many organisations and their stakeholders are unprepared for the scale of operational and technological change that is needed. This is an opportunity for project professionals who have the requisite skill and experience to guide organisations and staff successfully through the required change.


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