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The New Work Environment Requires New IT

The New Work Environment requires new thinking in five areas

Last week I described four trends that are shaping the new work environment. Employees now work interdependently, experience near constant organizational change, focus on knowledge work, and face an explosion of technology choice. These changes are already happening, and we believe there are five steps CIOs must take in response across the next three years.

1. Ready IT to Drive Employee Productivity

At many progressive companies, opportunities for productivity gains from further process automation are running low. The next opportunity comes from better enabling individual and team productivity. In an environment where most employees are interdependent and produce knowledge work, this means three things for IT:

2. Equip Employees with Competencies, Not Just Tools

In the past, IT trained employees to use new application functionality, then provided a service desk if anything broke. As employees take on more information-intensive work, and become better at helping each other with basic technical fixes, IT should repurpose its support capabilities. The new goal should be to help employees use technology and information to be productive. This is not something IT can do alone, it requires close cooperation with other corporate functions.

3. Separate Flexible Interfaces from Foundational Data

Usability becomes a big issue in a world where employees have more technology choice, and where technology enables personalized and discretionary tasks such as analysis and collaboration, not just transaction execution. The traditional approach where all employees use essentially the same interface to access an application, regardless of how they use that application, fails to provide the necessary levels of usability.

We believe that IT will cease to be the sole provider of interfaces. Employees will access application functionality and data through a variety of apps rather than a single, one-size-fits-all interface. These apps will come from a variety of external and internal sources, including the employees themselves. IT will oversee and promote the portfolio of interfaces, provide integration and security services that connect the interfaces to underlying applications and data sources, and gradually transition legacy systems to this new model.

4. Shift Engagement Focus from Leaders to Employees

If you really want to know how to make employees more productive, asking a senior executive is the wrong place to start. But many IT teams do just that by relying on business relationship managers to be the main conduit for business priorities and opportunities. BRMs fight tooth and nail to build relationships with senior company leaders, leaving little time to understand the needs of frontline employees.

In the new work environment, CIOs must supplement the BRM role with mechanisms to directly sense employee needs. This means more than just having a good business analyst scope project requirements. Well before any projects are launched, employee productivity needs should be a factor in IT strategy and investment prioritization.

5. Move IT Strategy and Budgets From Anticipate to Respond

The pace of organizational and technology change, and the need to experiment and iterate in areas such as BI, collaboration, and mobility, require shorter IT planning and budgeting horizons and less rigorous business cases. We already see organizations adopting flexible strategies and rolling budgets. Anecdotally, progressive CIOs tell us that more IT investments decisions are now rely on a good use case and a credible fit with strategic goals, rather than time-consuming and often highly speculative “hard dollar” business cases.

We will explore all five of these ideas in greater depth an upcoming study and in our 2013 research.

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