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What's Wrong with Two-Speed IT

The two-speed IT concept assumes IT leaders know what the future holds. Recent history shows they need something more adaptive than that

Car overtaking a lorry truck two-speed ITSenior business managers in any company want many things from IT, but one thing stands out from the rest: they want IT teams to do their jobs more quickly.

As new opportunities emerge to use data and technology to develop, market, and sell products, IT is asked to work faster, with an ever-greater number of stakeholders and technologies, and in an environment where constant change means there can be no long-term plan.

The solution is not a new organizational structure such as two-speed IT (beloved by so many management consultants) or to create a dedicated innovation team. Redesigning an organization requires those doing the redesigning to know what the future will hold. And, as the past uncertain years have proved, that knowledge will be based on guesswork at best and, at worst, will produce an org structure entirely unsuited to what the company needs.

Instead, IT leaders should set up their teams to operate at many speeds at once, not just two, and thrive in any environment, not just the environment for which the IT organizational structure was designed. To do this, they must adopt a set of management principles that make IT adaptive.

Principles for Adaptive IT

  • Principle 1 – Excellence is targeted: IT should focus disproportionate effort in areas where it provides a distinctive advantage and “dare to be adequate” elsewhere.

    This requires IT leaders to know and to ruthlessly invest in IT’s sources of comparative advantage, while making trade-offs and cutting funding for other opportunities.

  • Principle 2 – Role is context-based: IT leaders should vary IT’s responsibilities based on operating contexts, such as where the ideas and money come from.

    Corporate IT is no longer the source of all ideas, nor is it the source of all technology funding. IT’s role in helping the enterprise make the most of technology investments should be adapted to the context of the opportunity.

  • Principle 3 – Judgment shapes process: IT must apply judgment to governance and delivery processes to ensure the level of rigor is appropriate to the business outcome.

    IT leaders and their teams don’t aspire to be “process-crats,” but the rest of the organization sometimes views them that way. More judgment and less process are the watchwords of Adaptive IT.

  • Principle 4 – Speed-to-market comes first: IT leaders must give a higher priority to urgency when making trade-offs against cost and risk.

    Flexibility in funding processes and the ability to rapidly reallocate resources to unplanned initiatives are critical to keeping pace with rapidly changing demand

  • Principle 5 – Technical and business talent isn’t either/or: IT leaders must continue to sharpen IT’s skills at engaging with the line engagement, but not at the cost of technology expertise.

    Corporate IT needs a workforce strategy that gives all staff the support and incentives to build engagement competencies and stay ahead of emerging technologies.

An adaptive IT organization can rapidly reallocate resources as business needs change, it can operate at many speeds at once, and it enables IT staff to thrive in any environment, not just the environment for which the function was designed.


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