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Multi-speed IT needs multi-speed CIOs

Al Blake | June 30, 2015
As the leader and advocate of the IT strategy, the CIO has to be the executive who can ensure rapid delivery without breaking the business.

Most organisations are experiencing the tension between traditional 'steady as she goes' back-office IT developments, with its focus on utter reliability and risk-reduction, versus the relentless push for rapid innovative developments with release cycles measured in days and sometime hours. This can often cause fundamental fractures in traditional IT operations and frustrated clients.

Whilst initial commentary identified a binary split between a 'fast' and 'slow' lane it is becoming clear that the true picture is more nuanced, with real-world developments sitting on a continuum between the two extremes and aligning to a multi-speed paradigm. Whilst startups have the advantages of green-field deployments with the absence of legacy considerations, virtually all existing organisations will have a requirement to deliver a range of IT initiatives that encompass a spectrum from back-end 'legacy' system of record upgrades, to 'agile' consumer facing front end applications with cycle times in weeks or even days.

Any volunteers for the 'Slow Lane'?

Both types of delivery are essential to the business and it is important that they are recognised as such within the organisational culture. With the widespread promotion of the tangible befits of 'agile' and 'innovative' approaches, identifying appropriate terminology without implying a preconceived negative view is a challenge. The matter is further complicated when discussing the approach with non-IT executives. After all, every CEO worth the title wants their organisation to be 'agile' -- in terms of being flexible and responsive to customer demand -- but you can be pretty sure that they aren't referring to the specific IT development methodology to be utilised.

Whilst start-ups have the advantages of green-field deployments with the absence of legacy considerations, virtually all existing organisations will have a requirement to deliver a range of IT initiatives that encompass a spectrum from back-end 'legacy' system of record upgrades, to 'agile' consumer facing front end applications with cycle times in weeks or even days.

Considering descriptors such as Slow vs. Fast -- who wants to be slow in a modern IT organisation? Even worse is the Innovative vs. Traditional dichotomy -- with everyone wanting to jump on the innovation bandwagon, 'traditional' sounds like a recipe for career suicide.

Others have used more clinical descriptors, simply identifying 'type 1' and 'type 2' development -- but the trouble with such an approach is that it has to be qualified by explaining -- 'type 2 -- oh that's the innovation stream', which defeats the purpose.

Recent roundtable discussions with CIOs have highlighted that even the word 'legacy' carries its own baggage. Obviously we can't stop using such terms when they are widely understood shorthand in our industry, but we should be aware of the possible connotations when we do.

 

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