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4 survival strategies for IT chaos

Julia King | Sept. 10, 2013
Your IT survival guide for the new business normal: Four steps for mastering the world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

In a FLOW initiative at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, members of the team quickly set up a P&G-sponsored house where Olympians could visit with family members. "They needed to have it up and running in two weeks," she recalls. "With FLOW, we can staff a project with the right staff with the right skills in less than two days."

She likens the group to a medical triage unit. "They assess what you need and get you going out the door to the right place. But if they need to do surgery on the spot, they can do that, too." Every year, 20% of FLOW team members are transitioned out of the unit "so we have more people with a mindset of agility," she says.

IT in the Age of VUCA

CIO: It's a Lifestyle, Not a Job
John Halamka has absolutely no illusions that VUCA will abate anytime soon. In fact, he says, it will only get more intense.

"We live in a world of shrinking resources and growing demand. The pace at which we have to communicate is only getting faster," he says. In April, for example, after the Boston Marathon bombings, personnel at Beth Israel Deaconess were using Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets to communicate with first responders at the scene.

So how is a CIO to stay grounded, sane, balanced?

"I write every Thursday about my farming activities," says Halamka, who keeps 50 animals and maintains an apple orchard that he writes about on his blog, " Life as a Healthcare CIO."

"I spend my weekends hauling wood and shoveling manure," he says. "Spending 13 or 14 hours a day doing farm work lets me come in Monday fresh to talk about new projects, new budgets and new imperatives. I think of my role as CIO not as a job, but as a lifestyle, and you have to make sure that lifestyle includes ways to decompress and maintain equanimity."

- Julia King

4. Lighten Up
At Pearson PLC, a London-based company that offers education services worldwide, globalization and a seemingly insatiable consumer appetite for online learning are driving VUCA to new levels.

"One of the biggest shifts has been from a local to a global focus," says Pearson CTO Graham Calder. For example, with demand for English language training skyrocketing, particularly in Brazil and China, he says, "We're teaching English in a consistent way on a global scale."

The new and growing demand has prompted a seismic shift in IT strategy and technology investments, from on-premises enterprise systems to cloud-based and consumer technologies.

"We put consumer technology at the heart of our technology strategy and made the decision to embrace cloud knowing that it can mean compliance challenges," Calder says. This kind of "asset-light" computing infrastructure enables Pearson to expand quickly into new markets. An added benefit is the ability to "fail fast" and move on quickly, because the technologies are cheaper and easier to drop when something isn't working out.


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