Chris Weston
Chris Weston (Principal, European Client Advisory)
Marc Dowd (Principal, European Client Advisory)

There is a challenge faced by business leaders every day — how to prioritise their time and energy investment in three areas:

  • The day-to-day running of their business, ensuring that customers are satisfied and that the work that is done is profitable
  • Opportunities for growth, be that looking into the existing customer base to become a bigger part of their spend, finding new customers in existing markets or expanding into new ones
  • Reorganising and transforming their business to better reflect customer demand, improve processes or even to take advantage of new technologies or suppliers in their market

The IT world has recognised these three aspects for some time and there has been an understanding that CIOs also need to balance them to support the organisation and increasingly to inform the business of the most effective mix of these efforts, whether that is through things like opportunities for efficiency through automation or a new technology that enables expansion into adjacent markets. However, the pace of change in recent times, even without the effect of the COVID pandemic, has blurred the line between the grow and transform investments to the point that it is almost foolish to speak of one without the other.

Organisations are finding that being closely integrated with their supply chains and their customers is no longer an interesting experiment; instead it is becoming an essential aspect of being competitive. Growing your business requires the adoption of new ways of working with these stakeholders and the adoption of fast-moving digital channels that lead to constant transformation. So, it’s worth considering your own situation and reflecting on whether these two aspects of grow and transform are distinct or tightly linked.

In our advisory work at IDC, we can see many organisations choosing a product management approach to help deal with this conundrum of how to manage these priorities. Product management has a laser focus on customer needs, and this helps to align all business stakeholders around the true reason for a product — whether that is an internal system or something used by customers or suppliers. Really good product teams don’t wait for requirements to be handed down from above; rather they are constantly working with all their stakeholders to understand how their product will evolve and building the business cases for this work to fulfil both the grow and transform agendas for their organisation.

Of course, this is not the only way to tackle this question, and it’s certainly not a silver bullet. In more traditional structures CIOs have to take a step back and have honest conversations with the people they serve in all parts of the company, from the customer-facing end user to C-level colleagues, to really understand what the impact and value of their run service is and the opportunities or requirements for growth and transformation. Often a business can articulate a strategy and this is underpinned by a level of funding that can be leveraged by IT. Conversely, some CIOs tell me they don’t have the budget to do it all, which is certainly a position I sympathise with having been in that situation myself. The answer is always in prioritisation. Sometimes this is a painful process, but it must also be informed by the real value of the priorities being discussed — foundational technology is often unsexy but without it the shiny, customer-facing investments can end up out on a limb and quickly lose their appeal.

If you are struggling with this balance, it’s important to realise that you’re far from unusual in this and that the tension between these requirements is a natural part of a growing and evolving business. It isn’t always possible to solve the puzzle to everybody’s satisfaction. To get there, or even close, is a team game that requires the whole company and their leadership to work together and agree on the plan, and the timescales, that are being worked to. A successful CIO can be the catalyst for this agreement by pulling all the threads together in their own road map.

Managing the tension between run, grow and transform will be the subject of our IDC Digital Leadership Community session on Thursday September 16 at 4pm BST/5pm CEST. Join us and your peers across Europe to discuss the best approach to this difficult problem.

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