My Take: Dealing with the Tailwinds of Change in IT

I fly a lot – as you might expect from someone in my position. As a CEO, I’m often the face and spokesperson of my company. I travel for a variety of reasons: Sales calls, interviews with media, customer visits, negotiations with partners – you name it. In fact, this variety – the ever-changing flow of needs, objectives and requirements – is one of the things I enjoy most about my job.

I’m not your typical road warrior, however. I’m not tired of business travel. Sure, the drudgery of the routine and the occasional annoyance of a delay sometimes wear on me. But in the final analysis, I simply enjoy being out there, watching business people do their stuff. I even enjoy a patch of turbulence now and then. Why? Because turbulence – and the response it draws from flyers – tells me a lot about business people and reminds me of a few things about myself.

During a recent airline flight, I took some time to observe how various business people on the plane reacted very differently when turbulence struck. Some people stopped what they were doing, tightened their seatbelts, folded their arms and tried to wait out the chop. Others kept stubbornly trying to write notes, wrangle their laptops or read bouncing magazine articles. And a few, like me, kept switching activities based on what worked, regardless of the number and severity of the bumps.

I see parallels between the response to turbulence on a plane and the response by business people to the accelerating pace of change in corporate information technology. Many IT operations managers react to the dynamic environment like the first and second groups of air travelers. They circle the wagons and wait for the disruption to pass, or they forge ahead shutting out the distractions.

Trouble is they have no way of knowing whether the turbulence will stop, get better, become more predictable, or whatever. The environment isn’t in their control. Only their response to it is in their control. So, riding the flow of the turbulence is the only way to find a productive activity. Business in today’s constantly changing atmosphere is inevitably a bumpy ride. And corporate technology executives would be wise to take technological disruptions as opportunities to transform business practices and processes rather than shut down operations or continue counter-productive activities.

Transition points are opportunities for business transformation rather than causes for failure. And here are some ways to respond to transition points:

New Management Initiatives

These initiatives must be introduced and designed to help drive growth, profitability and shareholder value. Some companies have introduced customer or quality initiatives. Others have sought ways to reengineer their processes or reduce operating costs. Some have introduced initiatives to “digitize” or “globalize” their businesses. All such efforts depend on successful change management to achieve their objectives. In other words, the leaders of the initiatives must know how to ride turbulence.

Mergers and Acquisitions

In the wake of deregulation in recent decades, the M&A movement has driven vast amounts of change in various industries, particularly through mega mergers in areas such financial services, telecommunications and media. Enterprises continue to consolidate in order to address competitive challenges and commoditizing markets, as well as capitalize on anticipated synergies. Yet, business analysts argue that two-thirds or more of all mergers fail to achieve stated objectives. The reason: Consolidating organizations, cultures, processes, practices and systems is not easy. It takes great turbulence riders.

Partnerships and Outsourcing

These approaches enable companies to use the capabilities of external parties as leverage, rather than struggle to buy or build those capabilities. By creating alliances with specialists, enterprises can acquire the expertise they need to compete in demanding markets – all without bearing all the risks that would be associated with building it internally. Similarly, outsourcing enables enterprises to concentrate on the core capabilities that differentiate them in the marketplace while ensuring that non-core, yet critical and supporting systems are effectively managed. Such moves enable companies to anticipate and react more rapidly to market change – and they get the capabilities and benefits now instead of waiting months to generate momentum on their own. Analysts call this “strategic multisourcing” – which is another term for thriving on turbulence.

While all of the approaches to confronting change that are mentioned above represent significant risk in their own right, there is perhaps more risk associated with failing to act. It is critical to recognize transition points when they occur and take the necessary steps to address changes they signify.

Few companies can expect to live long on the legacies of the past. Markets are dynamic and turbulent – prone to something Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter once called “creative destruction.” That’s truer now than it was decades ago when Schumpeter said it. The acceleration of change only enhances the vulnerability of today’s corporate giants, while empowering and enabling challengers to compete for new market opportunities. Given these circumstances, enterprises must learn to specialize in the management of ongoing change.