An ability to adapt and survive has become a key skill for the CIO community since the recession began in 2008 and remains critical, as recent trends demonstrate. As I write this month’s column, the UK’s national headlines are dominated by the demise of retailer, British Home Stores (BHS). This is a chilling reminder of the troubling economy CIOs exist within and a theme that has dogged the UK economy since the closure of fellow high-street stalwart Woolworths. Organisations in any vertical market have to be able to adapt. In the last 12 months I have got to know Tony Perks, CIO for BHS, and he was frank and honest with me about the need for a technological giant leap at the department store chain, but also, as a highly experienced CIO, he was well aware of ensuring that the giant leap was not a culture shock that would do as much damage as an asteroid hitting the retailer.
Evolution is a constant though. Perks and his team were and are working against years of underinvestment that have seen BHS fail to become a prominent online retailer whilst rivals like John Lewis have become as much part of the UK e-commerce landscape as they are the high street.
Constant evolution is necessary in every market sector. The global CIO of a major charity described to me recently how “born on the web, single-cause charities” are created every single day, competing for the attention and meagre spare funds of donators. ‘Born on the web’ describes the digital challenge today’s CIOs face when within four months an organisation can be formed, set up a web product and steal a slice of your organisation’s marketplace where once you were dominant.
These challengers are not traditional rivals. One chief digital officer (CDO) described to me recently how a key member of his team runs a digital business in their free time and how as a CDO you have to accept that, even though they may eventually steal some of your market. This is the dichotomy of the skills challenge CIOs face; as transformation advisor and former CIO Ian Cohen says, the skills shortage is more about the right skills than the number of skilled people.
Customer behaviour is changing at pace and with the cost of living increasing, job security decreasing and the economy continuing to remain in a torrid state, behavioural change will increase. Technology leaders therefore have to be completely tuned in to the needs of customers and ensure the organisation’s technology can rapidly change to meet alterations in the market.
DevOps is a methodology gaining interest with CIOs looking to be more adaptable. Sadly, the nomenclature is negative, in my opinion, as it sounds too techie. DevOps is not about the technology team or service, it is about the culture of the entire organisation to develop and operate in an evolutionary way that ensures change is easy and sustainable.
There is real power in DevOps and a series of CIOs and I recently debated its impact with Ypobo, an organisation that focuses on entire business culture change to ensure DevOps is a success. Throughout the organisation there has to be a move towards constant development, but also constant operational excellence. The rise of the digital customer means organisations cannot have a great online user interface, but a truly awful supply chain. Digital customers can switch away from your service (a born on the web rival will have been launched during your customer service failure) and they can broadcast their dissatisfaction widely.
Developers as rock stars in an ivory tower that throw pretty but unreliable web products over the wall for the operational side of the business to support are as damaging to your organisation as not evolving. The beauty of DevOps is that all sides of the business are a single community focused on the needs of the customer and operating the organisation effectively. Today’s CIO cannot afford to have teams operating at different speeds (Bimodal anyone?) or teams with differing ethos.
Failure to evolve and be adaptable is a failure of fitness and therefore fitness.