The NEW Speed of IT: Are You Keeping Up?

By Pamela Diaz, SVP, Director of Global Operations & Interim CIO, Ariel Investments

Pamela Diaz, SVP, Director of Global Operations & Interim CIO, Ariel Investments

Today’s technology landscape transformed the normal three to five year strategic plan to a more focused 12 to 18 month strategy. Enterprise solutions available today did not exist six months ago. The technology demands on our IT departments continue to evolve as users become more tech savvy and require more flexible and agile IT environments. The challenge we face as leaders is our users are getting their hands on new technology well before tech teams can research, evaluate, and adopt these technologies to integrate into the enterprise environment. The inability of IT to supply the technology being requested often causes a misperception that IT is not doing their best to support the business, yet this could not be further from the truth.

"Innovation is outpacing even our most seasoned industry experts"

There is a delicate balance required to weigh the risk versus reward of new technology which consumes time and effort. Keeping strategy in mind, you need to work closely with the business units to ensure you are focused on delivering the appropriate technology solutions. The needs and desires of the business are changing frequently, causing teams to rethink their usual slow and methodical approach. If you stay on course with your previous IT strategy, you risk being woefully behind your competition. If you decide to revamp your strategy to focus on implementing new technology, you may find yourself ahead of the competition but struggling to keep the environment stable and secured.

As you move forward, you need to: 1) Mitigate risk and keep communication channels open with your business partners; 2) Assess the value add and the increased or decreased business risk throughout the process-changing gears midstream is better than implementing technology that misses the mark or introduces unwanted risk; 3) Own the outcome -while successes are always easier than failures, ownership of both is important. 4) Review the need for additional resources with each project.

Just as the way we manage technology is changing, so is the human capital component of IT. Increasing your IT human capital footprint for short periods of time during IT transformation is critical for maintaining your timeline. Create a business case for your staffing needs. Why? Because innovation is outpacing even our most seasoned industry experts. As new generations join the workforce, you need to keep your talent fresh. Not all of your staff will be able to keep up with the industry trends and that is actually ok, but you need to plan for the gaps—think consultant “CXO” type resources. I have found that highly skilled contingent resources can help fill the fissures and challenge the current organization structure. This is healthy! As IT leaders, we need to continually think outside the box.

How Do You Strike the Right Balance? 

Continued emphasis on the plan is crucial but there is always new technology forcing you to rethink your focus. It is an interesting time in the financial services industry, everyone wants to participate in the new digital world, but most firms are afraid to take the first step. One of the most important questions the head of IT must ask is: Are we moving in the right direction and providing the right tools needed by the business to achieve corporate goals? Most often the answer will be “No,” not due to lack of planning but due to technology outpacing your ability to implement new solutions. The pressure on technology teams to apply the newest products in the market continues to grow. The average business user is no longer lacking tech knowledge. The users are more in tune with the latest products, quickly available at their fingertips. If they can get the best service on their phones, laptops or tablets at home, why can’t their IT team offer the same solutions at work? For example, anyone who has a PC at home is getting free offers to download the most updated operating system available. This creates a dilemma, which leads users to wonder why the new version is not in this year’s planned projects. Normally in the past, this stance would not cause much of an issue but as mentioned earlier, users are getting more tech savvy and your firm’s strategic plans need to take this factor into account. Focus on solutions, be imaginative. Start thinking in terms of creating small groups of “beta” testers who can quickly assess the viability of new products- this will help decrease the testing cycle. There is always one group in a firm willing to try out new products, besides the IT team - why not let them help you?

Does a More Fluid Strategic Plan Still Allow for Your “Must Have” Advancements?

In the past it took several iterations of releases before bugs were fixed and security holes were closed but today weekly patches speed this process. Likewise, many vendors understand the effort needed to prove security and scalability for the financial services industry. Cloud solutions to shore up cyber security have significant budget impacts. Market leaders are hiring the brightest and most talented resources to ensure they are making continuous updates. Open source technology has planned rollouts looking outdated. Why would you want to try and build the entire infrastructure internally?

The solutions being brought to market by the innovators are viable solutions for all industries, including financial services. Choices are everywhere which means IT teams must be adaptable. The technology also needs to be malleable. Cybersecurity risks have caused everyone to be overly cautious but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be moving forward with cloud based solutions. Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks. Assess the need, understand the risks and move forward with a thoughtful plan.

In the end, the speed of IT is ever changing but as long as you stay fresh, continually mitigate risk and develop team talent, success is ahead. Remain focused on how your IT team can add value and help your business units reach their goals. But don’t forget to keep your IT goals in plain sight. Innovate when you can, follow when you must but above all, find the right balance.