11 May Who pulls the strings in your evergreen environment?
Co-authored with Tamara Fahey, Principal Consultant at Eighty20 Solutions
As technology becomes ever more important to an organisation’s growth and profitability, it’s no longer enough to simply invest in the right tech stack. Taking advantage of new tech to drive productivity and strategic goals takes strong and proactive support from the C-suite and a flexible approach from your IT function.
The wave of new technologies so many have been using to work safely during the pandemic have made many organisations aware of the importance of an evergreen IT strategy and framework. But this adoption of new tech – as demanding as it is – is really only the beginning of the transformation journey. With Microsoft 365, tech teams and employees can sit back and let the updates come to them. If only it were that simple…
From marathon to sprint
As IT professionals who have seen many tech trends come and go, this concept of evergreen is one we‘ve been hearing about on and off for years. In fact a 2008 Gartner report IT Modernization: Investment Is Evergreen explores the idea of ongoing renewal for an organisation’s IT ‘portfolio’ while keeping cost and risk to a minimum. More than a decade ago evergreen meant keeping technology as current as possible without squandering money, people and time. Fundamentally, this goal hasn’t really changed. But in the meantime, we’ve seen the big waterfall IT projects get smaller, agile has become pervasive and intervals for upgrading and patching have shrunk from years to months to weeks.
Fast forward to 2022 and we see Microsoft becoming a staple across many organisations. With the introduction of Viva last year, they’ve made a bold move in consolidating and enhancing their workplace technology offer. The promise of more to come, in the platform itself and its associated technologies – Teams, Sharepoint, Yammer etc. – is bringing a massive increase in change cadence – for both IT teams and users. And whether an organisation’s role call of SaaS vendors is limited to Microsoft or draws on a suite of providers and products, taking upgrades at a slower pace is no longer an option.
From pull to push
This loss of control is always a scary prospect. We’ve seen it recently with concerns about security standards when changing from on-prem data storage and applications to cloud hosting. But just like sticking with on-prem because the cloud ‘seems’ too risky, choosing not to have the latest workplace technology automatically available in your organisation presents a far greater risk. By having these functions and features embedded in your processes so your people can make the most of them, your organisation can build its capabilities and competitive edge on a foundation of advanced technology.
It’s a shift in pace that has changed up the dynamic between IT and the business. In the past, it was business units pulling the strings, looking to IT to deliver the features and apps they needed to provide a service or perform their role. And if IT weren’t forthcoming with the solution, there was the risk they’d take up one of their choosing, creating a shadow IT imprint for the organisation that was hard to monitor and control.
In the evergreen scenario, the roles are reversed and IT becomes the enabler. Instead of users asking for functionality when they need it, they now have no choice but to accept updates to their apps. To avoid the frustration and fatigue that can come from constant change that we’re not actively choosing, IT teams can benefit from rethinking their role and deploying resources in a different way. Instead of assigning most of their headcount towards their service desk and application development functions, it makes sense to shift their efforts towards a more proactive engagement with the business to educate them and prepare them for changes as they arrive.
This pivot in IT priorities isn’t an easy one to make. It takes a change in mindset and practice for a function that’s used to being in control of custom rollouts of the next MS Office release every 12 to 18 months. In moving to a cloud-hosted update scenario, it’s Microsoft pulling the strings with the release schedule. If IT aren’t preparing for the change in pace, their service desk capacity is going to be stretched to the limit. It comes down to a choice between making a known investment of resources in managing the change upfront vs. an unknown drain on resources as IT respond to issues, one user at a time.
Stepping up the pace with strategy
IT aren’t the only stakeholders required to step up the pace to make evergreen IT work for their organisation. In all the IT strategy and roadmap work we’ve carried out in the last few years, it’s become clear that organisational and technology strategy need to be in lockstep for organisations to maximise the benefits and return on investment from their tech stack. Just like IT need to change up their mindset and tempo to support evergreen strategy at the operational level, the C-suite can be in the habit of treating IT as the department that simply keeps the hardware running and cranks out apps from time to time. They’re not always used to ensuring their CIO or CTO have a clear picture of where technology needs to take the organisation in the next three to five years.
The playbook for using technology to create competitive advantage is changing from, “Who owns the best tech?” to, “Who uses technology the best?” As a result, CEOs are realizing that their collaboration with IT needs to go a level deeper to understand whether and how their tech is providing an advantage.
Deloitte Insights, Tech Trends 2021
Add to this the fact that organisational strategy is already lagging technology change and we can expect many organisations to be missing out on the potential advantages evergreen IT solutions can deliver. In Deloitte’s 2020 survey, 71% of Chief Strategy Officers reported spending more than three months on a single round of strategy development. Nearly half (45%) refresh their strategy annually, or even less frequently: every two years (23%) or three years (22%). This slow turnover in strategic planning limits visibility of technology-driven opportunities at the most senior level which, in turn, stifles investment in the resources needed – in IT and across an entire organisation – to support productive adoption and embedding of new features and functions.
Solving for speed and strategic alignment
This visibility and alignment is fundamental to harnessing new technologies with confidence and success. At Eighty20 the style and practice we use to engage with clients is all about supporting and enhancing that visibility and alignment. We can review the overarching technology strategy and then explore how this is being translated at the roadmap level, and look for gaps that can become the obstacles that slow things down. And if you’re struggling to free up the internal IT resources it will take to move forward, we can create a hybrid team to help you level up in your internal skills and capacity without bringing on board a whole team of external contractors.
Another approach we can take is to start with technology ideation based on strategic vision. We can work with senior executives to review organisational strategy and develop a picture of the technology future-state that best supports that strategy. Then we can break that down into the elements of a roadmap to get clear on projects and priorities for the IT function.