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PA OPINION

Breaking free from IT baggage

Business success means being in tune with customers, and fast and flexible enough to stay that way. It means launching new services and experiences and adapting them on the fly based on insights from real-time data. In the words of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos: ‘There is no other way but to re-invent. The only sustainable advantage you can have over others is agility. That’s it.’ But businesses also need the right IT to let them do all this.

That’s where things get tricky for big businesses with large, complex and hard-to-modify infrastructure and organisations. They look with envious eyes at start-ups and new entrants beginning with a blank sheet of paper and going straight to the cloud-enabled digital architecture that lets them get at and use data quickly and easily.

Weighed down by their old IT baggage, many businesses are investing time and money in today’s tech or keeping yesterday’s running, rather than investing in the future. Our survey of 425 senior leaders from across sectors found this is the case for two-thirds of organisations (find out more in our report, Transforming for Tomorrow). And Gartner estimates enterprises are spending 80 per cent of their IT budgets on ‘yesterday’s technology’. Four out of ten organisations might have adopted AI and robotics, but without the right infrastructure, they won’t get full value from it.

So how can they break free of the past and embrace the future?

Get the vision in focus

Quite rightly, businesses find the prospect of spending millions on a full-scale IT transformation unnerving. Not only is it a big investment, but it could be years before they see any return. And by the time the transformation is complete, their new infrastructure could already be showing its age.

But they don’t have to do it this way. They can take some of the start-up’s bold vision and entrepreneurial spirit and put it to work in their own environment. The key is to agree an overall ambition for what IT can help the business achieve, and then move towards it in small, iterative steps. This way, the business isn’t just working on a cloud transformation or an agile transformation, but on realising a commercial goal, with priorities based on business value.

By targeting the effort carefully, they’ll start to see that value more quickly. And that will unlock the confidence and momentum to sustain change until the day the old infrastructure eventually breathes its last – because no one needs it anymore.

For John Lewis, the period between Black Friday and Christmas clearance generates record-breaking online traffic. While other retailers’ websites crashed under the surge of traffic, we helped them successfully handle hundreds of thousands of orders in a day by optimising their new e-commerce platform to safeguard peak trading. This generated record-breaking sales and contributed to the company’s biggest ever trading day in its 150-year history.

Make business and IT equal partners

For a long time, the orthodoxy was that businesses needed to bring IT to heel and get it working to support corporate strategy rather than following up its own hunches and pet projects. This sounds reasonable, but it makes IT a passive supplier, a taker of orders. And that’s not getting the most out of what the IT function can contribute. IT can see possibilities in emerging technology that the rest of the business can’t. So, the business needs to integrate and channel that expertise to be able to move faster towards better results, while keeping costs in check.

When global investment manager Schroders wanted more speed and efficiency from its IT team, we helped foster a closer, more productive relationship between IT and the rest of the business. We reconfigured the IT function into teams working for and with specific business units. It gave IT more insight into business needs, and more power to decide how to meet them. It means they get new capabilities up and running faster – new releases accelerated by 20 per cent in nine months.

Transforming for tomorow - Digital at the core

Find out more

Follow the value

Focusing on a commercial vision helps knit different projects together by focusing on where the value for the business is biggest. For pest controller Rentokil, the move towards becoming a digital business started with an idea from IT: digital mousetraps. The business went on to see how connected traps could help monitor infestations in real time at 1,000 client sites. Not only did they combat infestations more efficiently, but they harnessed data to predict where issues could happen next. But when Rentokil wanted to expand to 10,000 sites, their infrastructure couldn’t handle it. We helped them reach their target by working in Agile sprints that parcelled up the work for faster progress, migrating service by service to a new cloud platform.

The bigger the potential value of migrating a service, the sooner that migration happened. Where the business used to take six to eight weeks to release a service, it now takes days. Other gains also came quickly. Moving parts of the business off the old infrastructure meant Rentokil didn’t need the £1m-a-year licences for the middleware that connected databases and applications.

Work in new ways to let ideas grow

How can businesses take the first step towards their own vision? For many, old habits die hard. Teams and departments cling to established ways of doing things. And there’s never enough time for risky-sounding experiments. So, doing things differently will mean giving a small, probably IT-led, team the leeway to operate outside the business’s normal governance structures.

With a small amount of time and resources, they’ll have the chance to test a concept and produce enough results to convince the rest of the business to pursue the idea on a larger scale. They’ll also develop the skills to work in an adaptable way, with a flexible approach to problem solving, instead of having transformation ‘done to’ them. Once the idea and the value become tangible, other business functions can round out the development team.

Named as one of Europe’s most innovative companies, technology business Arm had ambitious plans for growth that needed their IT organisation to deliver business priorities faster. They knew they needed to replace their traditional project management culture with something much more agile, prioritising collaboration and creating value. Starting small, we helped them organise delivery teams to focus on customer experience. In just eight months, 80 per cent of Arm’s IT staff were embracing agile techniques.

Tomorrow’s successful businesses will be those that adapt quickly and give themselves the chance to evolve if they sense that’s what their customers want. They can only do that with a radically different approach to IT. And to get it, they’ll need to adapt to new ways of thinking and working today.

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