No CIO or IT department can fulfill every business user need internally -- budgets, skills and timelines constrain even the best departments. And with the variety of third-party offerings easily available to users, it's pointless to try. Empowering users can make organizations more flexible and help employees do their jobs better. So what's the problem?
You know the problem: Employees are bringing devices, applications and even data sources into the enterprise at a grassroots level, sometimes unknown to the business and IT leadership. How then can CIOs support employee innovation with new technologies and accelerate their impact on the organization without giving away the keys or undermining the enterprise? Consider these five approaches.
1. Adopt The User Perspective
CIOs and IT organizations should continually ask: How do employees, customers and partners engage with our business? Which information and technology services do they need, and how are we provisioning these services? How might new technologies and applications help users, not just to work better and faster, but to do their jobs differently?
[ Looking for help writing your New Year's resolutions? See 6 Ways IT Still Fails The Business. ]
At Amtrak, train conductors have broad operational responsibilities. By adopting the conductor's perspective, Amtrak developed a mobile app with a magnetic card reader that lets them process tickets, validate cases of fraud, update schedules and car capacities, report maintenance problems, schedule repairs at stops en route, and perform other functions -- from a handheld device as they move through a train. Customers have a complimentary app that provides scheduling, ticketing and check-in, as well as interactive features and games to engage travelers on their trip and beyond.
2. Know The Landscape
As third-party service providers and consumer app stores expand into enterprise-oriented offerings, find out which "almost-enterprise" services and apps are good enough for specific user needs and which fall short. Create a catalog users can consult of IT-sanctioned services developed both internally and externally.
Consider the experience of a leading global restaurant company that wanted to strengthen brand loyalty, increase visits and grow average check sizes. The business understood that the proliferation of mobile devices, social applications and analytics must offer some opportunity, but how?
The answer was a set of mobile, Web and kiosk applications that let customers order appetizers, check wait times at multiple nearby restaurants, put their name on the list before arriving at a restaurant, and then receive a personalized greeting when they walk in. New tools let customers manage their loyalty program benefits and other rewards, such as receiving a targeted discount or redeeming an incentive, from a mobile device. Without a knowledgeable IT department able to integrate multiple technologies and trends, those apps probably never would have been conceived much less deployed.
Most consumer technologies that find their way into the enterprise are advancing at lightning speed. CIOs should embrace rapid prototyping and an iterative approach aligned with agile or scrum methodologies. Prioritize use cases that will have a clear business value, and create a roadmap for addressing them, starting with the easiest. Rather than try to identify the one "right" architecture or tool, experiment with likely candidates. Different use cases may require different architectures, or experimentation may reveal a clear winner that can become the company standard.
When Deloitte wanted to go mobile with its internal portal, DeloitteNet, where employees do everything from entering time and expense reports to locating an office, it identified the six use cases that were most common and seemed easiest to tackle. The Deloitte IT team began developing apps for all six cases simultaneously: It built native apps for three cases, used a cross-platform development tool for two cases, and used HTML5 for one case.
Deloitte quickly learned that HTML5 was not yet robust enough (this was 18 months ago), so it halted that pilot. Development with the cross-platform tool proved effective, but the look and feel didn't seem appropriate for every use case. The native pilots continued, and those apps were released in the field as soon as they were completed so that the team could incorporate any insight into the use cases still being developed.
4. Create Centralized Platforms
Without some oversight, each business group will go through its own process of assembling or developing services, apps and devices to solve what may be similar use cases. This sort of experimentation may lead to innovation, but the learning is lost to the organization and the results won't have an appropriate level of enterprise-class features.
Centers of excellence provide a place where people working on a problem, such as how to apply gamification to improve operations, can gravitate. The learning there is captured, amplified and fed back to the larger organization. Meantime, the CIO can apply controls and governance to those innovations. Contest structures can further spur innovation, either internally or externally.
5. Keep An Enterprise Frame Of Mind
The fast-paced experimentation required to support a tech-literate, self-serve workforce still must account for the different types of risks -- privacy, security, access, continuity -- for different users and use cases. User-friendly technologies must be integrated with existing workflows and back-office systems, the job of the IT department.
At OfficeMax, the IT department focuses on process to help users better understand their needs and the capabilities of the new applications. "It's not surprising that some users expect new technology to be a panacea for deeper issues rooted in their processes," says CIO Randy Burdick. "But simplicity should start from the business process."
Has your organization had success changing its IT delivery model? Which types of IT governance and support can deliver the most value? Leave a note in the comments section below.
Eric Openshaw is vice chairman and U.S. technology, media & telecommunications leader for Deloitte LLP. Mark White is U.S. consulting chief technology officer for Deloitte Consulting.