CIOs are in a race against time as their businesses become more mobile and digital. Here are ways to manage the clock.
Some years ago I read a chilling Stephen King story called "The Langoliers." The tale centers on airline passengers who inadvertently travel back in time and are confronted by a nasty group of razor-toothed monsters on a mission to eat the past to make way for our future.
CIOs face a less gruesome but similar enough dilemma to the protagonists in "The Langoliers." Namely, dwell too long in the technical past and your business will be eaten alive by more agile and forward-looking competitors. Many businesses, from video stores to camera manufactures, have learned this painful lesson because they have business models that don't anticipate and respond to a highly disruptive future.
[DevOps is for hipsters and your company doesn't need to worry about it, right? Right? Read Busting 5 DevOps Myths]
No one is really immune to business technology's time carnivores. They don't care that you've been successfully selling the same product for decades. Zipcar, for example, took a big bite out of the traditional car rental business model, while Nest Labs is chomping away at the sameness of the humble thermostat.
In the battle to stay relevant and compete, modern CIOs must capture and control time to ensure the best future outcomes for their businesses. This involves managing time in different ways:
Market time Being first to market with a new product or service might only guarantee a faster failure. What counts more is being first to market with a value proposition so compelling it disrupts the business landscape. For example, Withings has rewritten the rulebook on bathroom scales with its smart body analyzers. They transform the mundane act of checking your weight into a whole new experience in which they also check your body fat percentage, heart rate, and room air quality and then sync all that data with a mobile app.
Many CIOs I've talked to look at IT services through a similar value-centered lens. Rather than concentrate on how quickly they can deliver applications, they focus on how quickly software innovations can help grow the business. They gauge software effectiveness through meaty metrics like time to revenue capture and profitability.
Moments in time Mobile computing has forever changed the way customers interact with businesses. Now it's less transactional and more contextual. Customers turn to their mobile apps in an exact moment of time -- whether that's deciding on the nutritional value of food while in the grocery store or reporting a vandalized bus stop on your daily commute.
Capturing the impulsiveness of mobile customers for business gain requires a radical makeover in how mobile apps and software services are assessed, designed, developed, tested, and operated. In short, a CIO must lead the charge to transform a culture based on technology silos and team division into one that emphasizes Agile development techniques and tight collaboration across IT, marketing, and other business units.
Social time A few years ago, a leading home air-conditioning manufacturer extolled on social media the wonders of a system that could be controlled remotely from a mobile device. It was ahead of its time, but by today's standards not especially innovative. The attention it received, however, shows the importance of exploiting the promotional prowess of social media.
Today, product and services lifecycles are much shorter, so savvy CIOs not only understand the importance of getting stuff to market faster, but also how social media marketing can help increase profits during smaller windows of opportunity. Remember too that most technical wizardry can be quickly copied, so working with marketing and communications to craft a message that hammers home the unique value proposition of a product might be just as important as the innovation itself.
Quality time What's worse -- delivering a defect-free app and watching it stagnate in the app store because customers didn't need it, or delivering an innovative app that customers love but can't use because of buggy code? There's no simple answer, but one thing is clear: Both situations burden a company with enormous debt. In the former case, failing to test business assumptions leads to a classic fail, while in the latter, the cost of fixing problems outstrips potential value.
To avoid both situations, make comprehensive testing part of your mantra. This includes techniques like service virtualization to simulate real-world conditions without having to assemble infrastructure physically. But it doesn't stop in development. Testing must become an essential part of design and operations. Use capabilities like split testing and behavioral analytics to validate assumptions and check performance continuously.
The battle to manage time has always been a challenge for IT and will only intensify as business expectations increase. CIOs who kill time watching the clock will be watching opportunities pass them by.
Trying to meet today's business technology needs with yesterday's IT organizational structure is like driving a Model T at the Indy 500. Time for a reset. Read our Transformative CIOs Organize For Success report today. (Free registration required.)
Peter Waterhouse is a senior technical marketing advisor for CA Technologies' strategic alliance, service providers, cloud, and industry solutions businesses. View Full Bio
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on InformationWeek.com for the week of December 14, 2014. Be here for the show and for the incredible Friday Afternoon Conversation that runs beside the program.