The Curveball Impact on IT Spend Decisions | Gaining Altitude in the Cloud

Posted On July 12, 2013

There is an interesting new twist these days on how organizations initiate, fund, and make IT spend decisions. It’s sparked by two major trends: Nicholas Carr’s 2003 Harvard Business Review article claiming that “IT doesn’t matter” and the consumerization of IT. As a result, some organizations no longer view their CIOs as responsible for generating business value through IT decisions.

Instead, increasingly the CIO’s mandate today is to take tactical steps to reduce the cost of IT. Make it run anytime, anywhere, available when and where needed. Make sure it’s compliant and highly reliable — and cheap. The cost of IT on the balance sheet or the operating statement has been creeping up past one percent to two or three and sometimes six percent of total corporate revenues. Now the mandate is to take that down by several points, and even below one percent.

More automation, increased use of private clouds and increased role of labor arbitrage combine to lower the cost. Simplification and standardization also play a prominent role in achieving cost objectives. The mass commoditized world is overwhelming the bespoke world or customized environment, and the focus is on eliminating variations and getting to one kind of server, one kind of data center, one kind of virtualization and operating system. In addition, processes are more ITIL-based, which leads to a cheaper, more reliable, more flexible environment. And it makes it easier to interact with third-party providers.

The power of the purse

This CIO mandate is growing in importance and increasingly is more prominent in CIOs’ agendas. But it comes at the expense of their desire to drive innovation and value into the business. With the consumerization of IT, the business stakeholders are taking over decisions about IT functionality and benefits, as well as how to use IT to drive value in the organization.

They grew up with technology and don’t feel they need to collaborate and partner with IT, certainly not up front. They feel very self-confident and build their own vision of how things could change.

And IT funding has shifted to the business stakeholders along with envisioning and initiating technology decisions that drive innovation and business value. The CIO’s budget is constrained or cut, whereas the business stakeholders’ budgets are now flush; they have the power of the purse.

Traditionally, organizations (through CFOs and CIOs) controlled the introduction and allocation of technology by constraining or managing costs; the point of control was through CAPEX. But in the new world with business stakeholders driving decisions, capital isn’t needed. Business users can leverage ready-made tools that are available in the cloud and through SaaS that don’t require CAPEX and also don’t need as much, or any, IT team participation to launch — making experimentation easy.

Two completely opposite markets

These shifts in influence on delivering value and control over funding create two markets within organizations, and they behave very differently from each other. Their contrasting behaviors and mindsets pose fundamental issues and create a lot of confusion for the enterprise and for the IT vendors and service providers trying to sell into the organization.

This dramatic change from the traditional ways of governing technology and IT spend are like a curveball in baseball. Depending on the grip and hand movement, a pitcher can throw a baseball with a spin so that it swerves downward and deviates to the right or left, surprising the batter and making it difficult to hit the ball. Similarly, the two differing IT markets in today’s organizations throw a curveball at senior leadership and sales/marketing teams, necessitating developing new approaches, concepts and communication about IT initiation, allocation and spend.

For example, a central IT team used to manage through traditional IT governance “gates” such as capital allocations and compliance, which facilitated the ability to look across the organization. But a world where everyone does what’s best in their own eyes poses challenges to managing IT.

There is an upside. To the business stakeholders’ credit, it is more effective to stand up a technology, see how to use it, and then understand how to change it, rather than building an elaborate requirements document up front. It facilitates understanding the nuances, consequences and organizational challenges in a much deeper, more realistic way than can happen by developing a requirements document that is, at best, an abstract vehicle.

It also plays into the idea of agile development but also goes beyond that concept by stringing together fully formed components that already exist in the marketplace. Business stakeholders can see how the components relate and see how to benefit from them; and they can easily add to them or discard them quickly. So it turns the risks of a big planning exercise into a much more measured incremental march that facilitates fully understanding the technology before fully rolling it out.

On the downside, in a world where everyone makes decisions on what is best for their own needs, it can be challenging to scale it across an entire organization at a later point. Potentially it also can create complications for the CIO’s mandated agenda to create a low-cost, highly resilient, highly compliant factory.

It isn’t that the CIO market or the business stakeholder market is right and the other market is wrong. They’re just very different. Borrowing from the claim in the days of the Roman Empire, we’re not here to bury Caesar or to praise him; it’s just a fact that Caesar was very different from Augustus.

So, we must accommodate this new phenomenon of the two markets and celebrate the benefits this brings in terms of a deeper understanding of how to use technology and achieve faster speed to impact. It will necessitate building tools and new management structures that support the inevitability of the new divergent structure. And it will necessitate a new approach and communication strategy for selling IT. In our next blog post, we’ll provide some strategies and tips for how to succeed in hitting a home run despite facing a curveball.


Photo credit: Jason Alley

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