What role for IT in digital transformation, asks LSE professor?
“I have a sense that, when it comes to cloud computing, we’ve overestimated the short-term impacts, but we’re seriously underestimating its long-term effects,” says Leslie Willcocks, professor of technology, work and globalisation at the London School of Economics.
Professor Willcocks feels so strongly about this imbalance, he tells Technology.info, that he made it the central theme of his latest book, Moving to the Cloud Corporation: How to face the challenges and harness the potential of cloud computing.
“While the subject of the cloud is being discussed everywhere,” he laments in the book, “there is a lack of substantive, objective evidence not just about the technological trajectories but also about the potentially more far-reaching business implications of the cloud.” Given the role that cloud computing is set to play in companies’ digital transformation efforts, this lack of foresight could be perilous.
In Moving to the Cloud Corporation, Willcocks and his co-authors Will Venters and Edgar Whitley set out to address this shortfall. The book is based, in part, on a survey of over 1,000 business executives, giving it a strong management perspective. What the co-authors discovered by talking to these respondents was a strong sense of disappointment in the gap between cloud promises and cloud realities.
“If you listen to vendors, every year since 1999 has been the year of the Cloud,” says Willcocks. “But many organisations have found that the Cloud is not as simple as they thought. It’s not the straightforward, plug-and-play solution they thought they’d be buying.”
But, at the same time, once the many challenges of cloud adoption have been overcome, he adds, cloud technologies will have a massive impact on the ability of so-called ‘digital businesses’ to tap into trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), the automation of knowledge work and robotics. In short, the Cloud lies at the heart of most digital transformation efforts.
CIOs and their IT teams must help their organisations to cross this chasm, Willcocks says. He sees as “problematic” the general perception amongst non-IT executives that the emergence of Cloud chimes the death knell for IT departments. For a start, he argues, it’s based on a fundamental misinterpretation of the role of the modern IT team, overlooking its contribution to the fulfilment of wider business goals.
In a cloud corporation, he says, the IT team may be smaller than before, but it will have a far wider range of skills. “Above all, these [IT professionals] are the holders of the blueprint of the technology platform that their organisation needs. That requires technical and systems architecture skills, certainly, but it also makes them sourcing specialists, business strategists, innovators and supplier-management experts. The modern IT professional must be able to perform a wide range of jobs to make the whole thing work, to manage the strategic direction of IT across the whole organisation.”
These jobs boil down to four key tasks, he says: Governance, to ensure that the technology team’s activities align with wider company activities and goals; Requirements capture, so that systems and services delivered by IT perform closely fit business needs; Blueprint definition, in order that the technology platform at an organisation’s disposal evolves to support new systems and processes; and supplier management, so that contractual obligations and service levels are met by third-party technology partners at a time when so much IT is delivered ‘as a service’.
However, Willcocks warns, technology can’t support digital transformation without two major organisational changes. First, he says, IT teams need to achieve a “step-change” in outsourcing maturity, so that they can handle collaborative innovation with third-party suppliers. Second, senior executives from outside the IT department need to be fully engaged in funding and helping to design and deploy technologies.
“Everyone in an organisation needs to adjust, everyone needs to adapt. But the rewards for those that adjust and adapt successfully will be huge,” says Willcocks.
Interested in learning more? Don’t miss Professor Leslie Willcocks’ presentation at IP EXPO Europe, Moving to the Cloud Corporation: The CIO Mission. This will take place in the Digital Transformation Summit (IP EXPO Europe Keynote Theatre) on Thursday 9 October between 12:40 and 13:05.