Radical Change in Corporate IT

Lisa Woodall

May 09, 2022 Lisa Woodall Season 1 Episode 10
Radical Change in Corporate IT
Lisa Woodall
Show Notes Transcript

If you had a magic wand and you could radically modify the way corporate IT engages itself in organizations, what would you change?

That's the question we asked Lisa Woodall, a very active expert and senior business leader with a track record in shaping, leading and implementing portfolio management, enterprise architecture, business transformation  initiatives, with an impressive career track record of important and strategic roles such as Chief Enterprise Architect in large organizations in several industries.

She is currently the Global IT Transformation and Value Assurance Lead for WPP, a creativity company focussed on building better futures for clients, people, communities and the planet. She also participates in the Intersection Group, a multi-disciplinary community and platform for creating better enterprises. 

Lisa provides smart answers, based on years of field work, about the need to change how IT works in organizations.  Her insights cover topics such as:

  • IT people need to be more curious about the business of the organization  they work in;
  • Digital teams are spending too much time with the wrong people;
  • The business analyst role faces a lack of respect in digital project teams;
  • One of the things to fix: solutions looking for a problem;
  • Businesspeople are underwhelmed by the net result of digital transformations;
  • We aught to learn from venture capitalists on how to look at investment in tech;
R.M.:

Welcome to another episode of the podcast Radical change in corporate IT. Lisa Woodall, who is located in England and is a very active expert and senior business leader with a track record of shaping, leading a nd implementing portfolio management, enterprise architecture, business transformation initiatives with an impressive career track record of important and strategic roles such as Chief Enterprise Architect in large organizations in several industries. She i s currently t he Global IT Transformation and Value Assurance lead for WPP, a very successful creativity company focused on building better futures for clients, people, communities, and the planet. She also is a member of the Intersection Group, a multidisciplinary community and platform for creating better enterprises. L isa Woodall, good afternoon.

Lisa:

Hey Marc. Thank you for inviting me to your show.

R.M.:

It's a pleasure. Thanks you for responding positively to my request. I'll start with the first question. The question is the same that I ask all my podcast invitees, and it's the following: Imagine you were invited to speak to a fictitious room full of non-IT business executives for a panel discussion labeled "The future of corporate IT in the 21st century - fundamental shifts and radical rethinking". Assume they came to hear you because they need IT to get their business running, but have little knowledge about information technologies and little patience with technical lingo. So the questions (are) two very open-ended questions that go as follows. Question one: If you had a magic wand, leaving aside the change management challenges, t o radically modify, in the way IT engages in organizations, how would you redefine the roles, the skills, the interactions, t he collaboration models, the structures, the incentives, or anything you can think of (except technology) worth changing in order to significantly raise t he value that IT provides to the organization.

Lisa:

And mark, that is such a great question, which could be answered in so many ways. But you know, in my 25 years of working in IT, I have to say that I've seen opportunities for the department, the function, the division to be far more beneficial to the company than it was being. But I've also seen some great examples of radical different ways of working and operating. So, you know, in my case, when you as k m e that question, I think we really have to get under, what's prevented IT from really driving maximum value in the organizations, that IT works for and what would have to be different to get that, that real radical step change for any business from its IT function. And for me, you're right, it is around roles and skills and interactions. And it is around those skills and roles that IT organizations bring into their functions to interact and work with the business. But it's also how the business works with the IT function. And I think what it takes is an IT function to be curious, as an IT function, to be very much listening and observing. I'm really wanting to understand the business. And I'm not talking about superficial understanding. I'm talking about deep roote d unde rstanding of what the company's there to achieve. And I find that we probably spent too much time with the wrong people. You know, if we look at the future of business, it's very much about engaging customer experiences, you know, frictionless, exp e riences where customers get what they want, when they want it, how they want it. And that takes, IT c ommunities to be far closer to probably the marketing part of the business, the sales part of the business, rather than just what would've been traditionally, the o per a tional side of the business. And it takes us all to really trying to step up, step out, and really look at how customers are interacting with the business and how we can enable them to engage with the business in a more radical way than we've enabled it in the past. I'm pretty certain that the audience, the fictitious audience that you've mentioned, would've had and heard about how the world was going to change with the web and how the world was going to change with eCommerce and automation and all of that that could be claimed with the trends that IT would brought to this strategic table. But then when those programs and projects have run to deliver that value from those new trends, they've been probably, oh , I do not know what the phrase would be, but they they've been "underwhelmed", not overwhelmed about the performance that was gained from the changes that were made and with significant investment behind - and pretty disappointed. So, you know, it is very much magic wand time, and it is very much about every person who works in IT, stepping away a little bit from the technology and really understanding what the business needs to, to be exceptional in the markets that it serves. And that's very much a about getting out, listening to people, listening to what people say and do when they're using the solutions that the IT department provide and really looking at pain points, looking at what we call passion points and really trying to develop solutions that are going to drive business forward, not just get it from standing back.

R.M.:

Very good. Very good. I'm listening to you, and the thing that comes to my mind is that , in all the interviews, in all the podcasts , everybody has talked about the gap or the chasm, you know, between IT and business in large corporations, as being an evil , a very evil thing going on, and what I'm interpreting from what you're saying, and please confirm more or give more details is that this gap is not, is something that could be filled by IT people getting closer to the business. Is that what you're saying? That it should come from them (IT) towards their nontechnical counterparts?

Lisa:

Yeah, I think I'm saying that. And I'm also saying that it's more than just it getting closer to the business. It's also, so that the business getting closer to tech and what tech can be achieved. And, you know, I often hear people say people in IT talk about the business as if the business is not them. And I hear that a lot in my conversations, IT people saying the business, and I've said it myself during this recording. We all have to get in the mind that we are the business, that we are as important to the business, as any other role in the organization that we work in. And the business will be: "we are part of making that business successful". It's not something different. And I guess if I look back something that I've seen happen time to time again, is we get brought into the new opportunities that tech can bring to our business. We kick off programs of work, and all we do with those programs of work is recreate the old processes on the new tech. And I think where w e need to get to is realizing t hat tech needs new processes, needs new ways of looking at how we're gonna operate as a business and needs new ways of how we all come together in our operating models to deliver. So it's not just the tech that needs to change: it's the operating models that run on that tech that also need to change too. So we're now, and we should see ourselves as cross-functional teams that have representation from marketing, from finance, from operations, and from tech, all working together to move the business forward. It's not about recreating the processes we used to do on new tech. About a ll being curious o r asking really insightful questions. A ll being far more analytical than we've ever been to say exactly what is g onna make the difference for our business with this tech. Because our business has to change. Because the tech we will be using in the future will change and therefore our business has to change too. So I think it's a mindset thing. I mean, you ask around how will roles change an d o u r s kills change, how will interactions change. I think it's the entire mindset the business needs to change. To see that every aspect of the business needs to radically change in t he way it operates, the way it works and the way it engages with IT. It's not just about IT radically changing. But you know, what I'm really fascinated by? I've worked, the area that really springs to mind is: I worked on a major claims transformation. The business had 12 or 15 different claims systems from 12 to 15 different business units. And we were launching a consolidated, shared service, shared platform in the cloud for all the claims processes to come together. And that one instance and program ran fo r three to four years, a lot longer than everybody fel l. And I saw and watched, and as I reflect back, us just recreating loads of rules, loads of business rules for the new system to handle everything we used to do on the old systems in exactly the same way, but just on new tech. And, for me, that's not what new tech is about as I'm saying. And it's a very different mindset for everybody to get into, to say, no, the old processes were right for the old tech, but new processes will be right for new tech . And it's, we've got to meet halfway . You are right, there's this, there's this chasm that you talk about that needs to be led by a business realizing it's gonna change its operating model. Not just it's gonna change its tech. I mean, that's really behind what I think I was saying in that, in that that I came o ut with just a minute a go,

R.M.:

One interesting topic, you touched about working with the wrong people and then leading to technology. People should work more with marketing and , and I thought about it and I said, yeah, you're, she's right. In my whole career, I've only worked a few times with marketing people. Not that much. I mean, it's not a major, I would say. Every time it was a fascinating and very interesting experience to work with these people. And at the same time, I think these people are, from a cultural point of view and from an approach point of view, from a personal point of view, they seem to be those that are the farthest away from IT people in the way they think. I think what you're saying is that, we should get closer to them because they're there to look at the business and the interactions with the customers and the reasons why the whole enterprise exists in the first place?

Lisa:

Ye ah. I mean, I think I'm saying that if we all read the textbooks, the many textbooks have been written over decades about becoming customer-centric, you know, that was a huge sort of popular discussion 10, 15 years ago, coming with corporations becoming customer-centric and then IT departments trying to embrace that, that new concept of being customer-centric. The marketing is the department that lives and breathes customer centricity, is living and breathing where the next opportunity is gonna come for the business, how the business is gonna continue to evolve, extend its product lines, extend its... reach out to new audiences. And if we are too far away from that group of people in our organization, then I can't see how we can evidence we're becoming customer centric. Now we may say: but we are talking to the end users, we are talking to the person in operations, who's answering the telephone or who's managing the workflow of emails that are flowing through the organization. But how close are they to the customer personas to what really matters to the different customers that they're trying to serve if the whole, if the whole value chain of people involved in that interaction, right from those that are really understanding the customer base to those that are dealing with the processes to support that base and then those that are supporting the IT and the infrastructure to support that when they all come together in a room and when they're targeted with growing a business together in a multi, with a multi-skill team, you get very different answers to their answers of just dealing with single domain areas in your IT delivery. So more and more I'm buying into the realm of multi-functional teams, marketing represented, operations represented, finance represented, and even some of the customers actually in that conversation as well. To actually say, you know, what's important to you? What's really mattering to you and you? You mean you only have to look at Amazon and what they've done with the technology during COVID and everybody working from home and how they've picked up on us not wanting to open the front door to somebody in case we catch COVID from them. So they've developed very quickly the idea that they w ill just drop the package at y our d oorstep and take a photograph of it so you know, it's there. That was instantly provided to all of us within a matter of weeks or months of going into COVID. I'm not sure if you went b ack 15 years, we would've got to that answer that quickly in our tech processes. If we hadn't h ave been thinking a bout what is the customer anxious about when the customer is dealing with us. So it's really just, just being far, far closer to what matters to the customer and making sure the experience we provide, because so much of the experience of a customer is touching tech, t hat, that tech experience (and I'm not just talking about web portals, I'm talking about email correspondence, chat, bot c orrespondence, web portals) I'm talking about how it all c omes together at the customer end, how that all works and how that's all joined up. It's just a very, i t's a lot thicker, deeper analytical knowledge. And the other thing I've noticed is how little respect business analysts actually get in program teams. Project managers are held up in quite high esteem. Enterprise architects are held up in quite high esteem. Subject matter experts from the business side are held up in quite high esteem, but that business analyst often feels undermined. And actually it's the business analyst, the curious business analyst, that's gonna really challenge the business to think about their processes and how their processes need to change before implementing tech. That is , I think, needs to be a critical role given far more confidence and influence in programs than maybe they've been able to do in recent, in recent years.

R.M.:

I really love what you just said because that's one of the things and conclusions I'm coming to personally in my , um, observation about , uh , my line of work is that good business analysts make a huge difference. And, and as an architect, which is a role that I play most of the time when I'm, I'm working with , uh , my customers, I feel that if I get really good information from business analysts, my architecture will be better than if I really , I get really good information from technical people that let's say senior programmers or , uh , technical architects that know, you know, how the, you know, the whole thing works under the hood and, and behind, behind the scenes. So , um , yeah, I'm happy. I'm happy to hear that.

Lisa:

And I think the other key thing about business analysts and I was in a conversation yesterday actually about business analysts. And I said, you know, what are you looking for from the business analyst in that role? And they said, well, it's the systems requirements. It's the, the , the , the systems requirements, it's the nonfunctional requirements of the system. And I said, that's not what I'd be looking for from a business analyst. Yes, that forms maybe 40% of the contribution they bring to your program. But actually what I'd be looking from the business analyst is they're really probing and questioning how the business can operate differently to address customer needs, customer pain points. Once they've really clarified customer journey, really clarified the pain points that need to be addressed, help, look for value and how the value would be extracted. Then they should be looking at the system requirements, but it's as if people on programs and projects just want them to define what the architect needs or the engineer needs for the system to work, they've gotta be step up, step up, step back, step out, and really spend a lot more time understanding where value can be created and then coming up with the requirements to get there. So, I guess that, I mean, I'm laboring the point a bit too much, I guess, but it's in terms of roles , skills and interactions, we have to become far more analytical, far more curious, far more interested in experiences because that's, what's gonna matter for us to get the most out of our tech

R.M.:

When you talked about the , um, collaboration okay. Between, you know, if we put marketing people, operations, people , uh , business analysts , uh , technical staff, into a room to solve a problem, you know, things will go better. Something came to my mind, you can disagree with my thinking and, and thus , uh , reject my question. And my question is, do you think that the, IT people , sometimes, or in general, are too much in a order taker role so that the collaboration that they're , they they can achieve is limited , to a certain point,

Lisa:

I am actually going to disagree with you because I often and hear that, you know, that we are just suppliers to the business. We're just ordered. We just do what the business asks us to do. What I actually experience is a solution looking for a problem. And I see tech trends and IT specialists getting very excited about what tech can do for business or what they think tech can do for a business. And because they don't necessarily get the engagement from the business enough, because there's significant investment from the business side to free up resources, to work with it teams to develop a change program. What I see is the tech people starting to feel the vacuum with assumptions of how the tech will work best for the business. And it's a tech driven program rather than a business driven program. So it's probably the nuance in the question in terms of taking orders. But I feel that often tech starts to gather momentum, start to get carried away with the technical features that they think are sexy and interesting and start to launch features that you know, are great, but no one will ever turn them on because they're not interested in that much sophistication in the platforms that they're using. They just want the basics and they want the basics done well. My challenge back would be, yes, IT can and often do say we are a supplier to the business, we can't be as creative as we want to be. But I often feel the balance moves to them being far more creative in the tech space than they need to be. And a lot of investment is made in features and functionality that is barely used. And that , that can't be right.

R.M.:

And then , um, I was talking , uh , lately to someone and we were talking about innovation and I said to that person in the past six years, well, because it's in the past six years that I, I think I've started noticing that , uh , maybe it could be longer than that, but in the past six years, all the projects that I've been involved in, and there's a couple of maybe, I don't know, 12, 15, maybe 20 projects where I've been involved enough to understand what they're doing. There were not innovating! It was, it was using different technologies to do the same old thing, same old thing that I had had been done. I've I had seen be being done 10 times in the past for as long as I'm working with these, these large corporations.

Lisa:

Absolutely. And I think, that's why your question at the start is such a good one about corporate IT and what does corporate IT need to do that's radically different. Because if we look at the innovation tech startup world, whether that's FinTech or HealthTech, they're starting with a blank sheet of paper and they start their whole business cases and their funding rounds from a very different perspective to a corporate IT function. And I feel we can all learn more from those startups in terms of the source of questions they have to answer to get funding from a venture capitalist. And, and the venture capitalist is often looking at expertise of the people in the room. They're looking at the people and the passion that the people bring to it. And they're really listening to what problems their solutions are going to solve in the wider markets before they invest. As in corporate IT, I don't think our finance colleagues think quite in the same way. I don't think they think about, have we got the A team on this project? Does this A team really understands the vision and the mission and the outcomes that they're driving? Do they really understand how they're gonna test and trial and scale in an experimental way? Or are they just asking for a huge slug of money? They've told us they can get the resources they've done the essential technical reviews of what systems they want to bring in, and therefore it's sort of managed more in a risk appetite and a and a resourcing way. I think we need to learn from the venture capitalists on how they look at investments in businesses and start to apply that into our corporate IT approach to investment cases and business cases.

R.M.:

From my perspective, that's radical because , um , usually large, large organizations are not set up for that. I think you alluded to that. Finance people or whoever's in the investment process usually are more into, yes, that's exactly it: risk. Managing the risk and they want a CBA, cost benefit analysis. They want benefits, but it's not the same mindset as venture capitalists. Definitely. But there's a second question. Maybe I could ask the second question, which is: since wands really do not exist , uh, wands do not exist, so what would you, where , where , where should they, where should they start?

Lisa:

I've seen various ways that various areas of the organization I've worked in have tried to start and be radical. You know, there's been the digital garages that have been set up - the Greenfield. S et up a separate team that is g onna build your IT landscape of the future with different methods, different approaches, different people, everything different about it all, somewhere else, not close to t he, t he current headquarters, all trying to run that more sort of radical innovation world with the expectation that the legacy world will be in runoff over time and the new world will be in ramp u p. And at the right time, the business will all move all of its tech i nto that g arage as i t scales up. So, so I've seen that sort of example, to start small in a digital garage to build t he future operating model and tech and to take off. And, I can't say I've seen any of them actually achieve what they hoped to achieve. They've actually increased co st b ecause they've got the legacy model running and the future model running and the two markets don't come together. So I'm not sure I'd suggest going on that ro ute. I genuinely think it's the two things that I've mentioned throughout the earlier conversations. One is really turn the dial up on your business analysis capabilities, really turn that dial up on value creation, getting closer to the marketing side of the business, really questioning exactly how the operating model can change as well as the technology model and really bring those analysis skills from multiple domains into programs and projects. So that would be one area. And I think the other area is to really question the whole business case mentality of how finance works with IT and to look to more of an agile test and learn and scale approach, to i nvestment in IT rather than bringing together massive program teams that are one of f, t h at h ave a start and an end date, and then whatever's delivered gathers dust, and then five years time, it all starts again. So I wo uld, I would say, move your structures and your approaches to financing IT in a different way as well. So it wo uld b e those two things analysis and approach to funding

R.M.:

Lisa. Um, your thoughts are really dense and , uh, there's lots of very interesting material. And we could go on for an hour. We can feel the, the experience and the , you know, the background.

Lisa:

I mean, something that I do come up against time and time again, which is why I actually feel driven to get more involved with the Intersection Group is, you know, if I do look at the Intersection Group and the facets, you know, from identity, to organizational model, to architecture, I feel they really are turning the dial up on the broader ecosystem, more systems thinking, more how our entire ecosystem comes together, not just the IT pushing out. Um , so that really resonates with me the Intersection Group and what they're driving. And then in the last two to three years, I have got a lot closer to design thinking. And you know, that is about those journey maps and the pain points. And then I have reflected on all of the programs I've been involved with. We're talking multi-millions over many years involving 200 people, day in, day out, sweating, tears and blood over getting a system in. And then seeing it go live and probably being a bit disappointed to the difference it actually made when it actually moved into that operational space and seeing how business teams not resisted using it, but , but weren't able to get the most out of all the thought they'd gone into functionality and wire frame designs. And I think there's just a thread there that we need to keep things a lot more simple and not get too carried away with the tech. And I wonder whether, you know, this multidiscipline teams coming together is, is the way forward. But that's a fundamental business change, not, not really an IT change. It's you standing up your entire business model based on that belief that you're gonna continually change and continually make use of tech, but in a different way to how you it today . I think we are... I think the 2020s are gonna be a major radical change for IT. I know every decade is different. Um, but this very much feels like we are heading into another era of it delivery. And the web is, you know, 20 years old now. So, you know, it's just, it is fascinating. It's fascinating. But many of the CIOs I come across they're , they're so tech , you know, they're talking about the cloud, or they're talking about security, they're talking about infrastructure, they're talking about data design. I get a bit bored of those conversations. I'm more interested in business models and customer journeys and an analysis. So I'm not surprised this has been slightly different to maybe your other conversations.

R.M.:

Thank you, Lisa Woodall for this very interesting interview and very interesting answers that you've given. And hopefully we can talk another time.

Lisa:

I'd love to Marc. Great to meet you and look forward to talking to you in the future.

R.M.:

Thank you very much. Thanks for listening and stay tuned or click on the next podcast for more awesome opinions from world experts on radical change in corporate IT.