IT organizations have long been driven by the need to optimize. Whether it’s because of competition, changes in the marketplace, new technologies or methodologies, regulatory compliance, or an acquisition, de-acquisition, or merger – businesses are continually trying to optimize.
It may seem that IT optimization is a never-ending quest. Just as soon as an IT organization reaches a desired level of optimization, a new wave of optimization seems to begin.
If I think about how IT organizations have optimized over the past 10 or so years, there have been two clear waves of optimization. And we’re already beginning a third wave.
The first wave, starting around 2007, was cost optimization. Business investments in technology were often driven by cost savings. Often, businesses made what I would call “trade-off” decisions – they invested in technology-based solutions as a trade-off for investing in additional staff or other resources. And in many cases, this investment did deliver instances of cost savings, often represented in terms of greater efficiency (lower cost per unit of work).
But sometimes cost optimization resulted in less than optimal outcomes. The drive to optimize for cost often inhibited taking a big-picture view or creative thinking. Because of the possible additional costs involved, organizations sometimes fell victim to siloed-thinking, i.e. solutions addressed the immediate issues for the immediate concern. Too much siloed-thinking then resulted in needless duplication – two different solutions that essentially did the same thing, were implemented by two different areas of the company.
Around 2011, IT started to shift to optimization for speed.
New or emerging methodologies have challenged traditional thinking about using, deploying, and supporting technology. In my opinion, this has been good development for the IT industry and has sparked innovative thinking in many organizations. There are a number of prominent organizations that have demonstrated success optimizing for speed. Many IT organizations have adopted frameworks and approaches under the guise of becoming more agile and responsive to business demand.
These attempts have resulted in the illusion of responsiveness – that is, they have mistaken activities for accomplishment, or haven’t made the needed investments to fully understand or embrace these new concepts.
For example, some have looked at DevOps adoption only as “automation.” Some have taken on Agile adoption as a way to speed up delivery of new features or functionality, but have not considered the impact on day-to-day support or how Agile impacted other business functions.
Without having well-defined processes, automation will never accomplish its potential. In fact, automating poorly designed processes only helps IT organizations screw-up faster, which only results in additional non-value-added work.
Even worse, some organizations use “failing fast” as an excuse for ignoring basic quality in delivering products and services. In the (artificial) rush to be responsive to (perceived) business needs, building in quality from the beginning is overlooked, or ignored. In these cases, the old saying is holding true – there always seems to be time to fix it, but never the time to do it right the first time.
These first two waves did produce a number of positive outcomes and internal improvements for many IT organizations. Optimization for cost produced insights and learnings that influenced the thinking behind optimization for speed. Optimization for speed has enabled IT over the past couple of years to enter a third wave of optimization – optimization for the consumer.
In many ways, optimization for the consumer leverages the best concepts from the previous two waves. From the consumer perspective, cost is a consideration. But consumers are actually willing to pay for things that they find to be of value. Speed is also a consideration. But not when the quality of products and services are so negatively impacted that it results in a poor customer experience.
This third wave, however, has a distinct difference from the previous waves. Optimization for the consumer takes an “outside-in” view – it looks at the use of technology from the perspective of the consumer.
The digital age is pushing businesses and IT departments to optimize for the consumer. The traditional business-to-business commerce model is not sufficient in the digital age; the business-to-consumer model now commands significant attention. That’s because in the digital age, the store never closes and the consumer is always on and always connected.
The overarching characteristic of consumer optimization is that the consumer is the focus of everything. The 2019 Gartner CIO Agenda lists “the consumer” as its third agenda item. The article states that “digital offers new ways to engage your audience and deliver a superior experience across the consumer life cycle and manage costs.”
What are some of the characteristics of consumer optimization when it comes to IT?
Is optimization for the consumer the final wave? Likely not. But the digital age is rapidly driving business and IT organizations to optimize for the consumer now. Good ITSM is a key enabler for consumer optimization.