Co-creating technology solutions move requirements gathering into direct involvement.

In 2021, technology and non-technology teams have to be embedded with one another to jointly create the digital outcomes customers expect. Over 12 years ago, business technology leaders were struggling to achieve what was dubbed alignment, in essence, making sure that the technology they provided met the needs of the business.

In the following years, technology has completely reshaped organizations and the customer relationship, all of which has led to the co-creation of technology outcomes, which has business and technology benefits, CIOs reveal.

The problems with alignment in the past were often the result of a long-winded process that saw the IT team tasked with delivering an application to solve a business need; this was followed by a requirements process and then a development and testing program. When the technology team or supplier had completed the testing, the application was handed to the business to use.

In the time it took to develop the technology, the business problem, in many cases, had changed. Digital and Agile methods that are highly popular, and with good cause, with CIOs today are responsive and develop technologies quickly and with full knowledge that the business problem may well change, which will require new technology in the following year or quarter.

Co-creating technology solutions move requirements gathering into direct involvement.

“We have 50 people making apps for consumers and internal use” says Omar Shraim, IT Senior Director at Advanced Technology Company, a specialist in healthcare.

Co-creation is reliant on cross-functional teams, with technologists and the business lines sharing the workload and the responsibility for the development of applications.

The pandemic demonstrated a need for organizations to work together and rapidly deploy new services to customers and new solutions to the organization. With the UK government ordering citizens to shelter at home, the Principality Building Society, a financial services provider in the UK, needed to develop new services for its customers who could no longer visit branches.

“The pace of change and digital adoption over the last 12 months has been significant,” says Samantha Richards, Transformation Business Sponsor at Principality Building Society. “The speed of delivery to get a minimum viable product (MVP) out of the door is critical,” agrees Shraim.

For the health technology organization, a change in working methods and move to co-creation was instrumental in the digital transformation of the business. “Projects were taking too long, so in 2012 we decided we needed to do something different; we wanted a platform that would build the digital transformation,” the CIO in Kuwait says.

Nuno Pedras, Global Chief Information & Digital Officer at energy firm Galp in Portugal, has been on a similar journey. “We created a group of customer facing solutions to test co-creation, and then we created a factory so that every business need went through this process."

“We also created a Shark Tank event so that people can say what it is about the business they want to improve,” Pedras adds of uncovering the frustrations of business lines. This led to insights into areas of the organization that could be made more efficient.

In total, 50 business processes that could be improved were discovered. “It provided a small window into what the future could bring to the business and began an innovation culture,” the CIO says.

“The move led the business to really understand Agile ways of working and ensuring solutions are co-designed, and it has been a big culture shift,” Richards says. Shraim adds that once MVPs are launched and in use, it is vital that the teams that devised them are involved in the continual support of the technology solutions.

Responsible Sponsorship

Sharing the creation of a technology solution is about more than just devising and developing an application; the entire lifecycle of that solution has to be co-owned by the business line using the application and IT.

“Adoption is very high as they were part of the development,” observes Shraim. Pedras at Galp adds that sponsorship of solution development is vital. “Without the sponsorship of cross-functional teams, it is not possible to achieve something that is transformational.”

Richards, herself a sponsor, agrees:

“Sponsorship is important in the mindset and culture shift, as the sponsor is the conduit in the middle, and they have to be the decision-maker.”

Shraim adds: “I cannot imagine that any technology investments will pan out without the proper sponsorship. And cross-functional teams become part of the important need for compromise.” He adds that co-creation enabled sales staff to influence the workflow in an application they would be using, and therefore directly impacting, and improving their own workloads and technology experience.

Richards agrees and adds that the contact centre teams at Principality also took part in the development of the application they would use.

As organizations co-create, the awareness and understanding of technology, and of the business increases. Though all three business technology leaders express that this is a continual journey, all agree there has been an improvement in appreciation within their organizations.

“There is a better and more common understanding,” Richards says. “The principles of MVP, co-design, and fail fast are all new to the organisation,” she says of the culture change.

“Digital literacy is an area that all businesses should work on,” adds Pedras. Something the energy sector CIO has looked to address throughout his leadership career: “In a previous role, we created an academy on data for the marketeers,” he says of how technology can help departments improve their skill level.

“We did just a few hours of training and delivery was improved,” Shraim says of the business benefits adding: “We used to use an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) application that was so painful, now with this co-creation approach the SAP platform is in the back-office of the business.”

The end-users no longer have to use the SAP platform directly, instead, Shraim’s team have developed front end applications using the OutSystems platform. “Rather than having to adopt some arcane process and workflow, they have one they were involved in the design of, and it has been transformational.”

Benefits to IT

It is not only the end-user and the business that benefits; the technology teams also gain from co-creation.

For Shraim, he says co-creation has ensured that the technology team have not been shunted to the back room of the business. Instead they are front and centre of the future journey of the organization.

He reports that working with an application development platform has enabled his developers to accelerate production times and as a result, they have become much more business and customer-centric in their approach. Richards adds that she has witnessed a real sense of ownership as a result of co-creation.

Application development platforms also provide out of the box solutions to business technology challenges such as user experience, the CIOs report. With user experience built-in, the organization can be assured that a core level of usability is available.

“We also saw shadow IT decline when we started co-creating technology, as shadow IT self-dissolves,” Shraim says. Shadow IT appears in organizations when business lines cannot get IT to respond to their needs in time, so they self-develop or procure applications, leading to data and technology silos; which can lead to governance and cost risks.

“The business could not grow or change as a result of shadow IT; there was such a mess of infrastructure,” Pedras adds.

The principal aim of technology in a business is to be an enabler, but technology and technologists can only enable with the full understanding of the business requirement.

Working in tandem to jointly create technology solutions to business problems ensures that the technology enables business needs to be met.

To learn more about the benefits and how to establish a culture of co-functional development, join me at Creating a Culture of Co-Design, now available on-demand.

creating a culture of co-design cio talks 

Coming up, don't miss our CIO Talk Banish The Application Backlog where we'll discuss how to rapidly respond to any needs for new applications from colleagues across the organization. Register now to watch it live.