CIOs in financial services, transport and local government reveal the importance of getting end-users to be part of application development and deployment.

CIO Ashley Doody, jokingly, says technology is no longer housed in the basement and passed pizza through a gap in the door. Today technology is front and centre of the business, and applications are developed by technologists and business lines in concert. This positive development in the role of technology requires CIOs to be business leaders that can galvanize the organization to identify its problems and work together to develop the solutions.

In recent years the delivery of applications and enterprise technology solutions has moved from big projects, which sometimes went over many years, to iterative releases of small changes to an application. At the same time, transformational business technology leaders have moved IT out into the business and delivered projects through cross-functional teams.

These teams are made up of their technologists but also front line staff delivering the services that customers use. "It is critical to involve the wider workforce; it is non-negotiable," Doody, Chief Product and Technology Officer at Matrix SCM, a specialist recruitment services firm, says.

Cross-functional teams allow employees from a wide variety of areas of the organization to work together towards a common goal of improving the service customers receive or the way the business operates. "It is usually the business that recognizes where the pain points are, so they are keen to work with you and develop an application or methodologies," says CIO Nicola Gribbin, founder of my Ocean Life, a social networking service for seafaring workers. She has taken the same principle to her new startup, with founding members of the networking now working in workshops to shape their social network.

"People are often quite solution-oriented, without realizing it," adds Melanie Rose, Head of IT Service Management at London Borough of Tower Hamlets, a local authority. Rose says business lines can come to a technology leader having already decided what application or type of software they want.

For a CIO, this means unravelling their business challenges to ensure their idea of a solution really will help the end-user, citizen or customer. "Tools can be exciting, and we see the buzz for new technology in the marketplace all the time, but ultimately it's about the value that you are trying to create for your customers all the time," Gribbin says.

Doody agrees: “It's is good to get everyone in a room, so they understand the common goal, common pain point and how we are trying to fix it," he says. Adding that in a previous role, the common goal was written on the wall of the office so that all members of the organization were reminded of it.

From the Shadows

"From an innovation perspective, partnering with these people is the best solution, as we really should be engaging with people to be innovative," Gribbin says of shadow IT, where individuals or teams have deployed technology to solve business issues without the involvement of the CIO and IT. Gribbin adds that shadow IT can threaten the data compliance or cybersecurity of the organization if not addressed.

"There can be new or emerging pain points that are not immediately obvious, and this leads to people using an unofficial tool," Doody adds. "I want to have a dialogue with them as they can help drive innovation." Rose agrees: "Shadow IT is an unmet need and possibly an inability to engage with IT."

She adds this can be a real challenge in the public sector where a local authority can have between 500 and 1000 service lines, and there are real risks if each service line creates shadow IT. "The explosion of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) has created a dimension where stakeholders understand the possibilities of technology solutions," she says.

Cross-functional teams play an important role in reducing the likelihood of shadow IT creating risks for the CIO and wider organization. In Doody's experience, they increase the adoption of the technologies developed, improve product quality and increase feedback cycles from users and customers.

Great Expectations

As Melanie Rose points out, cloud computing has raised the expectations of all users in all vertical markets. Although having a high level of engagement towards technology is beneficial to CIOs, all three business technology leaders reveal managing expectations and explaining the complexity of the enterprise and its technology architecture is a major challenge.

"There is a tendency to think we have to get the core infrastructure right before we can do anything else," Rose says. "There has to be a workstream view where you can demonstrate the things that are being done to get the service levels right, but also the incremental progress in change."

Although most employees will have a level of technology exposure in their daily lives, Doody says it remains important for CIOs to explain the complexity of the enterprise and its technology. "It is important to take people on a journey with you. Digitizing the field sales team, for example, the teams were initially reluctant to undergo the change, but we got them to understand that it would make them 40% more productive and therefore they would make 40% more commission."

No CIO wants to deploy applications and technology that the customer or end-user employee doesn't use. Developing a technology team that works side by side with the end-user of an application or a workforce with an innate understanding of the customer and their needs reduces the opportunity for technology to become redundant.

Inviting the wider organization to be involved in the creation of apps and services educates both the technology team and the end-users. Cross-functional teams and co-creation of apps leads to all projects being business projects and knocks down the barriers between IT and business lines.


Watch the full conversation and join the discussion in Gaining visibility - CIO Talk.