The complex sectors of financial services, medical research funding, and applications development are ripe for simplification, CIOs say.
If an organization can simplify its business processes, then it can become more reliable and more effective as a business. But reaching that point is far from easy. Technology can be the way an organization simplifies itself, but IT can also be the way an organization finds itself too complex.
"Simplification is very very important for saving costs, reducing risk, improving cyber-security and innovation as well as our own wellbeing as we work in a fast and complex world," says Eileen Jennings-Brown, Head of Technology at the Wellcome Trust, a London headquartered, globally important medical research funding body. However, Jennings-Brown does not believe technology always fulfils its opportunity to simplify an organization.
David Germain, Group CIO with the international insurance firm RSA says business simplification must provide remediation, both instantly and towards the businesses future. "What can you improve now, based on what customers are telling you, and then there is the transformative view: how do I set the business up for the future to be more robust and resilient."
As a financial services firm, Germain adds that ensuring that the business is not placed under increased scrutiny by those regulators is another factor that drives simplification for the Group CIO.
Whether it is making business operations more effective, keeping the regulator happy, or producing new digital services, CIOs and technology teams are well placed to provide leadership and results in business simplification.
CTO Patrick Jean (PJ) of OutSystems says: "There are tells and signs. If you see groups that are at odds with what they are trying to achieve in their objectives, and they cannot seem to coordinate and work together, then there is probably some inherent complexity there." PJ adds that: "good technology builds simplicity" and says this has been the history of technology from Leonardo Da Vinci through to Steve Jobs.
"I always look for areas where people cannot get to value quickly, often it is a case of reduction, and we have over complicated things in the process," the CTO of OutSystems says of leading simplification.
Germain at RSA Insurance says that CIOs must always start with the business ambition or the profit and loss targets of a business line. At RSA, Germain has created a common architecture team that goes across the business looking for patterns of similarity in pet, car or home insurance business lines, and then his team creates a center of excellence around a simplification of that process to ensure all business lines benefit.
At the Wellcome Trust, Jennings-Brown has taken the medical funding body on a similar journey to Germain at RSA. "We are looking for commonalities, and then we created DevOps teams that focus on the unique areas of the organization."
She says that to reach this point, Wellcome Trust has had to change the IT operating culture. "In the past, we would ask them to tell us their shopping list of things they wanted done. We turned that on its head and said, tell us the outcomes. We then advise and consult and encourage them to use us. By doing this, we have let them know that we trust them and that we can help them."
Germain adds well-intentioned simplification can lead to over complexity and problems, especially if the wrong lens towards simplification is used. "Moving from three customer relationship management (CRM) systems to one sounds simpler, but it can be more complex, so you have to make sure it's not just a financial simplification," he says.
When CIOs successfully propose or deliver a simplification, it can also generate further problems, the three business technology leaders reveal, as every business line in the organization thinks it is the most important and will demand its implementation is at the top of the to-do list for IT. Although enterprise cloud computing has made delivery of new solutions faster, the CIOs reveal there are always stakeholder management challenges.
Tech Can Fail and Be the Tool
Technology can fail to simplify a process or organization. Germain observes that in the modern enterprise, there is often a case of too much choice, which can lead the executive of an organization to make choices that will store up complexity and challenges for the business at a later date.
"Technology should enable simplification, and if it does not, that is down to our implementation of it," PJ of OutSystems says. "By adding layers of abstraction, you can drive specialization, but that specialization can lack context," he says. With speed being so vital to organizations today, PJ says it is vital for CIOs to have a constant eye on the needs of the customer and those members of the organization serving them.
Jennings-Brown at Wellcome Trust is prioritizing accessibility as part of the ways her team can help simplify the organization. She says that the invention of the dropped kerb made to help people with mobility issues benefited everyone.
At Wellcome Trust, she is introducing an accessibility leader whose role will be to ensure that all changes to the organization and technology have a strong emphasis on accessibility. This, she says, will generate simplifications and benefits.
In terms of software, PJ says organizations must remember that applications are "the vehicle of experience, as are all interfacing with devices via an application and that will continue to grow.”
"It can slow down the business as people are context shifting, but if things are simple, you don't need to context shift, and the decision making is simpler and faster."
Learn more about how these three IT leaders are bringing simplification into their business, join me in my CIO Talk Simplification, Simplified, now available on-demand.