As a technology evangelist and Director of Product Management at Zscaler, I have the privilege of being really intimate both with our product and with the way our customers use it. And I had the good fortune last year to meet with more than 170 different customers who are all struggling in one way or another with deep and wide IT transformation challenges. One of the things I found during those interactions is that technology problems themselves are only a part of the story—and often the less important part of the story when it comes to being successful.
What surprised me was the common challenges across all of the organizations I talked to. In fact, I thought we should even codify these challenges and extend the traditional seven-layer OSI stack with three additional layers:
- Layer 8 — Budget
- Layer 9 — Politics
- Layer 10 — Religion
If you focus on these layers as early as possible in an IT transformation initiative, it’s amazing how many problems you can avoid down the road. And I write this as someone who led large-scale global IT transformation programs at Kelly Services and Deloitte Consulting for years before joining Zscaler. Based on these experiences, here’s my advice for each of my new layers (and yes, I’m working on the standards documents for them as we speak).
Layer 8: Budget
Typically, the budget layer for large-scale transformation projects is spread across different disciplines within IT. But most people are not used to looking at project budgets from a broader leadership and overall architecture perspective. For CIOs or VPs, this type of budgeting is more familiar. But even those at the director level generally have individual budgets and aren’t used to looking at the big picture outside of their discipline.
But IT transformation touches every single discipline of IT and the budget has to span those various disciplines. This means talking to procurement and finance teams who struggle to understand the “as a service” concept related to OPEX budget planning for leveraging cloud services in the future (they want to know where the “box” will be located and how to depreciate the asset). The issue with this setup is that everyone across all those IT organizations and the business has a voice—and possibly veto power. It means that the ultimate say over the budget can become a thicket of competing interests. Companies need a way of avoiding this cacophony and a structure to determine who will have ultimate say over the use of resources. Distributed decision-making without a formal communication structure to resolve conflicts is a recipe for failure, or at least protracted disagreements.
Layer 9: Politics
The budget layer naturally segues to the next layer: politics. Now, everyone has dealt with departmental territorialism in companies. But the “what’s in it for me” philosophy really becomes problematic when it comes to IT transformation. In essence, influential individuals have to be willing to exert political capital to make transformation happen and lead the way for those who may not see how that transformation will benefit them in the long term. To make this happen, all leadership must be on the same page behind the program, and leaders need to make sure that their teams understand why the transformation is important. It’s hard to lead change because the risk of failure is great, so everyone needs to be behind the change to make it a reality.
It's important to understand that the only way companies will overcome political problems is by expanding awareness of the bigger picture so that people see beyond their own narrow concerns. That involves education. Leaders have to educate people about the longer-term interests of the company of which they are a part.
Layer 10: Religion
And that brings us to the final layer: a deep desire to keep things exactly the way they are, with strong skepticism about any type of change. Here we see attachments to the way things have always been done and the skill sets people have always used to manage legacy architectures. Leaders have to find a way to communicate with those they manage that while it is okay to be afraid, everyone has to overcome their fears of change for the greater good of the business and the long-term interests of the company. People in this camp need to see that if they don’t get past their fears, they’re costing the company a lot of money doing themselves and their teams no favors by keeping them stuck in the past.
One way to do this is to brainstorm ideas about what value-added activities IT could be providing to business stakeholders but are not completing today due to time and resource restrictions. You can show your teams how IT transformation can bring those ideas to life and, although they may be relinquishing some of the management or administration of legacy systems to cloud providers, their talents will remain important to the delivery of critical IT services to their business in the future. This illustration is crucial because it leads to team members' excitement about completing their portion of an IT transformation program—and getting people excited about change is the best way to ensure that change occurs.
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Dan Shelton is Director of Product Management at Zscaler