Your IT survival guide for the new business normal: Four steps for mastering the world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.
Every time Stuart Kippelman’s 10-year-old daughter gets into the car with her father, she insists the Bluetooth isn’t working. It takes about 10 seconds to sync and power up the music, and to a preteen, 10 seconds equals broken.
Today’s youth are, of course, tomorrow’s customers. “They demand immediacy, which is driving what IT has to deal with,” says Kippelman, who is CIO at Covanta Energy and a Computerworld blogger.
But the need for speed is just the tip of the iceberg. Across all industries, IT teams are up against unprecedented volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, also known as VUCA. A term that originated in the military, VUCA aptly sums up what CIOs face every day in today’s turbulent business environment.
“VUCA includes currency devaluation, natural disasters happening all over the place and, from an IT standpoint, a big proliferation in data and cyberattacks,” says Linda Clement-Holmes, senior vice president of Global Business Services at Procter & Gamble. “We have to deal with all of these things.”
The list goes on: Thanks to cheap and ultra-efficient technology, new competitors can come out of the woodwork; global privacy rules and industry regulations are continually changing; and users’ expectations — driven largely by their experiences with consumer technology — are through the roof.
“In the old business model, big ate small,” says John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University and former chief talent officer at Agilent Technologies. But in the VUCA world, “fast eats slow,” he says. “Facebook didn’t exist six years ago, and now, a billion-dollar company is run by someone who didn’t graduate college and wears a hoodie. Before, you always knew your competitor, but now, dominant players might come from any industry and come overnight.”
Here’s an IT survival guide for the age of VUCA.
1. Learn Flexibility
The only way to manage the chaos is to become super highly adaptable, IT leaders say. Throw out your five-year strategy; VUCA defies long-term planning. Also jettison multimillion-dollar project plans and technology investments. Strive instead to become “asset-light,” relying on IT services you can quickly expand or unplug as business conditions blink. Perhaps most important (and most counterintuitive): You should simultaneously pursue competing goals.
In a VUCA world, “what used to work for five years might work for six months. Because you can’t plan for a particular thing, you have to plan for a range of things,” says Sullivan. “Moving in different directions at the same time must become the norm.”
VUCA, CIOs say, impacts everything — from the way you structure an IT organization and hire talent to how you cut costs, boost productivity, and launch new revenue-generating products and services. John Halamka, CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, also says the rise of VUCA presents a golden opportunity for innovation.
2. Find Opportunity in Chaos
In healthcare, between the Affordable Care Act, privacy legislation and radical changes to the International Statistical Classifications of Diseases (ICD), an industry bible used to categorize virtually every diagnosis and medical procedure, “our business requirements have been utterly redefined,” says Halamka, who is also a Computerworld columnist.
“Obamacare, for example, funds medical centers not on what operations they perform but on quality and wellness outcomes,” he explains. “Hospitals know how to take care of people when they’re sick but not how to take care of them when they’re well. There’s VUCA for you.”
VUCA leads to opportunity because “no one in the industry has any idea how to do this right,” Halamka argues.
“What an incredible opportunity for innovators and risk-takers,” he says. Also a plus is the fact that “there’s a whole new generation of tools and technologies, which now means we are able to do some of these business processes successfully,” he adds.
Two years ago, it was unclear precisely how all of the various proposed rules and regulations would ultimately play out. So Halamka and his team made what he calls “an educated guess,” and began aggregating all of the data across the sprawling Beth Israel Deaconess community into a central care management repository. Today, that repository is the foundation of the medical center’s electronic health records system and information exchange.
Now, Beth Israel Deaconess is figuring out how to help physicians grapple with the more than 170,000 billing codes in the revised ICD, which takes effect in October 2014.
“Doctors will have to document entirely differently, so we’re asking questions like ‘Is a doctor able to remember 170,000 codes?’ and ‘How can we blow up the way it’s done now and use things like natural language processing so the computers read what a doctor writes and suggest a code?’
“We’ve had to completely rethink in a natural way the approach to clinical documentation with a timeline of one year to have it go live,” Halamka says.
Read more: 4 survival strategies for IT chaos