A Bit of History

IT as we know it now - Information Technology - has its roots in the ‘Systems’ function, whose intent was to merely automate a few of the recordkeeping systems in organizations.

It soon made a transition to being ‘Information Technology’ because of the realisation that more than the automation of a record keeping process, the leverage of underlying information will bring the next generation of value for organizations. So IT became about making information available to the right people at the right time, so that we can be more effective and efficient. e.g.: if we know how much to order in real time, we can reduce inventory inefficiencies. The internet then came along to enable that vision and today information is available to everyone, everywhere, irrespective of religion, geo-political boundaries and most importantly today, irrespective of economic wellbeing. Consequently, IT has reduced costs and friction in flow of economic goods and services globally.

The Next Leap

We have the systems in place, we have the information and its underlying data in place. IT has to a large extent delivered on its vision to make information ubiquitous. And that pervasiveness of information has dramatically increased the collective cognitive ability of the data flowing and tools running on it.

The next opportunity for CIOs would be to consider how to leverage that cognitive ability to add intelligence to the entire information tech that already exists in the organization. It is time for Information Tech to transition to Intelligence Tech. If Information Tech was about making information ubiquitous, Intelligence Tech is about making Intelligence ubiquitous.

Intelligence Tech

What does it mean? Let’s consider a conversational interface like online chats. In the Information Tech view of the world, having a chat window that automates the process of connecting to a customer would have been sufficient, and the conversation itself was handled completely manually. In the Intelligence Tech world, it is about adding intelligence into the conversational interface and conduct conversations in a way that reduces the need for manual intervention. The human capacity freed up can then focus on more sophisticated engagement with the customer.

Another example - order management systems - traditionally, it would be about building an endto-end procure-to-pay workflow system. Intelligence Tech approach would be to add intelligence to the procure-to-pay process that can autonomously detect anomalies, spot CXO INSIGHTS. In the Intelligence Tech world, it is about adding intelligence into the conversational interface and conduct conversations in a way that reduces the need for manual intervention organization-wide efficiencies by re-routing, re-sizing or re-purposing elements of the procure-to-pay process, eventually building, Intelligent Businesses.

Intelligence Tech - The Strategic Imperative

Business strategy and Information Tech strategy alignment was about Tech enabling the successful execution of business strategy. This secondary role was well and good when a 5+ year window for Strategy was acceptable. Now, competition, disruption, regulation, markets, pricing, propositions are all changing much faster.So the business strategy needs to be able to sense that change much faster and react and adapt rapidly. That can only be done by putting Intelligence Tech at the heart of the organization. IT can no longer be relegated to the back office engine room of organizations.

How do CIOs do that?

First, whatever be your architecture, 2-tier or 3-tier or n-tier, it’s time to think about what could be called a Tier+1 architecture. It simply implies CIOs need to add an intelligence component to each of those layers. The good news for CIOs is that all the underlying building blocks - a) to source, distribute and manage massive amounts of data, b) compute power to crunch through those, and c) to distribute and consume that ‘intelligence’ easily through APIs - all exists now! Of course, this needs to be governed for all the non-functional aspects such as security, audit trails, compliance and so on, much like any other tech.

Second, it’s time to re-design the entire design, delivery and support processes to enable addition of intelligence to Tech. E.g.: Can an intelligent story management tool predict velocity accurately over large, distributed teams? Can intelligence make early warnings about impending incidents? The same applies to Product Owners and Programme Managers - they need to incorporate a ‘Sprint Zero’ to assess suitability of adding intelligence into every feature that they are looking to build or modify.

"In the Intelligence Tech world, it is about adding intelligence into the conversational interface and conduct conversations in a way that reduces the need for manual intervention"

Most importantly, CIOs will need to carve out a credible role to be at the forefront of strategic business conversations. It will not be sufficient for CIOs to merely execute to the direction set by the CEO and/ or the functional heads. Both, the question ‘what intelligence to add to the business?’, and its answer will need to come from the CIOs.

Organizations will be best served for future success by embracing the need to answer that question and hence by enabling and empowering their CIOs to take on a more active and accountable role in setting business direction. Adding Intelligence to Tech is no longer an option, it’s a necessity, so let the transition to Intelligence Tech begin!

Please note the article was originally published in the CIO Review Magazine in June 2019.

The opinions expressed are author's own. Fidelity International is not responsible for the author's opinions.