The maxim know oneself is as relevant for organizations as for people: the necessary prelude for any important organizational change. Employees, departments, etc. need to have a clear understanding of who they are as organizational actors and what they want to achieve.
It’s a lesson that Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and Information Systems (IS) Managers would do well to heed, says Professor Muriel Mignerat of the Telfer School of Management. She recently studied a five-year transformation in the IT function at a large Canadian mental health institution, and one of the takeaways from the research was that CIOs and IS managers must be able to define what the value of information technology in the organization should be.
“Is it to provide high-quality IS at the lowest cost? To identify emerging technologies, find innovative applications for them in the organization, and then implement them? Is it to serve as a catalyst for change in business processes? Or is the IT function primarily more about managing relationships between suppliers and business units, in order to meet the organization’s needs? Before change can happen, CIOs and IS managers need to have a solid handle on the organization’s current IT function and desired IT function.”
That message might sound simple. Organizations increasingly look to their IT (and the IT function) to help them adapt quickly to change and to achieve higher levels of performance. But a rapidly evolving digital world has made it harder to define what that means in practice for the role of IT, Mignerat notes. And for the CIOs and IS managers who are expected to drive radical IT-based changes, it is not always apparent how they should proceed.
The study highlights that these transformations must start with clarity of purpose with regard to IT. “IT functions can and do transform in order to align themselves with organizational visions and motivations. But without a precise understanding of what the value of IT in the organization should be, change management in IT becomes extremely difficult terrain.”
The research team included Manon Guillemette of Université de Sherbrooke, Muriel Mignerat of the Telfer School of Management and Guy Paré of HEC Montréal. Their study, The role of institutional work in the transformation of the IT function: A longitudinal case study in the healthcare sector, was recently published in the prestigious journal Information and Management.