In the digital world, business success is the new strategic imperative

What does success look like for your business in 2023? As companies embark on their 2023 plans, they are facing a multitude of challenges and a high level of uncertainty about the impact of financial, social, geopolitical, and technological disruptions…

In the digital world, complexity is the enemy of agility and execution

As companies race to adopt new cloud computing technologies and systems to effectively compete as digital enterprises, they quickly discover that with new systems, applications and processes comes monumental new complexity.

In the digital world, IT should be run as a profit center, not a cost center

The evolution of IT from a cost center to a profit center is at the core of successful business transformations. The wave of new digital technologies are the driving force of new product and service innovation that is redefining how companies engage with their customers, employees and other key stakeholders.

In the digital world, IT is an investment not a cost

Most of you reading this blog are now fully immersed in your company’s annual planning and budgeting process for 2019. Unfortunately, many IT shops still go into this exercise with a defensive mindset that tries to avoid budget reductions rather than an offensive mindset that makes a compelling business case for new technology investments.

In the digital world, sometimes less is more

Most if not all organizations no longer have the capacity to meet the accelerating demand from their customers, employees, supply chain partners and other key stakeholders for faster, friction free ways to engage and connect. From product development to marketing to sales to customer service and IT, teams with limited resources and budgets are stretched to the breaking point to try and keep up with unprecedented increases in demand.

Using the 4 Zone Model to Build an IT Investment Portfolio

“How much value is IT adding to the business?”  







This is the one question that most CIOs I talk with struggle to answer. For many organizations, IT’s value is only measured by its ability to reduce costs and optimize the capital expense depreciation of large hardware and software licenses. For others, it’s based on their ability to provide applications and services that enable employees to be more productive. In some cases, IT is seen as valuable resource and contributor to enabling business units to meet or exceed their revenue and profit targets.

Regardless of where your IT group falls across this spectrum of business value there is one unifying theme – IT is not very good at telling its business value story. Part of the problem is that much of today’s story was built on the old Plan, Build, Run model complete with its time consuming requirements process and waterfall development cycles which are now completely out of cadence with the fast-cycle marketplace. This approach has resulted in a large percentage of the annual IT budget being allocated to run the business activities, with a much smaller percentage allocated to change the business activities. This imbalance is only exacerbated by the typical 2% annual budget increases.


How to change the narrative about IT business value

Change the narrative

CIOs and their senior leadership teams must make creating and communicating IT’s business value story a mission critical priority. It all starts with a solid framework that defines the multiple ways IT contributes value to any organization. The framework should be realistic, but also simple and capable of being expressed in language that business leaders will recognize and support. The new 4 Zone IT Investment Portfolio is one framework that meets these criteria.

Ent IT Org Mod

The 4 Zone model enables CIOs to construct an IT Investment Portfolio that apportions the business value of IT in four investment categories. It depicts IT’s spending allocations and provides a clear visual aid for discussing changes to those allocations. For example, based on your organization’s 2016 strategic and operating goals and deliverables, is the weighting of the IT investment allocation aligned with those goals? In this context, most if not all business executives will not only understand the type of value IT investments are targeting, but they will appreciate the challenge and imperative of making smart IT investment choices going forward.


A four zone business value story

Not unlike a personal investment portfolio where risk and return are spread across multiple investment options, the IT investment portfolio is designed to deliver value and returns in four different categories.

Productivity Zone value is created by providing secure and stable operations and maintenance of the company’s systems of record. While most of the ROI from investments in these SORs has been realized, they are still an important and necessary component to the successful operation of any organization. CIOs can deploy our trapped value audit tool to periodically review and identify opportunities to optimize the costs of maintaining and modernizing SORs while also reducing the amount of technical debt. These resources can then be redeployed against new value creation opportunities in the performance and transformation zones.

Performance Zone value is created by delivering a series of user-centric tools, services and solutions e.g. Social, Mobile, Cloud and Data Analytics that enable the company’s businesses to better engage with customers, supply chain partners and other key constituents. CIOs can use our Collaborative IT Governance model to better align future IT investment priorities with critical business outcomes. By contributing directly to creating valuable and enduring customer experiences, IT can demonstrate its ability to help accelerate customer adoption and utilization resulting in new revenues and profits.

Incubation Zone value is created by IT’s help in identifying, testing and validating next generation product, service and business ideas and leveraging technology enabled innovation to deploy them. This zone also acts as a staging area for all IT projects and provides a prioritization process to determine which of the other three zones would benefit the most from the ultimate value of the project. A rapid agile development approach will enable IT to significantly increase its speed to market and throughput for all IT investments.

Transformation Zone value comes from ITs ability deploy new disruptive technologies to enable the company to launch and scale a material net new line of business. An organization’s ability to leverage technology enabled innovation is becoming a critical source of competitive advantage with the emergence of digital enterprises.

This 4 Zone investment portfolio approach provides a structure and common vocabulary to resolve risk reward discussions between IT and its internal business partners across multiple investment options. It also enables the CIO to characterize and justify IT’s investment recommendations, whether at the C-Suite or Board level, augmented by specific business cases that highlight the ROI from each one.


An investment approach that is aligned with the new consumption economy


In today’s subscription-based consumption economy, the value of IT’s products and services are measured by customer/end-user adoption and utilization. To deliver the maximum business value of IT, CIOs need to effectively articulate how each investment will directly contribute to the successful deployment and utilization of each product or service its supports. As such, IT investments must be able to generate immediate returns which accelerate with increased usage. This means that IT has to significantly increase its speed to market and throughput.

The fast cycle cadence of the consumption economy will require IT to replace the old Plan, Build, Run development process with a new Co-Develop, Assemble and Consume process. This new process puts a premium on making a series of investments and getting market feedback on them quickly so leaders can make the needed changes that will drive further adoption and utilization.


Get started with a current state investment assessment

As a first step, CIOs can use the 4 Zone model to do an assessment of how their budget and resources are allocated across their current pipeline of projects and deliverables. This assessment would allocate each project into one of the four zones and create a baseline of where you are making your IT investments today. You can then ask questions like:

  • Is the current weighting of investments by zone aligned with our corporate strategy and goals?
  • Do we have the appropriate risk reward ratio across our investment portfolio?
  • Are we delivering the desired ROI from our portfolio of investments?
  • Are we making the right level of investment to accelerate customer adoption & utilization?
  • Does our portfolio of investments maximize the business value if IT across our company?

Creating and effectively communicating a compelling IT business value story is not an easy task. Overcoming legacy mindsets about the role and value of IT requires a strong framework; a well-balanced risk vs. reward investment strategy aligned with corporate goals and deliverables; a new development process that is in sync with the fast cycle market cadence of digital enterprises and a new set of consumption market metrics.

Armed with those tools and that approach, CIOs should be well prepared to make the business case for the value of IT.

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspectives on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me at




Implementing the 4 Zone Model Playbook

From Strategy to Implementation: Common Drivers & Expected Outcomes


Like any new strategic framework and set of tools and processes, the 4 Zone Model’s value can only be realized through implementation and execution. I have outlined below how some early adopters of the model have deployed different elements of the playbook to address critical issues and opportunities.

The 4 Zone Model is built upon several drivers common to enterprise information technology functions:

  • A need for innovative approaches to enable organizations to address five disruptive technologies: Cloud, Mobile, Social, Data Science and Internet of Things.
  • A need to evolve from lengthy waterfall-based technology implementations to the more rapid agile development approach. The Plan, Build, Run model will be displaced by a Co-Develop, Assemble, Consume model.
  • A need to embed a trapped value assessment process to identify opportunities to shift resources and funds from maintaining legacy systems of record to developing new systems of engagement.
  • A need to utilize new methodologies and tools to identify, develop and reinforce the relevant new skills and capabilities necessary to lead and manage a digital enterprise.

The motivation to adopt the Four Zone Model playbook encompasses a number of expected outcomes:

  • Higher percentage of IT resources allocated to change-the-business outcomes.
  • Significant increase in speed to market and throughput of all development initiatives.
  • Strong alignment between future IT investment priorities and critical business outcomes.
  • Increased ROI from the portfolio of IT innovation investments.
  • More impactful IT presence at the business strategy table.

To respond to these drivers and expected outcomes, the Four Zone Model playbook affords technology teams’ processes and tools which enable them to maximize the business value of IT across all three levels of their organization.


The Starting Point: Mission-Based Teams

In order to move expeditiously, the 4 Zone Playbook begins at the “starting point” with mission-based teams specifically assembled and empowered to attack prioritized desired outcomes. These mission- based initiatives all start from the “Incubation Zone” and seek an exit path to one of the three other Zones depending on the desired outcome.

3 exits

IT Executives leading mission-based initiatives begin the process by asking three key questions:

  1. Should we do it? Does it align with and support critical business outcomes?
  2. Can we do it? Do we have the relevant skills/capabilities, tools and capacity to achieve the outcome?
  3. Did we do it? Do we have the right metrics to measure the achieved outcome vs. the desired outcome?

Mission-based teams are appointed for work which has been identified as a priority for movement from the Incubation quadrant to another Zone within the Model. Expectations for success can be high given the following critical elements:

  • Alignment at the leadership level that the work commands sufficient priority to be implemented. Alignment must occur not only within IT but also with all other key stakeholders including internal business partners and shared services partners.
  • Formation of the mission-based team includes careful appointment of team members to ensure they have the appropriate skills and competencies necessary to achieve the outcome.
  • The initiative must be carefully scoped to fit within the Model’s timeframe boundary conditions (namely pilot initiation to go live within 30-90 days especially for productivity and performance zone projects).
  • Active collaboration and critical thinking processes must drive the shared discovery, problem solving and solution adoption. The focus of the team and their work is deliberately narrow, user centric and intentionally innovative.
  • Measurement is expected to occur throughout the discovery and design process as well as at the conclusion of the team’s work.

The Outcome is Worth the Journey

What we have learned over the past 12 months is that to successfully introduce and deploy this playbook is a leadership challenge not a management challenge. This is not about just doing what IT has always done better, faster and cheaper. This is about transforming the role of IT from a cost center/support function to a business enabling strategic partner. This is about changing outcomes by changing legacy attitudes, behaviors and actions.

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspective on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me at

The 4 Zones Model: A Playbook for the Incubation Zone

Companies have no choice but to up their technology enabled innovation game

According to a recent McKinsey study, more than 60% of CEOs expect up to 50% of their earnings growth in the next 5 years to come from “technology-enabled” business innovations. A recent study of CIOs by IDC found that 57% expect to be defined in terms of delivering business innovation to increase revenue, margins and new products.

In order for companies to be competitively viable in this new era of digital disruption, they have to dramatically increase their ROI on their portfolio of technology innovations. As I’ve stated in earlier blogs, these digital disruptions are fundamentally changing the way companies engage with their employees, customers, supply chain partners and other key stakeholders.

Disruption Chart

Companies have been spending money on research and development at the fastest pace in 50 years. From last November to the end of March, U.S. companies funded R&D at an annual rate of $316 billion or about 1.8% of GDP which is the largest share ever for the private sector.

As such, it is disturbing to read that, according to a recent Deloitte study, the return on R&D investments by the 12 biggest biopharmaceutical companies fell from 10.5% in 2010 to 4.8% in 2013.

The Incubation Zone: The Three Innovation Playbooks Model

The 4 Zone Model I’ve developed (link to earlier blog is designed to enable CIOs and their senior leadership teams to maximize the business value of IT across their organizations. IT’s charter for the Incubation Zone in particular is to help the company identify, test and validate next generation product, service and business ideas and leverage technology-enabled innovation tools to develop them.

In our work with many companies across multiple industries, we have developed a set of three innovation playbooks to help them better organize and implement their portfolio of technology innovation investments as the chart below illustrates:
Three Innovation PlaybooksAt the core of this tool are three distinct innovation playbooks that clearly define the mandate and desired outcome for each one. Here are the key diagnostic questions that clarify those mandates and outcomes:

  • Have we differentiated our offer enough to gain real competitive separation?
    • Have we created a truly unmatchable offer?
  • Have we neutralized offers with enhanced features from our reference competitors in a timely manner?
    • Have we gotten to good enough fast enough?
  • Have we optimized our opportunities for gains in resource utilization and cost reduction?
    • Have we reclaimed unproductive resources and redeployed them against differentiation or neutralization opportunities?

Our work in this space has also shown us some of mistakes companies make with their approach to innovation which results in a very low ROI on their investments. Here are two rules of thumb to avoid:

  • Never tie differentiation and neutralization programs to the same release schedule
    • Differentiation has to go far
    • Neutralization has to go fast
    • Combining the two dumbs you down and slows you down
  • Best in class is appropriate for productivity innovations only
    • Too low a mark for differentiation (beyond class)
    • Too high a mark for neutralization (good enough)
    • Benchmarks are for productivity programs only

The Harsh Reality about the ROI on Technology Innovation Investments

As the chart below illustrates, the majority of innovation investments do not deliver the desired results or ROI. These less-than-optimal outcomes most often occur when differentiation projects are launched too soon or neutralization projects take too long.

Why many innovation efforts are wasted - graph
While there is no silver bullet that guarantees innovation success, when the three innovations playbook model and tools are successfully deployed ROIs have greatly increased in many technology investment portfolios.

In my next blog, I will take a deeper dive into the Transformation Zone and talk about how you can deploy our Three Horizons model to scale net new lines of business that produce material new revenues and profits.

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspectives on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me at

The 4 Zones Model: A Playbook for the Performance Zone

The CIO is not a “Device Santa Claus”

santa image

My good friend and technology futurist, Thornton May, clearly defined the CIO’s role when he said “…the role of the CIO is not to be a ‘Device Santa Claus’ but, rather, to craft an environment which empowers executives to create competitive advantage vis-à-vis the innovative and informed use of information technology.”

A recent McKinsey & Company survey of business and IT leaders validated that when CIOs play an active role in shaping their company’s business strategy both IT’s and the company’s overall performance greatly improve. However, when business executives were asked how well IT supported key business activities like entering new markets and driving new revenues, only 35% agreed IT played that role in their company down from 57% in the same survey two years ago.

If actively engaging the CIO in helping to shape a company’s business strategy works so well, then why are so many companies not doing it? My answer is that they don’t have a “good decision-making governance process” that aligns future IT investment priorities with critical business outcomes.

The Performance Zone: Demonstrating the Business Value of IT

The 4 Zone Model I’ve developed ( link to earlier blog ) is designed to enable CIOs and their senior leadership teams to maximize the business value of IT across their organizations. IT’s charter for the Performance Zone in particular is to provide new user-centric tools, services and solutions e.g., social, mobile, cloud and data analytics that improve the competitive performance of each of the company’s lines of business.

To effectively demonstrate IT’s ability to directly contribute to generating new revenues and profits, CIOs and their leadership teams must actively engage their internal business partners and users. To activate this new process, I propose that they utilize the Collaborative IT Governance Model below.

The Collaborative IT Governance Model


From my early work in this area, I have seen first-hand how effective this model is in breaking down hierarchical, silo-based decision-making processes and converting them into horizontal cross-enterprise decision-making processes. It enables all the key stakeholders to be aligned with and committed to a common course of action to deliver the desired business outcomes. It has also dramatically increased the speed to market and throughput of major IT developmental projects.

It’s An Outside-in Approach Not An Inside-out Approach

To effectively deploy the collaborative IT model, you need to start with a common understanding of what you want the ultimate user experience to deliver to customers, employees, supply chain partners and other key constituents.

Historically IT has started with the technology it has and added to it. This inside-out approach is fine if your goal is to modernize your Systems of Record and optimize the cost of maintaining them. However, if your goal is to provide “friction-free” customer engagements then you must take a very different approach.

This outside-in approach begins by getting all the key stakeholders to address three fundamental questions:

  1. What are the key moments of customer engagement that define the success of our business or company?
  2. Who or what system represents our company at this moment of engagement?
  3. How could we strategically intervene with a new system of engagement in order to make that moment of engagement more compelling and enduring?

Some companies I’ve worked with have used a “customer touch point” mapping exercise to identify all the different touch points and eliminated those that they felt added no value to the customer. They then looked for opportunities to enhance the value of critical touch points and finally they identified gaps where they could add new touch points.

In all cases, it has been gratifying to see that when these models and tools have been utilized they have successfully demonstrated the business value of IT in multiple business growth venues.

In my next blog, I will take a deeper dive into the Incubation Zone and talk about how you can deploy our Three Innovation Playbooks model to significantly increase the ROI on your portfolio of IT investments.

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspectives on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me at

The 4 Zones Model: A Playbook for the Productivity Zone

Reversing the IT Resource Allocation Imbalance Equation

red balls on a ramp

For decades, senior IT leaders have confronted the financial reality that every year 80% of their IT budgets are allocated to “running the business” while 20% are allocated to “changing the business.”

No one can argue how important it is for IT to make sure each company’s systems infrastructure and data is stable, secure and in compliance with industry standards and regulations. Unfortunately, just doing that job well severely limits the ability of CIOs and their senior leadership teams to maximize the business value of IT across their organizations.

The Trapped Value Audit

The new 4 Zones Model is designed to reverse that equation by creating individual playbooks for each zone and, in doing so, enable IT to exponentially increase its business value. The Productivity Zone Playbook is designed to optimize the costs of maintaining a company’s systems of record thereby freeing up resources to be redeployed against developing new systems of engagement.

A key tool to achieve this outcome is the Trapped Value Audit which enables cross-functional teams to systematically review all their systems of record and determine if they should be modernized, out-sourced or, if possible, eliminated. This audit is also designed the identify opportunities to significantly reduce or eliminate a company’s “technical debt.”

You can get started by asking some core questions:

  • Where is the trapped value in our company? E.g., maintaining systems of record
  • How can we identify and unlock that trapped value?
  • How can we redeploy that trapped value against critical new IT investment priorities? E.g., the development of new systems of engagement
  • Where is the new business value of IT going to come from?

The results of these efforts will enable senior IT leaders to redirect resources away from lower busine47ss value activities in the left hand column to higher value activities in the right hand column in the chart below.


Extending IT’s Business Value Beyond A Company’s Infrastructure Model

Unlike previous evolutions of enterprise IT, which were mainly focused on the need for a company to adjust its infrastructure model, the disruptive impact of social, mobile, analytics and the cloud extend to its operating and business models. As such, it is imperative for IT to realign its skills, capabilities and resources to better enable the performance of the company’s operating model and if necessary help shift its business model.

From my early discussions with CIOs, this process entails earning the trust and confidence of their internal business users and partners as well as creating cross-functional teams to align future IT investment priorities with critical business growth goals and deliverables.

The chart below highlights these three levels of disruption and identifies specific sources of trapped value that these cross-functional teams can pursue together.

infograph2 By optimizing the costs of maintaining the infrastructure value delivery system, IT is then well positioned to deliver net new value creation for the company and thereby extend its business value across all three areas of potential disruption.

End Of Life Programs – It Takes A Village To Make Them Work

To be perfectly clear, companies cannot operate without stable, secure and well-maintained systems of record. These SORs run core functions from CRM to ERP to Finance. They also must be able to quickly and seamlessly connect with systems of engagement in order to deliver a friction-free user experience. That said, the fact remains that there is a significant amount of trapped value in how most companies deploy resources to maintain them.

In taking on the challenge of reducing or eliminating that trapped value, CIOs must establish a set of protocols and repeatable processes to monitor and evaluate the business value each SOR delivers. I have drawn upon some ideas and perspectives from my brother, Geoffrey, to give you some suggested ways to increase your odds of success:

  • Establish a stand-alone end of life (EOL) shared service function whose sole purpose is to manage this process from start to finish. Note: this is not just IT but all effected stakeholders.
  • Transfer all the SOR’s costs/expenses to the EOL shared services function.
  • Develop an EOL roadmap and timetable for each SOR.
  • Don’t allow non-EOL priorities/deliverables to compete for the shared services time and resources.
  • Accrue any trapped value savings to be redirected to new IT investment priorities.

A First Step

The Productivity Zone playbook is the first step in helping CIOs maximize the business value of IT across their organizations. It incorporates a set of tools to help senior IT leadership teams find the right balance between protecting the value they’ve created with stable, secure, compliant systems of record and creating new business value with easily accessible, friction-free systems of engagement that deliver compelling and enduring user experiences.

In my next blog, I will take a deeper dive into the Performance Zone and talk about the importance of IT building strong collaborative relationships with their internal business partners and other key stakeholders.

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspectives on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me at