Who’s Answering the Next Big Question? IT Director Ross Ballendine of Calfrac Well Services
Written by Drew Lazzara
JULY 13, 2021
During each episode of the Next Big Question podcast, we speak with executives and thought leaders about a big, timely business question. In this episode, Liz Ramey and I spoke with Ross Ballendine, director of information technology for Calfrac Well Services. We asked Ross: Does IT have a place in the business of the future?
During the episode, Ross answers this question by redefining traditional IT for a business environment that prizes speed, agility, self-service and user-centric technology over a narrow view of control. Ross points out that people across functions already best understand value in business terms, have a better understanding of their own requirements than stand-alone IT, and are better suited for change management than an external function. Yet so many organizations still provision technology through IT – and expect IT to assume all the risk if things go sideways.
Ross suggests IT “orchestration” – viewing IT as a critical capability in business-owned initiatives involving technology. This empowers the business to build and deploy its own solutions aligned to its own needs, without sacrificing governance or asking any one function to shoulder undue risk.
Here, Ross shares the outline for building an orchestration model across the enterprise, starting from the top with senior executives:
We showed the organization that well-positioned technology can be deployed quickly in service of the business… if you’ve done that, let’s keep this going. How can you now do these other value-creation things that are expected from the business and our customers?”
“It’s important to explain the ‘why' [of empowering tech delivery in the business] to the executive community, because there is going to need to be a leadership mandate that spreads across the organization. What you’ll see is that functions will be more than on board with this – ‘You mean I get to do this by myself and I don’t have to wait for IT? That’s fantastic! Finally, someone has seen the light!’ – but then they build a solution, and it has various flaws because the governance hasn’t been put in place. So, there’s a risk element that the executive needs to appreciate, and that’s where you really need them on board.
It’s not enough for them to see lower costs, faster time to delivery for these solutions; they also have to see the role that orchestration of governance plays in mitigating the risk. And risk, I would suggest, is historically one of the big barriers to this idea of orchestration. This is not a new idea, but why hasn’t it gained traction in the intervening years? And it’s this whole idea that if you’re going to involve the business in technology delivery, but you’re still going to hold the IT function responsible for the risk that goes with it, it’s not going to work. And without that executive support in spreading the ownership of that risk across all the functions that participate, then the risk will necessarily end up coming back to IT, and it will fall apart at that point. So, that’s where the executive conversation comes in.
Then, the conversations begin to become much more about delivery. How do you actually pull a team together? How do you project-manage this work? So, it becomes a bit more tactical as it moves out into the functions of the organizations, and you start to line up these opportunities with the people – the citizen developers, data analysts and technology producers in the business. They need to be equipped with how to actually govern and manage a project.
But at all times there comes this idea of support from IT.
Once the business has identified an opportunity, IT works very closely with them to form a team. Who are the appropriate people that need to be on this team, whether they’re from IT or the business (and likely both, especially in the early stages)? What is the technical know-how required to actually deliver the solution? Once you’ve helped the business identify those people and figure out what they need, then it’s about the change management piece. These teams might be from multiple functions, particularly for a larger initiative, and IT is going to have to be able to constantly tell the story of the value of what Gartner calls a ‘fusion team,’ pulling these groups together cross-functionally to contribute the right capabilities and skills to the initiative that needs to be delivered.
It’s really about the story of ‘why’ and the story of value. It then goes into more tactical things around how you comply with governance. There also has to be – and I hate to use the word – an element of consequence. I apologize for that word, but if a given function doesn’t comply with some element of the governance, where does the ownership for that decision lie? It can’t come back to IT; it has to stay with the group that didn’t follow the governance correctly, and that all needs to be supported by the executive, as well. The consequences need to be defined within the context of the company.”
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