We are living today in the middle of a “perfect storm” of technological change. The pace and reach of technological change have accelerated exponentially since 1963 when I started working with and around information technology. At the personal, societal and enterprise level, we have experienced, and continue to experience extraordinary advances in computing power, storage and communications capabilities, and how we interface and interact with all this. Technology is increasingly embedded in almost all business processes, and in every part of our lives. And these advances are continuing at an ever-increasing pace, along with ever-increasing complexity and impact.
Yet, today, more than 20 years since the publication of The Information Paradox, which described the conflict between the widely held belief that investment in information technology is a good thing, and the reality that, all too often, it’s value cannot be demonstrated, the fundamental causes of the paradox remain, and creating and sustaining value from investments in technology remains elusive. These fundamental causes include:
- A continued, often blind focus on the technology itself, rather than the change – increasingly significant and complex change – that is required if individuals, societies and organizations are to use technology in ways that can create value for them and, in the case of organizations, their stakeholders;
- The unwillingness of business and organizational leaders to get engaged in, and take ownership of this change, including clearly defining, and accepting accountability for the expected outcomes – preferring to abdicate that accountability to the IT function who often abdicate it to their vendor and/or outsourcer;
- Failure to inclusively involve – at the beginning and throughout the change cycle – the stakeholders affected by the change, without whose understanding, input and “buy in” failure is pretty much a foregone conclusion; and
- A lack of rigour at the front-end of an investment decision, including, what is almost universally a totally ineffective business case process;
The Information Paradox went beyond describing the problem to defining a comprehensive approach to resolving it – the Benefits Realization Approach. Since it was first published, and despite the growing number of related frameworks, methodologies, techniques and tools that have become available since then, little has changed. The initial title proposed for the book was actually “The IT Casino” – it would have been a more understandable and appropriate title as the odds of winning have not really changed in, what is now, The Digital Casino – although the bets have grown exponentially.
Overall, we still have what is predominately a technology-driven “culture of delivery” – “build it and they will come” – rather than a stakeholder-driven “culture of value”, one that focuses on creating and sustaining value throughout the whole life-cycle of an organisation’s investments in, and use of the assets resulting from digitally-enabled business and organizational change.
Ultimately, the CEO, supported by the Board and Executive Management Team should be accountable for ensuring that effective governance is in place around the selection, delivery, use, and optimisation of value from digitally-enabled change investments and resulting assets. However, a recent survey from MIT Sloan and Cognizant reveals that the current generation of leadership in large companies, starting with the CEOs, are not well equipped to handle the disruptive transformation required – they are out of sync, out of tune, and out of touch with their workforces, markets, & competitive landscapes.
The reality is that our current approach to governance, leadership and management which has been woefully ineffective in the context of traditional IT investments, is no longer “fit for purpose” in today’s rapidly evolving digital world. A world in which: everything and everyone is becoming connected, anywhere, any time; technology is becoming embedded in everything we do; we are becoming increasingly embedded in everything technology does; everything will be available as a service; we will have access to data about everything; and analytics will be available to everyone. A world which will require a fundamental change in how we govern, lead and manage organizations. A change that has to start with culture and mindset.
A much over-used definition of insanity, commonly yet apparently inaccurately attributed to Albert Einstein, is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” This is certainly a good description of the where we are today. Digitization cuts across organizational silos, and across all levels of organizations. Realizing value from digital requires more than putting lipstick on the old industrial age pig, with its hierarchical, command and control approach to governance, leadership and management. It requires continually rethinking, reimagining and reinventing every aspect of our organizations.
We need a value-focused, data and analytics driven, agile, sense and respond approach to governance that transcends functional and organizational boundaries, and engages employees, customers and other key stakeholders. And, we need to replace current top-down, hierarchical and siloed processes with leadership across and beyond the C-suite with leadership capabilities recognized, nurtured, and empowered throughout organizations.
We could have adopted such an approach long before now, indeed, some organizations have done so. For organizations to survive and thrive in the digital economy, this is no longer an option! We certainly now have the technology available today to support such an approach. However, I’m not sure we will see this widely accepted any time soon – likely not in my lifetime. As Laurence J. Peter, author of The Peter Principle, said, “Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.”
As an eternal optimist, I hope that he’s wrong, but as a realist, having pushed similar ideas for many decades, I think it will take some time before we see the extinction of the organizational dinosaurs. This will certainly be the case if we stand on the sidelines and wait for it to happen. As a former colleague, Don Tapscott, once said “Leadership can come from anywhere”. We must all take a leadership role in making it happen. We can’t wait for “them” to do it!
John Thorp is an internationally recognized thought leader in the field of value and benefits management with close to 60 years’ experience in the information management field. A frequent speaker, and author of The Information Paradox, John’s passion revolves around helping individuals, organizations and society realize value from information technology enabled change. In today’s age of digital exploration, realizing this value requires going beyond frameworks and methodologies – it will require a fundamental mindset shift around organizational governance, leadership and management. In addition to being a fellow of the Institute for Digital Transformation, John is also a Fujitsu Consulting Fellow, and a Fellow of the Innovation Value Institute.