Every technology wave calls the role and value of IT into question. More than a dozen years ago it was cloud technology raising the question “Does IT Matter?” Today, digital transformation is calling the role of IT in to question. This requires the CIO and IT to write a new story about themselves and the value they bring to an organization. Before we can talk about the new story, it is important to think about past tales of IT.
A brief history of technology, the business and IT
Each technology wave brings with it new business and technology ideas and therefore a new story. At its start, mainframe technology went hand in hand with the rise of corporate divisions and functions. In that era the idea of information for competitive advantage expressed in a 1985 article from Michael Porter and Victor Millar. In the 1990’s client server technology and business process reengineering led to integration being behind the story of IT, recall Michael Hammer and other process centric guru’s. Cloud technology, we mentioned before, took center stage in the mid 2000’s thanks to Nicholas Car.
Today’s technology disruptor is digital transformation. Its demands call the role and rational of IT into question.
Digital Transformation is Different
Every technology wave is disruptive changing the business and in IT. Every wave is described as changing everything, every wave purported to be different and they are. Digital transformation is different in a different way. Understanding these differences sets the context for telling a new story.
First, digital technologies are different. These are fundamentally human technologies where prior technologies primarily enabled business processes. Human technologies address areas like sales, marketing, service and customer engagement. This is why digital investments have centered in these areas. It is also the force behind greater demands for speed and agility from IT. The corporate computing model is changing. Data centers, API’s, cloud infrastructure, etc. deemphasize the need for large in house IT operations.
It is time for a new story of IT and the CIO and for the story to be written in a new way.
Writing a new story.
Technically a story is ‘an account of past events in someone’s life or in the evolution of something.’ It is one of many ways to convey information. Having a beginning, middle and end does not make something a story. Many of the stories related to IT are essentially presentations, arguments, proposals, statements of fact or belief. The future of IT often revolves around a proposal structure. The ‘story’ defines the new trends, the forces behind the trends, how it changes the current state and supports a proposed future for IT. The as-is and to-be structure defines a proposal rather than shaping a story.
A proposal implies a decision concerning the justification for the CIO and IT. A proposal sets up a ‘zero sum’ game, a take it or leave it decision leaving little room to move forward. Telling the tale of the future of IT in this way reduces the CIO’s ability to inform or influence support for a new position.
Conflict, a different way of telling a story
The story of IT has the basic elements of a story: characters, beginnings, middles and ends. It’s a story told in the form or a proposal, largely without a plot. In order to have a plot you need identify and work with conflict. Conflict defines the stakes, makes it interesting and defines value through its resolution. Without conflict a story is bland and a proposal not interesting.
Conflict is either implied or absent from most business stories limiting their ability to engage and inform their audience. That undermines credibility as the obvious is ignored or assumed. Without conflict and its resolution people have no reason to pay attention, no reason to act and little reason to find motivation. The resolution of the conflict is the fuel for change, the call to arms, the reason for doing things.
Conflict abounds in digital transformation, creating an opportunity to tell a really compelling story. At the environmental level, digital transformation is creating new winners and losers, redefining industries, disrupting established players, changing the basis for value, etc. Resolving environmental conflicts tells a story about how the enterprise will win in this new environment. At the social or organizational level, digital transformation has fractured the technology stack, redistributed power and influence among executives, change the labor sourcing model – all leading to resolution through new structures and ways of working. At the interpersonal level, the CIO’s relationship with executive peers, their own team, partners and suppliers has changed. Finally, at the personal level, the CIO themselves has to think about the conflicts within themselves, their situation, the energy required to lead a change.
Writing a new story for the CIO and IT
At any level, there is a compelling story to tell that redefines IT and the CIO by recognizing and resolving the one or more conflicts. The specific conflict and its resolution is unique to each organization. Everyone has their own story to tell and is best in telling their own story. The point of this post is simple, tell stories in ways that engage and motivate people. Those stories are ones that recognize conflict rather than just make recommendations. It will be hard, but in a world of digital transformation, burying conflict puts the future at risk.
Once upon a time …
The next words are yours.
Mark McDonald is a Managing Director and Digital Business Lead in Accenture’s Management Consulting practice, which helps clients to strategize, architect and innovate to create value and revenue from digital capabilities.