14 Mar Information technology past the end of the Earth
So it’s 1492. At least that’s how we’re acting. The grand majesty of the IT industry is huddled in our comfortable little corner of the world. Yeah, we send the occasional skirmish over into the Kingdom of Marketing or Manufacturing or wherever we think “the business” is, but our maps of the world mostly contain a great deal of detail in the familiar territories of technology.
Then there’s that blue ocean of business process. Beyond that there be dragons or business execution or maybe the end of the earth. Yeah, a few folks have ventured out there and come back with the gold of “best practices” and “business alignment”, but that all seems to work more like magic than a way to run and build the kingdom.
Well, guess what? It’s time to get on the boat and go sail off the end of the Earth.
This adventure is more than just scrabbling into the boardroom or the executive suite. That’s still well-mapped territory. Admittedly, we’ve got to go before our personal Queen Isabellas to get the cash to go venturing, but the payoff is off the end of the mapped world.
There’s only one little difference between us and Columbus. There actually was a world out there for him that was susceptible to Columbus-style mapping, control, and conquest. For us, most of the tools and approaches we’ve used in our little world of technology and even in that wider world of business process simply aren’t going to be sufficient in the regions of business execution off the end of the mapped world.
Almost all of our professional experience has been dedicated to taking that messy, chaotic real world and forcing it through filters of requirements and processes into rigid forms of data structures and programming languages so that our simple-minded thinking machines can deal with it. There was plenty of adventure and exploration in that work, and real bottom-line business benefit to be had. If you’re content to be a second-tier explorer, there’s still plenty of that kind of work around. Hop in the good ship “Buena Practicas” and navigate the protected headlands of the known world.
But we won’t discover a brave new world of IT impact with all its riches by turning the efficiency dial up one more notch.
That New World lies somewhere beyond the organization charts, and policy and procedure manuals. Those are good starting points, but the next big thing is somewhere else. To get there we have to find ways to integrate IT with all the informal realities of business execution. We have to plug into (and tolerate) those informal short-cuts everyone knows about. We have to make room for that guy down in facilities who can make anything happen. We have to be agile enough to follow that goofy chick over in marketing that seems so off the wall but always knows what’s coming with the customer base before anybody else does. And yes, we have to do all that while still running the filters and forms that capture some flavor of our adventures for the simple-minded thinking machines.
One of the real challenges of this adventure is that some of that essential world off the known business maps won’t survive out of its natural element. We have to go to it. We can’t bring it back through the requisite filters and forms. Some of that great business execution only happens in the short-cuts and moments of inspired deviation from procedure, in the deep smarts of experienced professionals, in the hallway conversation and in the ever passing moment.
This isn’t the ideal job for every technologist. Pick your adventurers carefully. They’ll have to not only tolerate, but thrive on new experiences and perspectives. They’ll have to be linguists and diplomats to avoid ending up as the main course at some strange feast in far away lands. The good news is that just like for Columbus, there are whole other worlds out there with unimagined wonders, resources and able indigenous populations.
Hopefully, it won’t take us 500 years to find an appropriate balance between what we bring to those worlds and what we learn from them.
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