Ashley Roper, IT Client Services Director, explains why if you’re building a technology strategy then you’ve already lost the race
I’ve been in IT for longer than I care to remember – but I’m not a hugely technical person. Ask me to connect some wires and servers together and I can assure you no lights would come on. Far from that being a problem, I think it’s an opportunity – not least because it allows me to take a different, more business-focused approach to digital transformation that I believe is the way forward in today’s landscape.
It’s my opinion that if you’re building a technology strategy you’ve already lost. Back in 1949, renowned Hungarian-American mathematician John von Neumann said: “It would appear that we have reached the limits of what it is possible to achieve with computer technology, although one should be careful with such statements, as they tend to sound pretty silly in five years.” Today, those words are more relevant than ever to digital transformation.
Ten years ago, IT strategies were all about what technology could be leveraged and how it could be integrated to deliver a single IT service. Today, the narrative has changed and it’s no longer about how you stitch technology together. The reach of IT is now further than that of most organisations – the business world is left playing catch up – and the dialogue has changed to “how can I exploit the IT available to me in order to affect real business transformation, whilst making sure it is meaningful and enabling for all of my organisations staff?”.
This assertion can be seen in everyday business dialogue – “we have office 365, but we’re not sure how to make the most of it”, “we’re interested in IoT, but we’re not sure what it means to us”, and “Big Data sounds exciting, but what does it mean?”.
A different starting point
The imperative of starting with a business outcome is therefore more important than it ever used to be. If the focus is on technology, the conversation is wrong. Technology is just available – it’s as simple as that. The real power comes from what you do with it. The days of doing backend metrics – is my server up, is my network available – is gone. Who cares? The focus should instead be on whether users are able to access the features they need to make them good at their job and if they enjoy using the technology and therefore readily adopt it. By measuring that you’re ensuring you’re making the right investment.
For too long, technology decisions in the public sector have been made by directors of the organisation and been based on whether it’s fit for purpose, if it’ll do the job and if it’s cheap. That means organisations risk buying affordable solutions that everybody hates, and nobody uses. That also means it becomes an expensive solution because it doesn’t achieve anything and instead becomes a wasted investment.
If, instead, organisations focus on unlocking what the users need and want, which will vary across authorities, directorates, business units and possibly users, they can extract every penny of investment and ensure that a business strategy is being underpinned. More than that, you might even be influencing that strategy. It’s not very often we can say that.
Do decision makers get this? I think there are two schools of thought, based on what I’ve seen. I do think, on the whole, that the old school IT professionals are mesmerised by ‘always-on’ IT and they think that’s where the golden ticket is. On the other hand, there is a move towards user centric services, but it’s not yet a trend – it’s a conversational piece at best.
Again, moving away from IT thinking, I believe organisations need to look at it from a business perspective. Interpretation needs to take place around how an organisation wants to work and how that can be translated into a solution. That solution will probably be public cloud, Office 365 and mobile working. You already know what the technology is going to be – the questions revolve around how it’s tailored and how it can remain current and consistent to enable users to adapt as the working environment changes.
User-centric services are not new to the market, but I don’t know anywhere that’s done it successfully. Software tools do exist that allow organisations to measure user experiences, while perception management methodology – sitting with users to find out how they’re finding the services they’re consuming – is now emerging. This allows service providers to score the service against perception and compare it to an empirical measure.
A simple example could be a service desk service level agreement that states it should be available from 9 to 5. However, an employee may leave a business at 3pm to do the school run and catch up with work later in the day – they therefore require services to be up and running in the evening. This sort of feedback is shared with the decision makers in an organisation to help them extract that next 10 per cent out of a workforce. That’s a simple example, but if you start with that approach and remain open to discovery, you’ll define the specification better. This will avoid the “watermelon affect” we see with so many service providers – compliant SLA’s but disenfranchised users (green on the surface but red at the core).
While changing mindsets can seem daunting – and it’s undoubtedly challenging – today’s technology should provide an opportunity.
Ten years ago, you would go to work and use the most modern technology that you had access to. Nowadays, you’re probably using more modern technology at home than you do in the workplace. So, getting people to adopt a product like Office 365 is easy. Workplaces are still plating catch up with our home lives, especially when it comes to social media and the tools related to it – if we were to adopt the same principles in the workplace – and therefore work practice – adoption would be almost instant and immediately accelerate any transformation efforts in the process.
This brings me back to my point about IT directors needing to think business strategy first and technology second. There’s so little to be considered in an IT strategy today because it’s not complicated technology that’s being stitched together. The challenge comes in enabling a hundred different types of stakeholders, instead of delivering one single IT service that suits everybody. This is the basis for a different conversation.
The great enabler
Technology is a great enabler of workplace change and can drive productivity, but only if there’s take-up. If it’s not used, whatever it is, it’s wasted investment. If I wanted to clear a beach, I could give the person doing it a dessert spoon because it’s cheap. The user, however, would prefer a digger to carry out the job more efficiently. The spoon might be cheaper, but it’s a wasted investment as nobody would use it and the objective would not be met. This is not work style profiling – its about peoples preferred ways of working.
While you’ll readily accept that Microsoft, or another major technology provider, will most likely be part of your supply chain, choosing who or how that IT estate is managed is the bigger question.
It’s about getting people engaged with the technology as quickly as possible to unlock the business benefit. And that’s why we need to look beyond the technology strategy if we’re to really discover what’s possible with business transformation.
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