Business change in a consumerised world

The recent announcements by Barclays Bank about their bulk purchase of iPads has got me thinking about the way in which it seems the consumerisation of technology is having an interesting effect – we are becoming more besotted with the software and devices than ever before. The “news” was the purchase of the devices, yet years of corporate IT management orthodoxy tells us that if you lead with the technology, rather than the business challenges or opportunities, your chances of successful return on technology investment are limited.

What’s going on? Well I think the stems of this came about at the time that business applications started to move into the browser. Implicitly, or even explicitly, there seemed to be a view emerge that if something looked like a website, then it was somehow more intuitive to use, and therefore people didn’t need to be trained as much (if at all). The logic was that if people can use a search engine, an online shopping site or a social network, then they’d be able to use the new business system.

The flaw in that thinking is (to me) obvious: training people in how to use a computer system  isn’t generally the issue (with a few exceptions); it’s more about how you affect change of people’s behaviours and ways of working in an organisational context, to which “using a system” might be just a part. For years technology-enabled business change projects have had varying degrees of success, and my personal experience leads me to believe that focus on the change rather than the tech is one of the contributory factors to projects that achieve greater success.

As we move into a world of consumer devices and apps, the idea that we have “zero-training systems” potentially becomes stronger (“everyone can use a smartphone” being the argument today). If the technology is seen as being the change, then we end up with organisations attempting to affect organisational change without any management of that change. Chaos ensues (at worst), or just no impact whatsoever.

But in a world where one seventh of the population apparently use Facebook on at least a monthly basis, surely my old fashioned, 20th Century, Web1.0 views are out of date? SOCIAL NETWORKS HAPPENED WITHOUT CHANGE MANAGEMENT! the hipsters and the Social gurus and the rest may shout…

Well yes. They did. Well, two did – Facebook and Twitter. And maybe LinkedIn too if you’re dull and work-focused. But millions of ideas were had, thousands got built and all that remain are those that didn’t work, those that hang on for dear life, and the best that anyone can hope for as an exit strategy is to be acquired by one of the big boys (OK -it’s not as bleak as that. I’m playing this for dramatic effect).

But here is the rub: the failures to successes in the open market are at a proportion that no commercial organisation could afford to run with in the closed market of internal systems, even if it’s a change project that acquires rather than builds technology. Your average Learning Management System or Project Portfolio Management System or whatever else can’t be introduced with zero change management because a failure to success ratio in the 1,000s isn’t a sustainable way to run an enterprise.

Which makes me worry when I read reporting of news like that of Barclays. Not because they’ve purchased iPads. And not because they’re going to approach this in a zero-training way (I have no idea what they are going to do). What leaves me concerned is that the IT industry gets blindsided by talk about shiny gadgets when it’s what they are being used for and how that change will happen that is the important thing.

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