confusion

This post is in the “cheaper than therapy” category a little more than usual, but expresses some of the paradoxical stuff I’m currently mentally wrestling with…

First of all, nobody can predict the future. I don’t care if you’ve been blessed with the magic pixie dust of mysticism, or the magic pixie dust of big data, the future is unknowable in absolute terms.

If you are, however, needing to make an educated stab at what the future holds, then you could do far worse than saying “it’ll be pretty much exactly the same as today”. That will work for you pretty well within most margins of error until it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, it’ll possibly be quite catastrophic. But don’t worry – tomorrow is usually pretty much like today.

“Tomorrow is usually pretty much like today” is a prerequisite state for most models of improvement in organisations. The continuous improvement/TQM/Kaizen world, making it’s cyclic changes to get marginal improvement in existing ways of working, depends on tomorrow being pretty much like today as the changes to the ways of working are improvements on themselves and generally assume not much outside is changing. Continuous improvement is pretty useless if your organisation is being subjected to the occasional seismic “tomorrow is very different to today” disruptions that occur. But don’t worry – those disruptions are fairly rare.

If you want to do something drastic, you’re going to have to make a lot of assumptions and take a lot of risks and, probably, fail. It’s easy to get suckered into thinking that big changes are successful be the tendency is to only hear about the successful ones, or the massive disasters. The marginal failures (which I presume are the majority) never get coverage because they’re a bit dull.

However there is a case where you can get away with a lot – that’s when you’re in a position of a monopoly supplier. That might be because you have a complete or relative monopoly, or where you the sole supplier of an ancillary service (take, for example, banking apps). You might bugger things up to cause people to switch services, but the number of customers that will be bothered to change say their bank account or electricity supplier today is relatively low (although that will change).

IT used to be a monopoly supplier. It was able to bugger things up for end users at a grand scale. Not intentionally, but usually in the aim of fulfilling the needs of the organisation over the needs of the end consumers of the services it provided.

But IT isn’t in a monopoly position any more. It has to compete with what some euphemistically call “shadow IT” (read: people finding stuff that enables them to get their jobs done), but isn’t really given the option to take risks to innovate to fail – because no organisation could afford to have the rates of failure that real innovation requires. The sorts of rates of failure that are associated with startups.

Instead we are still left with the nonsense of the cost-benefit analysis approach to investment decisions that predicates the ability to see into the future. Which brings me back to my very first point.

One thought on “Confusion

  1. Matt, you make some valid points. “old” IT was there to protect the interests of the enterprise and not necessarily there to enable change. Shadow IT is the product of this. I prefer to call it business led IT rather than shadow IT as most of it is done in the full glare of the company. I do believe there is still a role for IT, but as a partner and in my view concentrating on security, supportability and TCO thus enabling business change tomorrow

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