The Internet, and in particular social networks, for all their wonderfulness, are crammed full of banal aphorisms, insights that aren’t insightful, and motivational proclamations that make me want to take a spoon to my own eyeballs.

I saw one of the last category last week on one of the many channels I pop into now and again. A picture of a pack of wolves, trudging through a mountainous landscape. The “Learning” was that when wolves travel like this they put their weakest, oldest members at the front to set the pace for the pack. Oooh, wolves. So caring. So social. Not the bloodthirsty carnivorous monsters that they are so cruelly painted. If only we could all be more like wolves the world would be a better place…

(I’m no animal behavioural scientist, but maybe an alternative interpretation is that if said pack bump into unseen bigger, bitier thing around a blind corner, Grandpa Wolf and Lame Eric Wolf get eaten whilst the rest of the pack run like the wind. I digress…)

This “walking at the slowest speed of the pack” idea, though, has been bouncing around my head and has landed as being a great way to explain why Gartner’s Bi-modal IT model is such a daft idea. If you aren’t aware of it, Bi-modal basically says you’ve got old, slow, traditional IT, and new, whizzy, fast digital stuff and that the way to manage it all is to separate it into those two camps. Then you can do traditional, slow, heavy IT management on your old school legacy and “let’s bang out a Kanban in Trello” 3/4-length drainpipe trousers IT on the new stuff.

Daft in principle, daft in practice. Because bi-modal ignores that these two sets of technologies might be intrinsically and inescapably linked, and so the whole lot will trudge along at the pace of the slowest. Online Internet Banking, I’m looking at you.

I was in conversation last week with the HR Director of a reasonably big UK retailer.  She demonstrated to me quite clearly what happens when you have bi-modal IT (the retailer has put all of the digital, whizzy stuff in a business unit separate to traditional IT). She told me about how staff in the branches were using WhatsApp to communicate with each other when out of the workplace, which was brilliant. She’s implemented some sensible usage guidelines which basically say “go for your lives, but if you need to call in sick you need to pick up the phone and actually speak to your manager”.

She also told me about how she’s using Trello to run performance management across the company. Not to project manage the performance management process, but to actually do the collecting of information from appraisals and so on (she’s actually expecting to scrap the whole thing soon because it’s daft, but so many corporates are wedded to the idea of performance reviews and it’s taking her a bit of time to achieve her end objective).

Now I can hear the bristling of IT management on this – “but that’s not a proper corporate system”, “what about data governance?”, “what about the integrity of the information?”, “what about security”… a whole list of “Why nots”. And that’s what Slow IT was all about: governance to protect “assets” (physical, financial or informational) that had had significant investment because that’s how IT worked. Or at least did in the days before utility computing and the cloud.

Governance today needs to be about much more than telling people that they cannot do things. Because, quite frankly, they’ll be doing it anyway.

Take, for example, the weird mantra of wanting to reduce email. Email, as I’ve recently argued, is probably the most successful electronic collaboration platform. And yet it’s cited repeatedly as a “problem” that needs to be solved.

But it’s Slow IT that perpetuates the pervasiveness of email, particularly when it comes to inter-organizational collaboration. If I need to share something with someone in a corporate I can use Google Docs or Office 365 or Dropbox or Box or Yammer or Slack or Trello or Samepage or Evernote or… the list goes on. The simple fact is, though, that the only way I can guarantee that someone sitting behind a Slow-IT corporate firewall can access the thing I need to share with them then I know I need it to be in an email attachment using Microsoft Office with a file size that is less than 5MB. Want to get rid of email? Open up the stupid rules on your stupid firewalls.

The competition to legacy corporate IT isn’t just producing things that look prettier. It’s not just producing products that are more effective. It’s not just producing products that can be used effectively wherever they need to be used. Now it’s producing products that motivate people to use them more. To become addictive. Governance, like my retailer HR friend knows, should be about acknowledging how to use things, not blanket bans.

The pace of technology change has changed. Slow IT can’t keep up. We need to manage technology in organizations that goes at the pace of the fastest, not the slowest. Some things will get caught at the back, attacked by predators, savagely killed. If there are systems to which that’s likely to happen, you need to work out ways to get them to speed up. When you’re being chased by a pack of wolves you don’t need to be able to outrun the wolves, just outrun your slowest colleague…

2 thoughts on “One-speed IT

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