There was a short exchange between a Twitter account run by the CBI and Minister for the Digitals Matt Hancock MP last week that in less than 280 characters summed up my concerns for what appears to be currently going on in the UK government:

Now I know that it’s probably unfair and unkind to build assumptions on the short form of Twitter. But on the other hand if you are distilling the essence of that in which you believe down into 140 characters…

We have entered into another era of technoration, adoration of the power of technology. From my own research, and from the extensive research upon which I have drawn, there is no compelling evidence whatsoever to support the idea that “better technology” (digital or otherwise) will either allow for better collaboration, or break down silos between government departments.

It’s not that technology won’t necessarily have a role to play – it’s just that to get people collaborating more effectively you need more collaborative people. To break down silos you need people to think more broadly about how to get their jobs done. You need people who value networking outside of their immediate work groups. You need disincentives to collaborating to be removed. But above everything else, you need to have a clear purpose as to why this collaborative activity is necessary, and then a nuanced plan that involves organisational, psychological, managerial and cultural levers alongside technology. Otherwise what you get is Sharepoint.

Large organizations are riddled with IT failure. As the IEEE put it:

When IT systems fail, there’s always a reason. If you dig deep enough, at the root of any problem are human decisions: sloppy code, insufficient testing, poorly understood dependencies, and incorrect assumptions. Yet when we read about (and report on) failures, the language we use tends to assign blame to inanimate technology that can’t defend itself or get fired.

We get into a repeating cycle: technoration deems that technology is the answer; the “technology” fails; we find some new technology to be the true answer to the problem. It’s remarkable how many new software products market themselves on being the “solution” to prior “problems” of other software products; it’s even more remarkable how often people seem to buy this spin.

A nice shiny box that will solve intractable problems with magic is an alluring prospect. In our delivery-driven culture it’s also really nice and tangible in comparison to wooly concepts like behaviour change. But blind belief that the technology alone (or even in majority) will fix it will just perpetuate the failures. And that’s failures in the multiple billions of pounds wasted sense, not in the light, agile experiment sense.

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