Today I’m going to be spending some time with folk from different housing organisations talking about concepts of Digital Maturity. The contrary way in which I tend to look at things gives me a natural aversion to such a concept – indeed in the past I have written about the idea of Digital Immaturity. Maybe to do new stuff well you need to maintain a healthy level of naivety, rather than heading towards best practices and a knowable state? I did warn you it was contrarian…

In the past few days, I’ve been bouncing around the apocryphal idea attributed falsely to Henry Ford of “building faster horses”. The legend goes that the godfather of production line processes once stated that if customers had asked what they wanted when Ford was about to launch the Model T on the world, they would have responded with “Faster Horses”. What Ford realised was that what they needed was cars, cheaply produced.

It’s all made up, but it’s still a cute idea. When it comes to looking at how technology can make a difference to an organisation and its services, are you looking to improve the current state (faster horses) or change how those services fundamentally operate (a cheap car).

With “digital”, are you looking to change your current operations to streamline them (say – how Amazon transformed music buying from CDs in shops to CDs through the post), or more fundamentally (how Spotify took digital distribution to totally change the underlying model of music consumption into a subscription model)?

In any sector there’s a finite limit to how much bits and bytes can change the way in which a traditional physical service can happen, but do you end up constrained by how things are at the moment so that you focus too much on faster and faster equines? Are there totally new ways in which your customer’s needs can be served with bits and bytes? Can your customers even recognise that a car might be the thing to answer those needs? There are graveyards of innovative ideas that died because a need was met but wasn’t well communicated.

And, of course, whilst dreaming of cars, you might find that actually it’s not a faster horse that’s needed when everyone is still trying to get from A to B on foot. Just horse might suffice for a while.


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