Going Digital—Operating Principles

“If technology is not transformative, it’s in the way.”

A few years ago, I was thinking about how many of our technology users have expressed, or better stated complained, that technology is just a necessary evil that has been imposed onto them by the administration and especially IT.  What they’re usually referencing, however, is the ERP or some other central system (e.g. CRM) that they hate and are required to use. Generally, the follow-up to the complaint is they feel that “it’s just one more thing I have do.” Which is another way of saying that they have to continue doing the “other” things that they were required to do on top of this new system. Out of those musings, I crafted the above statement, which is now the foundation for my operating principles.

A longer version of the statement is:

“In order for technology to be considered transformative, it must change behavior. If technology isn’t transformative, it’s in the way.”

For context, over the years I’ve observed that many of our IT implementations fit into at least three categories, none of them transformative and none of them took a holistic view of the workflow to ensure that it was redesigned to improve the overall user experience.

  1. During system migrations, old processes that are duplicated. This implementation strategy only served to propagate the status quo; with no improvements and likely required customizations.
  2. On new implementations, there is an insistence to not change manual processes, which required excessive customization of the new system to match them, only now the processes are electronic. This usually limited any future ability to leverage the power of the system and impacted agility regarding updates and upgrades.
  3. Without any input from IT, selecting a system that had a very poor user interface (UI), clunky workflow, and didn’t interface well with any other system, but the vendor sold it as the solution that would change their lives.

I’m sure that many of you have probably had similar experiences and could come up with a few additional implementation categories. But to be fair to all of us, those were times when most of us just did what we were told. Remember the mantra, “IT must fit and support ‘the business.’” We weren’t supposed to engage in process reengineering or workflow redesign because we were just “IT people,” what did we know about “the business?”

As a quick anecdote, I remember during one financial system migration, we strongly urged the finance area to adopt the new procedures that were part of the new system. They refused because they wanted to stay with their tried and true processes. We summarily told us that we needed to support “the business,” so we customized. Two years later, these same users discovered that the system had some newly released functionality that they wanted to leverage. Unfortunately, we had customized so much, the upgrade would break nearly everything—so nothing could be done until we untangled from those customizations.

While we should not not focus on the past, we need to understand how we got here (because most of us are still dealing with the old) and then start looking forward. The good news is that most of us are now at a different place in the discussion where we are not viewed as order takers and, in many cases, viewed as partners. To continue with this momentum, we need a new framework to work from. A framework that starts with the human experience and designs processes that are truly transformative.

Transformation is by its very nature rooted in change, but more importantly it is disruptive. Disruption introduces a level of chaos that many folks are not comfortable with. But if we proceed with a right framework, this disruption will result in a positive outcome that includes stakeholder adoption, organizational efficiency, and a workflow that makes sense to nearly everyone.

While one could argue that it’s not the technology that’s transformative, it’s the people. I would argue that without the right tools and the right climate, the people can’t change. Most do not know the options available to them, how to begin to make the changes, or how to make the connections to other processes and systems.

Our challenge moving forward is to identify the steps and methods to lead a complex organization heavily entrenched in these legacy systems, that have merely digitized processes, into a fully integrated digital experience. Showing them that though this will change the way things are done, it will open opportunities for efficient M2M (machine-to-machine) connections that will foster improved H2M (human-to-machine) and H2H (human-to-human) interactions.

Therefore, if the CIO and the IT organization start with the right framework (operating principles), they can provide leadership that will help to create a culture of innovation; resulting in transformation that will be driven by the people/organization. I also believe that with the right framework, we can overcome many of the cultural disruption obstacles.

In future posts, I’ll go through each of my three primary operating principles, which are listed below:

  • Start with the human experience (digital humanism)
  • Be a partner, not just a technology supplier or solutions provider
  • Become digital workplace

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