By Rachel Happe, Co-Founder of The Community Roundtable.
Recently the term ‘Digital Transformation’ keeps popping up as the latest buzzword bandied about by analysts and vendors and every time I hear it, I twitch just a little bit. We’ve been here before. Remember the dot-com craze? The term Digital Transformation got batted around a bit then too.
The biggest problem for me is that we haven’t even learned to effectively use the technology we already have. In fact, we haven’t even learned – at the organizational level – to use technology that is three decades old. Witness email. Email’s CC feature has reinforced passivity in our organizational cultures around decision-making. Instead of deciding, we reply and copy five people who have some involvement in the topic. Everyone has an opinion but they often complicate the issue rather than adding clarity, which makes it even harder to actually make a decision. So the decision sits there and everyone moves on to the next email. Email’s BCC if even worse – it encourages passive-aggressive covering-my-ass behavior, instead of forcing people to respond directly and learn how to express disagreement constructively. Unfortunately, organizations never stopped to really think about how that technology was going to affect they way work happened in their organizations. Should we blame the technology? Not entirely but it certainly makes this destructive behavior very easy and that does affect our collective behavior, and culture.
We are getting slightly smarter. These days with things like social media and internal social networks, we have paused to consider that it may not be just about technology. Change and adaptation happens slowly though. It’s frustrating and we seem to eventually get bored of the process or find it too complex to take on. And oh look, there’s SOA! and BIG DATA! and Mobile! and Digital Transformation! There MUST be a technology that can solve this problem, right? So we move on before we’ve really fully digested that last wave of technology – and there are vendors and analysts aplenty to help convince us that a new technology is the answer, because their revenues depend on it.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a technologist and product manager by training. I love technology and it’s come a long way in helping us create new opportunities for our organizations. But technology is moving much more quickly than our organizational’s ability to change or take advantage of it. I tend to think it might be wiser if the CIOs of the world partnered with COOs and focused on structure, management and process change before skipping on to the next shiny object. Our IT infrastructures are such hairballs at this point that people literally cannot get work done – let alone take advantage of collaborative environments and the sharing economy. We have a lot of work to do and only a small part of it is on the technical side.
So, you want digital transformation? Spend most of your budget and time on management and leadership issues.