By Thornton May
Futurist, Senior Advisor with GP, Executive Director & Dean - IT Leadership Academy
Humans have been interested in “doing it” right for a long, long time. In the early Paleolithic era our ancestors worried whether they were hunting and gathering right. In the agricultural age [beginning ~ 11,000 years ago] our forbears worried whether they were farming right. With agricultural surplus came urbanization and primitive forms of government. Our political progenitors worried whether they were leading and/or following right. The Greeks worried whether we were living right. Moses was concerned whether we were behaving right [remember the tablets?] Just recently large swaths of the American population became obsessed with whether they were voting right. On top of all these classically human concerns is a modern source of Manichean angst – are we doing information technology [IT] right?
IT has become central to economics, politics, education and entertainment. No realm of human relations, values, and aspirations remains untouched by information technology. A subliminal hypothesis driving the $3.7 trillion spent every year on information technology is that “to be successful, one must do IT right.” During the past three quarters I have worked with scores of highly respected CXOs to better understand what doing IT right really means.
Measuring IT Rightness [i.e., capacity to create value]
Despite the importance of doing IT right, there currently does not exist a universally accepted method of determining:
Is company X better at IT than company Y?; or
Is Executive A better at IT than Executive B?
Nowhere on the balance sheet, income statement, any official filing with regulators or annual performance evaluation is a common, respected and broadly understood measure of information technology rightness [i.e., how good an organization/individual is at creating value with information technology] to be found. This has to change. In the information age, we need a metric that attests to how good an individual and an organization is at creating value with information technology.
Deep thinkers about social evolution believe that the advance of civilization correlates precisely with the advance in measurement. It is time we allocate resources to measuring individual and collective capability of creating value with information technology.
There is nothing in nature that tells us what doing IT right is or how it should be measured. “It’s not a category in the same way that atoms or elm trees are.” Information technology rightness has to be socially constructed.
Measurement involves at least two different kinds of activities: characterization – laying out clearly and explicitly what the quantity or category is; and procedures – describing just what must be done to carry out the measurement successfully. [See: Philosophy of Social Science: A New Introduction Oxford University Press, 2014, page 265].
Charles Darwin, the founder of evolutionary theory knew that facts never just speak for themselves; they are always viewed through the lenses of theory. EVERY organization needs a theory regarding what doing IT right looks like.
What is your theory regarding doing IT right?