By Thornton May
Futurist, Senior Advisor with GP, Executive Director & Dean - IT Leadership Academy
In 2014, according to the CIA's World Factbook, the global economy [Gross World Product –GWP] was thought to approximate US $107.5 trillion. Just about every expert one talks to agrees that doing information technology [IT] right has the potential of materially impacting how fast the world economy grows. Very few experts agree on what exactly doing IT right means.
A New Value-Focused Outcomes-Centric Language
Historically and perhaps ironically, when speaking about information technology we have used industrial age metrics focused on devices-what and how many.
Most experts agree that how much you spend or what you buy is not an effective or absolute proxy for doing IT right. There is such a thing as over spending on technology. There is also systemic under spending – aka – technical debt. What matters are the outcomes generated by the information technology investments.
Is an organization – day in and day out – capable of managing information technology investment programs that exploit the value potential of information technology? Wouldn’t it be fascinating if investors knew that every IT dollar invested at company X generated three dollars downstream versus every IT dollar invested at company Y only generating $1.15.
I hypothesize that it is possible to inventory an organization’s technology portfolio, place the enterprise in competitive context [i.e., ahead, at parity with, or behind competitors vis a vis delivering technology value], assess baseline management skills and aptitudes regarding information technology and assign a score [ala the score FICO calculates relating to credit worthiness] signifying the relative degree to which an organization is doing IT right.
Doing IT Right Begins With How We Think
At the International Conference on the History of Computing held in Los Alamos in 1976, R.W. Hamming argued persuasively "We Would Know What They Thought When They Did It." He pleaded for a history of computing that pursued the contextual development of ideas, rather than merely listing names, dates, and places of "firsts".
Just as the history of computing must be expanded to include the mental processes [the idea space] around technology devices, so too must the measurement of doing IT right be expanded to include how we think about technology.
Within each organization and each individual there is a rich internal mental world. The capacity to create value with information technology [i.e., doing IT right] begins by rendering explicit [in the words of interpersonal neurobiologists – “naming and taming”] the various mental models at work regarding information technology.
One of the many timeless truisms I learned from James David Wolfensohn while working at the World Bank was “World opinion is the second superpower.” How we think about something is the launch point of possibility AND the source of many obstacles.
I am constantly canvassing CXOs seeking to tease out conventional wisdom regarding how organizations should be thinking about IT.
IT Think Space #1: Expectations Management
The first critical IT think-space is expectations. In the IT world, when one first hears the phrase “expectations management” one’s mind immediately goes to the end user – is IT giving the end user what they want at the cost and in the time frame required. This is just one part of a multi-dimensional expectations puzzle. There are at least two additional critical dimensions.
The second dimension of expectations management is – is the user asking for the right things?
The third and typically completely omitted dimension of expectations management is – what responsibilities does the user community [non-IT executives] have regarding IT? In the 26th paragraph of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s Inaugural Address [20 January 1961], the soon-to-be 35th President of the United States asked his fellow Americans, “ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.”
In organizations that go beyond simply doing IT right to being differentially GREAT at IT, the user community does not just ask what IT can do for the enterprise, they are asked what they can do for IT.
In subsequent installments I will expand upon additional elements that might be included in measuring what being good at IT really looks like.