How to Tap IT’s Hidden Potential –

Good article worth a few minutes here.  

Likes: The article focuses in on the competitive necessity and opportunity to leverage technology to create value in your business  It reads a bit like "IT Leadership 101", but sometimes what seems like common sense is not always common.  The article has strong tones of "business and IT alignment" -- a drum that continues to be worth beating.  And it highlights the importance of being able to make decisions the organization will be happy with.  Most importantly, the article should get people thinking about how tap "the hidden potential" of IT -- a good thing regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the authors' specific ideas. 

Dislikes:  In a way, the article is perhaps too focused on business-IT alignment -- the "wall that separates the IT group from the rest of the business" -- ignoring other issues like misalignment between possibly wise goals and inability to execute, and financial and accounting practices that lead "business" and "IT" to jointly make decisions without realizing the extent to which those decisions may be sub-optimal. 

In other ways, the article doesn't go far enough.  Computing is a bit like math -- it's integral to the success of every part of an organization.  You would never design an organization where all mathematics were performed by a special group, and you had to call them to come in whenever math needed to be performed.  Can you imagine?  "I got two numbers here, let me call the math guy to come in and tell me what they add up to".   Or, "I've got the list of customers we've reached, let me call the math guy to see if we hit our campaign goals."  Or, "We're running 58 Jobs per Hour on our manufacturing line, and our goal is 60 JPH... let me call the math guy to see if we need to speed up or slow down."  You get the idea: it's silly to think that people will not do math for themselves.  We expect a certain amount of numeric literacy in personnel across all functions of the business.  Increasingly, this will be true of computing as well. 

Today, much of computing (not all) is a liberal art, and the bar on basic computer literacy keeps going up.  I'm not suggesting abandoning IT as an organization and integrating all computing with various business functions, but I am suggesting that the level of integration should be flexible and that it will be expanding.  It's not terribly important whether this is executed as a shift of IT personnel into other functions or if it's other functions doing more for themselves.  The important things are the capabilities people are able to apply, one way or another.  There was a time when the slightest change in a report was a programming effort.  Then reporting tools came along that, once set up by IT, let business users create many of their own reports.  There was a time when email, Internet browsers, Instant Messaging were not allowed at work.  In many places, these tools have become indispensable. 

As we move into the future, I expect the integration of technology into how we work, as well as the integration of IT into other parts of the organization, to continue along at least three important dimensions:

1.  Expanding Productivity Environments.  Things that we used to believe were special purpose applications continue to become part of our "productivity environments" -- e.g., the ability to create and modify reports, exchange messages, share video conferencing, etc.  This trend is likely to continue to including things like easily bringing up and taking down analytical data marts, connecting to, creating, and modifying 3D visualizations, defining and executing complex business processes and workflows, etc.  Things that 2 years ago required an IT development project will soon be achievable in a rich way without direct IT involvement beyond providing the tools, data sources, and training.   

2.  Self-Service Application Development.  The trend toward "self-service" will also come to include development of applications.  A few years ago few people outside of IT had ever heard of a web service or RSS -- these were the province of IT folks close to the leading edge.  Today, web services and RSS are widely understood beyond IT -- at least at a conceptual level.  And increasingly, the conceptual level will be enough because tools designed for non-IT users will abstract much of the implementation details away from users.  Take a look at mashups -- including Popfly as a friendly environment to make and share mashups -- to see the direction things are going.   To the extent this is a tool-enabled phenomenon, it's actually a sub-set of #1 -- I've listed it separately here because IT organizations have traditionally made their own distinction between managing the productivity environment and developing applications... so be prepared for some internal IT tension around this trend.... 

3. The Rise of Corporate Philosophers.  Given the connotation of philosophers being people who don't do anything, this is probably the least flattering name I could have come up with, but I picked it for a reason.  Ontology is essentially the study of how things in the world are related to each other ("the nature of being"), and it's classic metaphysics.  We will continue to see increasing convergence in our physical and digital worlds, and that means being able to usefully represent more and more sophisticated ontologies.  Defining these ontologies requires a deep understanding of the nature of being within a domain -- the kind of understanding that requires practitioner experience.  Today this is often the realm of Information Architects within an IT organization, but moving forward the increasing complexity of ontologies will drive this capability closer to -- and probably inside of -- the various other business functions.  Using marketing as an example (but the same is true for other business functions), in today's terms we would call people emerging in this role some kind of hybrid -- part IT and part marketing .  Tomorrow, I think we'll just call them marketing people. 

As I said, good article worth a few minutes. 

How to Tap IT's Hidden Potential -

Comments (1)

  1. I like your take on the wsj piece. The math analogy is spot on. The users have already started doing their own math (typing), which has seen the death of the typing pool.  Report generation moving into the user community is another example, as you point out.

    Web services vendors are looking to take the IT department out of the loop. I think this is too much too soon, unless the organisation is not overly interested in maximising the value of having an integrated IT infrastructure. With web services from multiple vendors you are going to have a collection of non-connecting stove pipe systems.

    However the wheels are in motion and CIOs either have to buck up or get out of the way.

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