Ignore Technology At Your Peril
I swiped the title of this post from a Financial Times article by Robert Galliers of Bentley University, with whom I agree that it is utterly important that executives gain an understanding what technology can and cannot do. That understanding has to influence their strategic planning. Technology not just a means of cost reduction or automated execution and the internet is not just an additional marketing and sales channel. The article is related to a forum discussion I was involved in on Linked-IN. The forum is run by a business process interest group that also organizes itself on bpgroup.com by Steve Towers. The subject of the discussion was whether the concept of ‘Outside-In’ process analysis is different or provides additional benefits over other process methodologies.
I dared to question whether inventing a new name (Outside-In) for a process management methodology that ‘makes customers happy’ would do anything beyond increasing consultancy revenue. BPGroup being a consultancy organization, I obviously disturbed a hornets nest. Soon they were all swirling around me and trying to sting me with their practitioners ‘It must be right because we have done it here and there’ arguments. I simply smiled and smacked them hard. Yellow goo smeared the windows … not true, I actually simply stepped aside as I won’t waste my time.
Once again, I don’t believe in process management methodologies. I believe that processes have to be about people and for people. Not tell people HOW to do something but simply WHAT process results they are responsible for. Then give them the ability to perform a process as they see fit, while transparency up and down the management line is the key ability for achieving consolidated results. Well, you might want to even call that a methodology.
It will have to be technology to deliver that dynamic process ability. Technology that embeds a certain methodology and worse certain processes are the reason why Nicolas Carr wrote ‘Does IT matter?’ in 2003. While Carr is right about the current state of affairs, he is wrong about technology in principle. Technology is changing the world not management methodology. Technology will be the key competitive advantage. Technology that helps people to identify strategic opportunities, as well as execute and verify … all in one place without intermediate process implementations.
What kind of technology could that be? It is a kind of killer app such as Facebook? No, because even Facebook is too rigid about processes. Let me use an example from the military. Strategy would be about which battle to fight and which to avoid lacking the better weapons. Doing business is a guerilla war because it is in reality a one-on-one of business and customer. Mass marketing with or without predictive analytics and rigid-process-faceless call centers are like using a nuke on the battlefield because that way you certainly will kill the bad guys along with some collateral damage – too bad. In a guerilla war the better weapons and better trained soldiers decide. You train soliders how to use the weapons and how to communicate as a team. You don’t tell them which step to take and when to shoot. A great platoon leader essentialy points in a direction and the rest is defined by real-time communication about the enemy situation through hand-signals. Imagine that one would try to manage foot soldiers in Irak using statistical predictive analysis. Yes, I had to laugh too at that image.
Fortunately we don’t command soldiers but manage employees who interact with customers. But the team communications need is the same except that we are sitting at our desk working on a computer. Therefore this new technology weapon has to be a mobile collaborative IT environment that allows social network interaction on business activities and entities. It has to enable process owners to collaborate about the real world deliverables as their inputs and outputs and empower the process teams to execute as they see fit. Executives (generals) have at all times complete transparency and can offer process coaching and guidance to process owners (platoon leaders). Customers can enjoy full transparency into the processes within the organization and fully participate. Here the military simile ends.
While being more than right in my book, Galliers fails to see beyond business information and intelligence, IT governance, and agile processes. But yes, business schools need to make students aware that without understanding of information technology their ability to manage will be dramatically impaired.
That leaves one question: Who will tell the current league of CEOs that they need to go back to school?