As an undergraduate, I had an art lecturer who was into Bauhaus – the artistic movement, not the band! Founded by the architect Walter Gropius, the Staatliche Bauhaus was all about creating a ‘total’ work of art, in which all artistic disciplines would eventually be brought together.
It’s got me thinking about the technology end of business transformation. Very often, technology is sold as the ‘total’ work of art that will bring everything in the organisation together. Want people to collaborate? Invest in collaboration software! Want your employees to be more productive? Give everyone mobile technology so they can work on the train! Want to change the company? Change the technology! You get the picture…
In case you think this is some sort of Luddite rant against all things IT, let me be clear. In and of itself…technology is neither good nor bad. It just is. A fact of modern business life. A tool. As the way in which companies interact with their customers shifts, the technological landscape must rapidly flex to accommodate new ways for commerce – helping organisations drive value, grow profits and respond to market demand at lightning speed. Which brings me to one of the fundamental challenges with technology. In and of itself...it changes nothing. And yet…it can change everything.
For Gropius and his cohort, Bauhaus represented a practical opportunity to extend beauty and quality to every home by means of well designed industrially produced objects. For change-savvy organisations, technology represents a practical opportunity to derive business benefit and streamline operations by means of well designed systems and software. So… what makes the difference between truly transfomational technology, and the stuff that just clogs corporate arteries?
The three ‘ologies’…
Psychology. In my experience, the secret is to start with the psychology. Yep.. you heard right. The abstract people bit! Lets face it, large scale business transformation is only achieveable by bringing people, process and technology together. Clever organisations do this by creating a shared ambition for change. They tell a compelling story and create a future that truly involves their employees. They consult widely, and then spend sufficient time buttoning down the scope and setting expectations. Everyone involved in making the change happen is clear about what is expected, and what they can expect.
Methodology. Bill Gates is famous for saying ‘The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.’ Clever organisations look closely at their existing processes to understand where inefficiencies lie. They conduct a detailed gap analysis to establish what is missing from their processes, what can be re-engineered, discarded or left as is. They do this more than once!
Technology. Creating a shared ambition for change, then using technology to facilitate and incentivise new processes or ways of working is a far better approach than using IT to beat people over the head in order to make them shift. Of course, some degree of change resistance happens in most organisations. Poor execution of technological change simple exarcerbates this. I’ve lost count of the number of pitched corporate battles I’ve witnessed when ‘those guys in IT’ get it wrong. Notice, it’s not the technology that is wrong, it’s the people implementing it. Well communicated change, underpinned by well conceived technology can change corporate fortunes. Or it can change nothing.