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IT must map its way to visibility

Thornton May | Aug. 11, 2015
Within the enterprise, we need to be perceived as leaders and this is necessary because in IT, we can be hard to see - to the point of being invisible.

We in IT need to lead. Within the enterprise, we need to be perceived as leaders. We need to articulate the value we bring to the table.  

This is necessary because we in IT can be hard to see, to the point of being invisible. It has long been thus, and that attribute of invisibility has even been valued as a feature, not a bug. In the classic Otisline Harvard Business School case study, way back in 1986, it was stated that "the purpose of IT (like an elevator) is to go unnoticed." This assessment was proffered even though the innovative and differentiated application of technology was acknowledged as the source of competitive differentiation.

Since then, the existential attacks have continued. Who can forget the frenzy Nicholas Carr precipitated when he proclaimed that IT doesn't matter? And quite recently, Bill Janeway, a venture capitalist, economist and author of Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy: Markets, Speculation and the State, stated that "from the point of view of the user, IT is probably in the process of disappearing." Maybe we should take comfort that his word "disappearing" suggests that we were at least somewhat visible until now. 

Janeway has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Cambridge. He does not make his living saying highly provocative things that generate speaking fees. When someone who thinks as deeply as he does questions why IT exists, the IT community needs to take action. 

One action that I advocate for IT leaders is to create the technology maps that their enterprises will need to negotiate today's marketplace. Modern executives should never be surprised by technology. They might be disappointed by technology. Frequently they should be ashamed at their ham-handed, small-minded attitudes toward the adoption and deployment of technology. Some should be flogged publicly for their bordering-on-malfeasance inability to make money with the technology cornucopia that defines modern existence. But they should never be surprised by technology. Technology futures are knowable. Technology futures and possible technology opportunities need to be mapped. 

Executives who are surprised by technology will lose their way, if not the entire company. Martha Stewart was recently taken to task on National Public Radio  for essentially losing her way in a digital world. The empirical evidence is unambiguous. As NPR put it: "At its height, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia was worth $2 billion. Her company is being sold to Sequential Brands Group for $353 million." I believe that such a steep decline in market value for the woman who essentially invented lifestyle branding is at root the result of having a bad technology road map (or perhaps no technology road map at all). 


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