There’s a parable for our times over on the FT. It’s a story about the real-life rebellion of a senior director who refused to approve a new IT system because he had “not understood a word” of the presentation to the board. Initially the lone dissenting voice in the room, his fellow board members eventually admitted that they had not really understood the project either, which had been explained in “baffling goobledegook”.
In this particular re-enactment of Twelve Angry Men, no innocent man was saved from the gallows but the board did go on to demand that the CIO come back after translating the plans into plain English. As the author Gillian Tett notes, it’s a story that should challenge us all:
“For when we look back at 2013, one of the big themes was the regularity with which computing systems produced costly glitches.”
There’s been a lot written on IT failures and their impact, which can be devastatingly expensive. The evidence points overwhelmingly to poor communication as the most common root cause. Between all the stakeholders, but most critically between IT and the business. Successful IT project teams, as McKinsey has noted, continually engage with stakeholders – at all levels, internally and externally – within a rigorous governance framework for managing change.
What happens most often of course is that the board blindly nods the project through. But this isn’t just a problem of poor communication at board level. At every level, there’s often a stilted and meagre dialogue running between IT and the business, increasing risk and undermining business benefits. And it’s mostly hidden in plain sight just because expectations are so low. Caring too much about clarity and accountability can even be career-limiting.
How then do we fix this? It seems to me that there are two essential elements to any sustainable solution:
A universal business language so that whichever functional silo I come from, and whatever my role, I can collaborate effectively with others. But what language? It has to be visual, intuitive and engaging. As I’ve rehearsed elsewhere, it has to be the language of end-to-end process.
A unified process management platform, owned by the business and in its language (not IT goobledegook). It has to be real (not some artificial construct) so it needs to support people doing real work. And it needs rigorous governance built-in so that everyone – IT included – can understand and collaborate on proposed changes within the big picture of an end-to-end, joined-up and real-time view of the business.
All of which is important enough now. But clarity and precision are set to become vital very soon. I’ve set out elsewhere why process excellence is headed for the board room, propelled by the need for tighter IT alignment as well as by other strategic risks (such as compliance) and opportunities (such as agility).
If that list were not compelling enough, consider how else but with, inter alia, a universal language and a unified process platform can we safely implement cloud solutions, or manage innovative enterprises with minimalist org hierarchies, or implement standardized processes that also meet local demands and customer needs, or avoid shooting ourselves in the foot in exploiting Big Data, or safely simplify highly regulated businesses, or embed a culture of continuous improvement, or ensure cost reduction programmes aren’t just illusory, or manage the next wave of complexity inherent in an Internet of Things predicted to connect 30 billion devices within the next five years?
24 Sep 2013 The Business Management System App
17 Sep 2013 What Process Excellence Looks Like in 2020