A New Age of Digital Exploration

The first question you may have here is what do I mean by “digital exploration”? Is exploration being disrupted by digital, or does digital require exploration? The answer is yes to both. Although the focus of this piece is on the latter, my thinking about it was triggered by the first. In 2013, my son, Jeremy, was named one of National Geographic’s “Emerging Explorers of The Year”. This was not for grinding trudges dragging dugout canoes through tropical areas, although that was to follow, but for his work in data visualization – translating unimaginable blurs of information into something we can see, understand, and feel—data made human through visualizations that blend research, art, software, science, and design.

img_2788aAs a result of this, and meeting another National Geographic explorer, Steve Boyes, Jeremy became one of the four leaders of the Okavango 2014 expedition (that’s him on the left) – the first ever live-data expedition  across Botswana’s amazing Okavango Delta. Like the expeditions of old, they were pushing into the unknown, in search of measurements but, unlike previous expeditions, they used a set of open-source tools to develop a system that puts every piece of data collected onto the web, in near real-time, for anyone in the world to use and share. This data included wildlife sightings, water quality measurements, and the four leaders’ exact GPS location, heart rate, and energy consumption.

As I reflected on this expedition, and how it was positively disrupting exploration, I went back to thinking about how our use of technology has evolved and continues to evolve. I started to question how I have been describing this evolution. I have described, as depicted in the image below, three stages of evolution: the automation stage, which I characterized as the appliance era; the information stage, characterized as the rewiring era; and the transformation stage, characterized as the rebuilding era.

Slide1

I have always felt uncomfortable with the term transformation – a much over-used and abused word. When the initial version of this image appeared in The Information Paradox, almost two decades ago, it was being used to describe the implementation of ERP, CRM, SCM etc. While these were certainly complicated endeavours, and often required significant organizational change (a requirement usually recognized too late and poorly managed), they were primarily about integrating information, and making it more accurate, accessible and timely. There were  proven practices available to do this, although, they were all too often not adopted, or adopted too late. They did not essentially change what organizations did – they just did it differently and, hopefully, better. It certainly involved major organizational change, but was hardly transformational.

Since that time, there has certainly been real transformation in a number of industries, including entertainment, media, communications, retail and consumer goods, financial services, automotive, as well as around the edges of others, but we are now seeing this happening, or at least the potential for it to happen, across all industries. Indeed, across all organizations, public or private, large or small. This is taking us into unknown territory – moving beyond a complicated world to a complex one. One in which :

  • Technology itself, how technology is delivered, how it used, and by whom are changing at an ever-increasing pace;
  • Everything and everyone will be connected, anywhere, any time;
  • Technology is increasingly embedded in everything we do, and in ourselves;
  • Everything is becoming “smart’ – phones, cars, houses, buildings, cities, etc.;
  • Robots, cognitive computing and machine learning play an increasing role;
  • We are becoming increasingly embedded in everything technology does;
  • Data is available about everything;
  • Analytics are available to anyone; and
  • Everything is available as a service.

This increasingly complex world is moving us to  the next stage of evolution in our use of IT – exploration, as illustrated in the images below.

Slide1This first figure adds the exploration stage to my original three. This is a somewhat different and more fluid stage, as what emerges from the exploration stage could become a combination of automation, information, and transformation type uses of IT. In the next image I take a degree of licence in  integrating the four stages with the concepts of David Snowden’s Cynefin Framework – an analytical, decision-making framework based on understanding the nature of the systems you are working with – simple/ordered, complicated, complex or chaotic, and selecting the appropriate approach and practices to manage them.

Slide2The first three of the Cynefin system types: simple/ordered; complicated; and complex are  mapped to the four stages. Automation, and some basic examples of the information stage map to simple/ordered. Some of the more integrated information and simple transformation map to complicated. Broader transformation and exploration map to complex. The mapping again draws on David Snowden’s work in positing that best practices are appropriate for the simple/ordered systems, proven practices can be selected based on analysis and/or expert opinion for complicated systems, and new/novel practices emerge during the exploratory era.

Slide3While, as proven and best practices emerge, the nature of systems may change, i.e. they may become a combination of simple/ordered, complicated and complex, this last figure shows that when we attempt to apply best practices to a complex system, the result is the fourth Cynefin system type – chaotic. In today’s complex digital world, while proven practices are emerging, most of what we are doing is still very much exploratory in nature.

 

 
As organizations move into the digital world, they will still have simple/ordered systems, although most of these may be XaaS in the Cloud, and complicated systems, some/all of which may also be in the Cloud, but an increasing amount of what they do will be in the complex space. In this space, it will not just be just practices around delivery of products that will be emerging, but also new models of how work is organized, managed, lead and governed. It is, or should be becoming clear that our traditional industrial-age, top-down hierarchical control-oriented approach to leadership and management is simply not cutting it, and certainly won’t do so in a digital world. The engagement level of employees with their organizations is abysmal – ranging between ~13-30% (and its not much better for managers). This is sometimes attributed to generational differences, particularly the rise of the “millennials”, and is certainly not helped by the rising disparity between C-Suite pay and that of the median worker. However, I don’t believe that the aspirations of millennials are any different than mine were when I started work over 50 years ago.

What has changed is the global and social context within which we live and work. We are more globally aware and socially connected, and have 24/7 access to pretty much unlimited knowledge, information and expertise. We are exposed every day to how other organizations are already embracing technologies, including social, mobile and analytics, enabling greater engagement and two-way communication with and between employees, and orchestrating self-managing teams who can work collaboratively in a much more agile and responsive way with limited but relevant and appropriate oversight. Organizations who are “democratizing” their approach to leadership and governance – letting their people use their brains again.

We know what the future of work could be, but don’t see that anywhere close to being universally realized. The challenge ahead is to break out of the straightjacket of more than a century of hierarchical, siloed industrial age mindsets at work which are controlling, mistake-averse and “know it all”. To evolve them into mindsets that are enabling, learning and willing to try new things and fail. To move to a more agile and inclusive approach to governance, leadership and management. A value-focused, data and analytics driven, agile, sense and respond approach that transcends functional and organisational boundaries, and engages employees, customers and other key stakeholders – locating accountability and decision-making at the most appropriate level (based on the principle of subsidiarity), while supporting decisions with broader and more knowledgeable input.

All this is will require a fundamental rethinking of how digital businesses are governed and managed, and the capabilities that are required to ensure and assure that the use of technology contributes to creating and sustaining business and societal value in the digital world Replacing current top-down, hierarchical and siloed processes with leadership across and beyond the C-suite with leadership capabilities recognized, nurtured, and empowered throughout organizations. It will all be part of a new era of digital exploration and transformation.

Does this mean that we have to throw out everything that has come before? No – but we do have to question everything? We do have to look at everything with the understanding of “what could be”, not “what has been”. We have to be careful here not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” – this must all be done without losing sight of the fundamentals of governance as described in Back to the Basics – The Four “Ares” and A Value-Driven Framework for Change.

After all is said and done, there is more said than done!

As I have travelled around the world over the last thirty years or more, speaking to and talking with thousands of people on the topic of realizing benefits, and creating and sustaining business value from our increasingly significant and complex investments in IT-enabled change, I invariably get these three responses:

  1. You’ve given me a lot to think about;
  2. My boss should have been here; and
  3. Why aren’t we doing this?

In response to the third point, although it also encompasses the second, I decided a number of years ago to write a paper titled “Moving beyond Words to Action”, and submit it for inclusion as a chapter in a book around Enterprise Governance of IT which was being put together by a couple of colleagues of mine. In many ways, the paper was somewhat of a rant – a constructive rant, based on more years than I care to count of trying to get organizations to “get it” when it comes to the challenge of realizing the full potential of creating and sustaining value from the use of IT. I circulated the paper among a number of peers, all of whom provided constructive feedback and positive support, then submitted it to my colleagues. The good news was that they liked the paper, and thought it was much needed. The bad news was that, being academics, they were looking for more academic research for the book, and, as this was an opinion piece, they didn’t see it as a fit (although I was actually asked to write the Foreword for the book!). I was very busy at that time, so basically parked the paper and carried on with my “real” work.

However, I found myself continually going back to the paper, and, over the years since, have reworked and included much of its content in various smaller articles, and posts, and the paper in its entirety has also been used by at least one business school.

I am now, with another colleague, considering embarking on writing another book. Although the book will encompass more than that in the paper, much of the thinking behind the paper will be included. Coming off a week in New York, where I yet again heard the “Why aren’t we doing this?” question many times, I feel that this is a good time to just throw the paper out there in the hope that some readers will find it of value, and also that I will get some more feedback as we start moving ahead with the book.

The paper, the subtitle of which is the title of this post, can be found here Working Chapterv2.0 – it ends with a “call to action”, which I have included below:

Finally, if we are indeed to move beyond words, we must place an emphasis on action—on engagement and involvement at every level of the enterprise. One of the key findings presented in The-Knowing Gap is that knowledge is much more likely to be acquired from ‘learning by doing’ than from ‘learning by reading’ or ‘learning by listening’. This strongly suggests that an iterative step journey toward value management will yield, for each individual, a discrete set of opportunities for learning that, taken together across an organisation of people, form the stepping stones toward cultural transformation and the achievement of real and sustainable change. As Sun Tzu says in The Art of War, “Every journey starts with the first step.” I urge you to move beyond words and take that first step – I can’t promise that the journey will be easy, but without it, value from IT investments will remain elusive.

In reading it, do remember that it was written around seven years ago, long before the terms “digital economy”, “cloud”, “big data”, “BYOD”, etc. were in general use. Also, at the end, I discuss ISACA’s Val IT™ Framework, the development of which I led. While the framework has now been absorbed into ISACA’s new COBIT 5™, it is still available, and relevant – probably even more so – to addressing the challenge of realizing benefits from investments in IT-enabled change.

I hope that you get some value from reading the paper, and look forward to receiving your thoughts.

The Digital Economy and the IT Value Standoff

The emerging  digital economy, and the promise and challenges that it brings, including the need to shift focus beyond reducing cost to creating value, are adding fuel to the seemingly never-ending discussion about the role of the IT function, and the CIO.  There is questioning of the very need for and/or name of the position, and the function they lead. Discussions around the need for a CDO, the so-called battle between the CMO and the CIO for the “IT budget”, and other similar topics proliferate ad nauseam. Unfortunately, most, although not all of these discussions appear to be about the technology itself, along with associated budgets power and egos, within a traditional siloed organizational context. This akin to shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic, or putting lipstick on a pig – it’s way past time for that!  As technology becomes embedded in and across everything we do, and we are increasingly becoming embedded in everything technology does, we have to acknowledge that the way we have managed technology in the past will be a huge impediment to delivering on the promise of the Digital Economy. Indeed, it has proven woefully inadequate to deliver on the promise of technology for decades.

Recent illustrations of this include failed, or significantly challenged healthcare projects in the U.S., Australia, and the U.K.as well as disastrous payroll implementations in Queensland, New Zealand and California (you would really think that we should be able to get payroll right). And this situation is certainly not unique to the public sector, although these tend to be more visible. In the private sector, a large number of organizations continue to experience similar problems, particularly around large, complicated ERP, CRM and Supply Chain systems.

All too often, these situations are described as “IT project” failures. In most cases, while there may have been some technology issues, this is rubbish. As I and others have said many times before, the ubiquitous use of the term “IT project” is a symptom of the root cause of the problem. Labelling and managing investments in IT-enabled business change, as IT projects, and abdicating accountability to the CIO is a root cause of the failure of so many to generate the expected payoff. Business value does not come from technology alone – in fact, technology in and of itself is simply a cost. Business value comes from the business change that technology increasingly shapes and enables. Change of which technology is only one part – and increasingly often only a small part. Technology only contributes to business value when complementary changes are made to the business – including increasingly complex changes to the organizational culture, the business model, and the the operating model, as well as to  relationships with customers and suppliers, business processes and work practices, staff skills and competencies, reward systems, organizational structures, physical facilities etc.

From my many previous rants about our failure to unlock the real value of IT-enabled change, regular visitors to this blog will know that I am particularly hard on non-IT business leaders, starting with Boards and CEOs, for not stepping up to the plate. When it comes to IT, the rest of the business, from the executive leadership down, has expected the IT function to deliver what they ask for, assuming little or no responsibility themselves, until it came time to assign blame when the technology didn’t do what they had hoped for. The business change that IT both shapes and enables must be owned by business leaders, and they must accept accountability, and be held accountable for creating and sustaining business value from that change. This cannot be abdicated to the IT function.

However, having spent quite a lot of time over the last few months speaking with CIOs and other IT managers, it has been brought home to me that some, possibly many of them are just as much at fault. There appear to be a number of different scenarios, including CIOs who:

  1. “Get it” and are already seen as a valued member of the executive team, providing leadership in the emerging digital economy;
  2. “Get it”, but have been unable, and, in some cases,  given up trying to get the rest of the executive team to step up to the plate;
  3.  Sort of “get it”, but don’t know how to have the conversation with the executive team;
  4. May “get it”, but are quite happy to remain  passive “order-takers”; or
  5. Don’t “get it”, still believing that IT is the answer to the world’s problems, and don’t want to “give up control”.

The result, in all too many cases, is a stand-off where the business doesn’t want to take ownership, and the IT function doesn’t know how, or doesn’t want to give up control. As Jonathan Feldman said in a recent InformationWeek post, “..enterprise IT, like government IT, believes in the big lie of total control. The thought process goes: If something lives in our datacenter and it’s supplied by our current suppliers, all will be well…my observation is that the datacenter unions at enterprises want “the cloud” to look exactly like what they have today, factored for infrastructure staff’s convenience, not the rest of the supply chain’s.” Until this standoff is resolved, the “train wrecks” will continue, and we will continue to fail to come anywhere near realizing the full economic, social and individual value that can be delivered from IT-enabled change.

At the root of all this is what I described in an earlier post as The real alignment challenge – a serious mis-alignment between enterprises whose leaders have an ecosystem mindset, and adopt mechanistic solutions to change what are becoming increasingly complex organisms. But it’s also more than this – in a recent strategy+business recent post, Susan Cramm talked about “the inability of large organizations to reshape their values, distribution of power, skills, processes, and jobs”. The sad fact is that, as organizations get bigger, an increasing amount of attention is spent looking inward, playing the “organizational game”, with inadequate attention paid to the organizations raison d’être, their customers, or their employees. As Tom Waterman said, “eventually, time, size and success results in something that doesn’t quite work.” Increasingly today, it results in something that is, or will soon be quite broken.

Most of the focus of the conversation about the digital economy today is on improving the customer experience, as indeed it should be – although we have been saying the same for decades with, at best, mixed success. We will come nowhere close to  achieving that success unless we put equal focus on our people, and rethinking how we govern, manage and organize for the digital economy such that we maximize the return on our information and our people.

This will require that leaders truly lead – moving beyond tactical leadership, aka managing, to strategic and transformational leadership. That we move from a cult of individual leadership – “the leader”, to a culture of pervasive leadership – enabling and truly empowering leadership throughout the organization- putting meaning to that much-abused term “empowerment”. That we break the competitive, hierarchical, siloed view and move to a more collaborative, organic  enterprise-wide view. The technology exists to support this today – what is lacking is the leadership mindset, will and capability make the change. As Ron Ashkenas said in a 2013 HBR blog – “The content of change management is reasonably correct, but the managerial capacity to implement it has been woefully underdeveloped”.

I am not saying that this will be easy easy to do – it isn’t, very little involving organization, people and power is. And somehow, throwing in technology seems to elevate complexity to a new dimension. And we certainly don’t make it any easier with the ever-growing proliferation of books, frameworks, methods, techniques and tools around the topic. Many of which have evolved out of the IT world, and are, as a result, while intellectually correct, often over-engineered and bewilderingly complex to executives and business managers who need to “get this”.

So, let’s get back to the basics – governance is about what decisions need to be made, who gets to make them, how they are made and the supporting management processes, structures, information and tools to ensure that it is effectively implemented, complied with, and is achieving the desired levels of performance. It’s not about process for process sake, analysis paralysis, endless meetings, or stifling bureaucracy – it’s about making better decisions by finding the right balance between intellectual rigour and individual judgement. In a previous post, Back to the Basics – the Four “Ares” I introduced the four questions that should be the foundation for that decision-making:

  1. Are we doing the right things?
  2. Are we doing them the right way?
  3. Are we getting them done well?
  4. Are we getting the benefits?

A common reaction to the four “ares” is that they are common sense. Indeed they are, but, unfortunately, they are far from common practice! if business leadership to move beyond words in addressing the challenge of creating and sustaining value from investments in enterprise computing, social media, mobility, big data and analytics, the cloud etc. emphasis must be placed on action—on engagement and involvement at every level of the enterprise,  with clearly defined structure, roles and accountabilities for all stakeholders related to creating and sustaining value. The four “ares” are a good place to start!

 

The Real Alignment Challenge

It has, yet again, been a while since my last post – this partly because of both work and personal pressures – I have been helping Diane run one of the largest juried art shows in our province, but also because I haven’t seen anything that caused me to “lift up my pen”. A number of articles and posts that I have seen over the last few days have now pushed me to do so.

Yesterday, I read an interview with my old colleague, Don Tapscott, by Shane Schick in Computerworld Canada  in which he discusses yet another new book, his follow on to Wikinomics –  Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World (which Tapscott wrote with collaborator Anthony D. Williams). The book is based on the idea of mass collaboration both within companies and between them, with their partners, customers and other stakeholders. Since his first book, Paradigm Shift (which he co-authored with Art Caston), Don has been a visionary in the IT space – he has helped many individuals and organizations, including myself, to have a broader understanding of what could be. Whilst I would also like to think that I am somewhat of a visionary, I am primarily interested in what it takes to turn vision into reality – a reality where the potential of IT turns into realized value. Unfortunately, the gap between vision and reality (and, by inference, concept and implementation) continues to be large, and, as another former colleague of mine, Michael Anderson, once said (or, possibly, quoted), vision without action is hallucination.

This leads me to the second article by Chris Kanaracus in Computerworld – ERP woes blamed for lumber company’s bad quarter . On first seeing this, I thought here’s yet another ERP failure story to file away which, to some extent it is in that, as the article says “Lumber Liquidators is attributing a weak third quarter to a complex SAP implementation, saying the project imposed a significant drain on worker productivity.”  The article goes on to say that  “…lower productivity led to an estimated $12 million and $14 million in unrealized net sales, according to the company. Net income fell nearly 45% to $4.3 million.” Lumber Liquidators’ CEO Jeffrey Griffiths, in saying that “There were a few things that didn’t work quite right, a few things that were unique to our business that we didn’t see as well ahead of time…” , attributed the problems in the quarter to employees’ having difficulty adjusting to the SAP software, which he nonetheless praised. The article concludes by saying that “The situation differs from other troubled SAP projects, such as one conducted by Waste Management that led to a bitter lawsuit, which was ultimately settled.” It may differ in that it did not result in a lawsuit, and the SAP system is still running, but it certainly does not differ in that the significant loss of income, and the resulting drop in share value of 14%, was due to a problem that could and should have been anticipated and headed off – this did not have to happen! The problem here usually comes down to focusing too much on the technology – not the change that technology shapes, enables and require, not applying due diligence at the front-end – to understand the scope and breadth of the change, and not effectively and pro-actively managing the change. In Lumber Liquidator’s case, this view would appear to be supported by today’s ZDNet Article by Michael Krigsman – Understanding Lumber Liquidators’ ERP failure.

The next article, Business as Organism, Mechanism, or Ecosystem by Bob Lewis in CIO provides some useful insights into the nature and behaviour of organizations today. Introducing the article, he asks “Do you envision your organization as an organism, mechanism, or ecosystem?”

In the case of an ecosystem, he suggests that “The enterprise is organized, if that isn’t too strong a word [such that] employees at all levels interact to further their own self-interest. Furthering the interests of the enterprise is an accidental byproduct at best. More usually it isn’t a byproduct at all. The enterprise is left to look out for itself. And so, organizational ecosystems devolve to silos within silos within silos. It’s no way to run a railroad. Or any other organization, from an enterprise down to the smallest workgroup.”

He then goes on to say that, as a result of this proliferation of silos, “Many business executives choose to view their organizations as mechanisms instead — collections of gears, cams, cogs, levers and buttons, connected so as to achieve a coherent result. It’s business-as-automobile and business-leader-as-driver. It’s the view preferred by process consultants of all religious persuasions … lean, six sigma, lean six sigma, theory of constraints and whole-hog process re-engineering for the enterprise as a whole; ITIL for IT, and other process frameworks (I imagine) for other business disciplines. All start by describing an organization as a collection of processes and sub-processes that feed each other’s inputs and use each other’s outputs to achieve the organization’s purpose… the purpose of the executive in charge … the CEO for the enterprise as a whole and the other C-level executives…Business-as-mechanism is far superior to business-as-ecosystem because mechanisms, whether they’re automobiles, power tools or computers, can and do achieve the purposes for which they’re designed, so long as they’re operated by people who (a) have the appropriate skills to use the mechanism; (b) know what they’re trying to accomplish with it; and (c) have chosen to try to accomplish something for which the mechanism is suitable.” Relating back to the SAP challenge described above,  it is this last statement that contains the root of the problem.  Many executives choose to implement ERP solutions, such as SAP, as a way to address the silo problem. However, if insufficient effort is put in up front as part of the change management process to ensure that managers and employees think beyond their individual silos, have a clear and shared understanding of the purpose of the change that they are being asked to make, and how their roles and responsibilities will change across the silos, and if they are not trained such that they have the appropriate skills to operate in the changed environment, the result will be, at best, disruptive, and, at worst, highly visible outright failure.

Bob then goes on to contrast the above with organizations that operate as organisms, saying that “Unlike mechanisms, the organism’s purpose belongs to every part of it. That’s what lets it adapt to changing circumstances. Feet build callouses, muscles harden and bulk up, skin tans when exposed to more sunlight — each part supplies its own energy and figures out the details of its operation on its own without subverting the overall purpose of the critter it’s part of. Organizations that are organisms are rare because leaders willing to invest the effort to build them, and to forgo the gratification of being the sole driver, are rare. While evidence is sparse … Business Management theory hasn’t yet reached even the level of reliability associated with Economics … what evidence we have suggests organizations that operate as organisms are the most successful in both the short and long run.”

The above caused me to again reflect on Joel Kurtzman’s book, Common Purpose, which I referenced in an earlier post The Traveller Returns, in which Joel provides a very insightful critique of today’s leaders. (As I threatened in the previous post, I will review this book in greater detail shortly). What I took away from Bob’s article, and what I see in my everyday work across the globe is a serious mis-alignment between enterprises whose leaders have an ecosystem mindset, but  adopt mechanistic solutions to change what are becoming increasingly complex organisms – this is the real alignment problem! If we are to solve this problem, if enterprises are to survive and thrive, we need to get away from what I have described in previous posts as the cult of leadership. As Joel says in his book, leaders need to move beyond the traditional “command and control” model to establishing a  ”common purpose” and creating a “feeling of ‘we’ among the members of their group, team or organization”. This will require leaders who can “park”, or at least manage their egos, break down silos, and really engage with and empower all employees – fostering leadership across and at all levels in the organization. Only then will the full potential value of IT-enabled change be realized!

Getting Information Management Right

A couple of recent articles by Thomas Wailgum in CIO.com got me thinking – yet again – about information management (IM – for more on IM see Enterprise IT or Enterprise IM?). The first, Information Wants to Be Free, But at What Cost?, makes the point that the more information that enterprises continue to exponentially collect, the more difficult and expensive it’s going to be for them to understand and disseminate that information. The second, The Future of ERP, Part II, makes the case for change in that after four decades, billions of dollars and many huge failures, big ERP has become the software that no business can live without—and the software that still causes the most angst.

In The Information Paradox, and every time I present or discuss the topic of getting real value from our increasingly significant and complex investments in IT-enabled change, I use the slide below to explain how the way we use IT has evolved.

Slide1

When I started in this business, back in the early 60s, most, if not all commercial applications of IT were automation of existing tasks – where the focus was on doing the same thing more efficiently. I call this the appliance era – applications were stand-alone and very little business change was required (as illustrated by the pie chart on the slide). You could essentially have be given the application for Christmas – plug it in and it would do the job.

In the next era, which emerged during the 70s, things became  more complex. We moved beyond automation of tasks to creating, storing, distributing and manipulating information. The focus here was on effectiveness – using information to do things differently and to do different things. You now had to worry about what information was needed, by whom, where, when and in what form – and people had to be trained and incentivized to work differently. Appliances now had to work together in an integrated way, and the way business was done had to change – I call this the rewiring era.

In the next era, which emerged during the 80s, we began to see what I heard a Northrop Grumman CIO describe as “game changing plays” – changing the rules of existing industries and creating new ones. I call this the transformation era. While the changes might not be possible without the technology, the bulk of the effort required to achieve the desired outcomes involves changes to the business – including the nature of the business, the business model, business processes, peoples roles and skills, organizational structure, physical facilities and enabling technology. Those appliances – now ranging from “mainframes” to smart-phones – have  to work together in an integrated way, not only within an enterprise, but outside it – on a global basis.

Unfortunately, while our use of IT has evolved – our management of it has lagged. In far too many cases, the focus is still on the IT appliance  – “plug it in and the value will flow”. Those days are long gone. We are not today simply dealing with appliances – or with simple appliances – we are dealing with massive organizational and cultural change – transformational change. Change that is enabled by technology, but of which technology is only a small part.

The more that I have though about this, and talked about it, the more I feel that one of the sources of the perceived and real failure of investments in IT-enabled change to deliver the expected business value is that we have still not got the information piece right. (Note that in the following comments, I may appear to, and indeed do, to a certain extent, use the terms data, information and knowledge somewhat loosely. This is not because I do not understand the difference – or at least have an opinion on it – but because terminology in common use doesn’t always make a clear distinction, and I don’t want to bog this post down with that discussion.)

While the amount of data we store continues to grow – Gartner predicts that the amount of enterprise data will grow 650 percent during the next five years, a recent Forbes Insights survey of more than 200 executives and decision makers at top global enterprises found that nearly one-quarter of the respondents cited the availability of timely data as one of the top barriers to aligning strategy and operations today. In an earlier post, The Knowing-Doing Gap,  I quoted James Surowiecki, from his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, where he said “…information flows – up, down and across organisations – are poor, non-existent or “filtered” in all directions, decisions are made by a very few with inadequate knowledge and information, and there is limited buy-in to whatever decisions are made.” So, with an enormous and growing amount of data being collected, at considerable cost, why haven’t we got it right? I would suggest that there are a number of reasons for the current state of affairs:

  1. Knowledge is power
  2. Not knowing what information is relevant
  3. Too much information
  4. Bad data
  5. System complexity
  6. Go with the gut

Let’s examine each of these.

Knowledge is power

Building on the Surowiecki quote referenced above, Sir Francis Bacon was (among) the first to say that “Knowledge is power”. Peter Drucker expanded on this saying “Today knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement.” This presents a cultural and behavioural barrier to sharing information and to getting it to (all) the people who need it – one that should not be under-estimated.

Not knowing what information is relevant

In another life, I led a lot of what we then called Information Resource Planning assignments. We would interview key stakeholders in an enterprise to find out what information they required. Once we had their requirements, I always asked one final question: “If you had this information, what would you do differently?” Very few people could answer this question or had even thought about it. Enterprises need to take an outcome and role based approach to identifying and meeting information requirements. Expanding on my earlier question, we need to ask: ” Based on the outcome(s) we want to achieve, what decisions/actions need to be taken, who needs to take them, and what information do they need – where, when and in what format – to take them, and what information do we need to know that things are working as they should be?”

Too much information

Today we are drowning in information and, as per the Gartner prediction above, it is only going to get worse. Even if the information that we require is available, it may be lost in the sheer volume of information – the information noise. This noise level is only going to increase. If we are to cut through this noise to what is relevant, it is even more critical to take an outcome and roles based approach to defining information requirements. We will also need to beyond the traditional reporting metaphor and simple, or simplistic dashboards to much more sophisticated, yet intuitive (see “System complexity” below) analytical and data visualization tools.

Bad data

One of the biggest risks to organizations is “bad data quality.” Results from Scott Ambler‘s September 2006 Data Quality Survey show that 46% of data have some data sources that are a “complete mess” or the data itself has serious problems. In an April 2009 data quality PRO survey of Data Quality in Business Intelligence, 42% of respondents reported minor issues, 50% reported major issues, and 4% didn’t know –  leaving just 1% reporting no problems. A 2007 Accenture CIO survey claimed that the costs of compromised data quality are clear—billions of dollars squandered each year due to mistakes, manual processes and lost business. Of the CIOs surveyed,  29 percent said that they had minimal or limited data quality efforts in place, even for critical systems, and only 15 percent of respondents believed that data quality was comprehensively (or near comprehensively) managed. Indeed, not a single North America-based organization reported that they have a fully comprehensive data quality program today. Information is only as good on the data it is based on. It will take time to implement workarounds for, and fix the mess that we have created. In the interim,  we need, at a minimum,  to know how credible the information is and what confidence we can have in decisions based on that information.

System complexity

ERPs were promoted as one “solution” to the information management challenge, but have  proven a challenge for many enterprises – see ERPs – Can’t live with them – Can’t live without them!. Where they have been successful, they may have done a good job of integrating data across enterprises, but few would describe them as easy to use. Even if relevant information is available, if it is too complex or time-consuming to get at it, people won’t. While somewhat simplistic, I have often felt, and even more often heard that “if I need to be taught how to use it, I won’t use it.” Again, information needs to be relevant, outcome and role based, and easy to access and understand.

Go with the gut

Business intelligence was identified in the 2009 SIM Trends Survey as one of the top technologies that enterprises were planning to invest in. Research reported by Accenture in 2008 found that close to half (40%) of major corporate decisions are based on “gut feel”.  The reasons for this executives cited most often, which reinforce some of the points above, were: because good data is not available (61 percent); there is no past data for the decisions and innovation they are addressing (61 percent); and their decisions rely on qualitative and subjective factors (55 percent). 23 percent of respondents identified “insufficient quantitative skills in employees” as a main challenge to their company, and 36 percent said their company “faces a shortage of analytical talent.” 39 percent of respondents said that IT capabilities restrictions were a major challenge and 27 percent said there was an inability to share information across organizations within their company. I also wonder if this might not also be a bit of the “cult of leadership” where they believe that they have achieved a level of knowledge/wisdom where they don’t need information to make good decisions.

Information and people are the two most important and, in all too many cases, the most ineffectively utilized assets in today’s enterprises. What information is available to people – be they executives, managers, workers, suppliers, customers or other stakeholders –  the quality of that information, and how they use it is a key part of what determines business success or failure – value creation and sustainment, or value erosion and destruction. This is true both for “business as usual” activities and – even more so – for transformational change. If enterprises do not get the information piece right, their transformational efforts, and their survival, will be in extreme peril.

ERPs – Can’t live with them – Can’t live without them!

A CIO.com article and a blog, both by Thomas Wailgum, caught my attention this week. The first, Why ERP is Still So Hard, and the second, The United Nations ERP Project: Is SAP the Right Choice?. Both caused me to reflect on ERPs – in many organizations now themselves legacy applications.

The first article opens by saying that:”After nearly four decades, billions of dollars and some spectacular failures, big ERP has become the software that business can’t live without–and the software that still causes the most angst.” Interestingly, when we wrote The Information Paradox, the major IT investments at that time were ERPs, and that is where most of the problems where. It appears that not much has changed.  The article goes on to make a number of points:

  • ERP projects have only a 7 percent chance of coming in on time, most certainly will cost more than estimated, and very likely will deliver very unsatisfying results. In addition, today’s enterprise has  little better than a 50 percent chance that users will want to and actually use the application.
  • CEOs and CFOs are still trying to wrap their heads around the financial aspects of your standard ERP package, a most unusual piece of the corporate pie: the licensing, implementation, customization, annual maintenance and upgrade costs. A CFO Research Services study of 157 senior finance executives, found that a typical company will spend an average of $1.2 million each year to maintain, modify and update its ERP system.
  • Manjit Singh, CIO of Chiquita Brands International, makes a key point that the reality CIOs face when synching business processes with those in ERP applications leads to “internal arguments over how we are going to define something simple as a chart of accounts. So all of the sudden, what looked like a very simple concept has exploded in complexity, and now you’re into trying to get some very powerful people aligned behind one vision. In some cases, you can; in some, you can’t.”
  • In a  first implementation, Taser International customized its chosen ERP package to meet the business processes that it already followed. In a subsequent upgrade, they decided to “…get rid of these customizations and go back to the best practices and recommendations out of the box”. Taser International CIO,  Steve Berg, acknowledged that the upgrade took longer than expected: Testing and training issues, as well as certain customizations that were unavoidable, complicated progress along the way.

In summary, the track record of ERP implementations continues to be spotty at best, costs are not well understood – nor are benefits, change management is a huge issue – not to be underestimated, and there needs to be an appropriate balance between “out of the box” and rampant customization.

So, let’s now look at the UN situation. My first reaction was one of relief that I did not have to do this. Not that it isn’t most likely needed, and could contribute to improving the UN’s efficiency – which is certainly a noble goal – but that it appears to a close to impossible  challenge. What are the chances of the now $337 million project actually coming in on budget – it’s already 4 months behind schedule – and delivering the expected benefits? If this is being considered a “technology project” it will almost certainly fail. If it is really an “IT-enabled change programme”, it will likely cost much more and still be challenged. To extract just a few points from Thomas’s blog:

  • “History tells us that the greatest odds for success with SAP ERP are at organizations that run lean, disciplined shops where change doesn’t have to involve translators or global resolutions.” He then goes on to quote from the UN draft report (released in an article by Fox News – not my usual source of information!) on the progress and scope of the project: “A substantial number of its administrative processes are largely based on practices from the 1940s and 1950s and supported in many cases by technology from the 1980s and 1990s…. There are at least 1,400 [non-integrated] information systems currently in the United Nations Secretariat but in many cases they are used to support or track paper-based processes. Very often, documents are printed from these systems, signed, manually, routed, photocopied and filed with associated costs in time and money. Furthermore, paper documents are usually the source of trusted information, casting doubt on the reliability and acceptance of data existing in electronic systems. The result is that we often have several versions of ‘the truth.'”
  • He acknowledges that “The implementation team…is well aware of the challenges.” Again, from the report: “[The project] is not just about implementing a new system; it is about implementing new and better ways of working together. To meet this challenge, [the project] must improve staff attitudes and skills, align processes, policies, and organizational structures with known leading practices and standards, and deploy a new global information management platform.”

It is encouraging that the implementation team does recognize that this is indeed not a technology project, but an “IT-enabled change programme”. However, the report also say:”…based on the process analysis and requirements review done to date and assuming the organization’s ability to adapt, no customizations to the core SAP code have been identified.” Given the nature of the UN, this would seem to be the mother of all assumptions. The danger here is that while starting with this understanding, the challenges will be so daunting that the “programme” will be scaled back over time to a “technology project” with significant and expensive customization, and erosion of anticipated benefits.

As Thomas concludes: “…if there is one thing that will surely doom the project—because rest assured that the software will eventually run, whether it’s by 2013 or beyond—it will be the ill-equipped users tasked with actually changing the day-to-day of their jobs to fit the strict parameters of this foreign software.”

But, does it have to end this way? Here are my thoughts on what the UN should do to improve their chances of success:

  1. Maintain active executive sponsorship – cascade sponsorship across and down through the organization.
  2. Clearly define the desired outcomes – both end outcomes and intermediate outcomes. Use some form of benefits mapping approach to do this (for more about this look at  Get With the Programme!). Develop relevant metrics – both lead and lag metrics and consolidate them in a benefits register.
  3. Assign clear accountability for all the outcomes – with consequences – align the reward system.
  4. Develop a realistic plan – schedule enough time – break it down into “do-able chunks” with clear outcomes from each.
  5. Recognize the full depth and breadth of the change – specifically cultural and behavioural change. Manage the process of change. Have a two-way communication plan – cascade it across and down to all stakeholders. Listen to the people who have to do the work – be flexible where appropriate. For more on managing change, look at Managing Change – The Key to Delivering Value.
  6. Invest in training – cascade the training using a train the trainer approach.
  7. Measure performance against the metrics – both lead and lag. Understand and act quickly and decisively on deviations.
  8. Be prepared and willing to change course – both the outcomes and the journey.
  9. Stay the course – but know when to fold.
  10. Plan for more change.

I am sure they are doing some of this today, but certainly not all, and likely not enough – if they are to avoid a costly and avoid highly visible failure, and realize real value from this significant investment they would do well to do more!

Get With The Programme!

Technology is today embedded in almost everything that we do as individuals, societies and organizations. We have come a long way from the early days – yes, I was there – when the primary use of technology was automating operational tasks such as payroll, where benefits – largely cost savings – were clear and relatively easy to achieve. Today, applications of IT enable increasingly strategic and transformational business outcomes. While these outcomes would not be possible without the technology, the technology is only a small part of the total investment that organizations must make to achieve their desired outcome, often only 5% to 20%. The reality is that these are no longer IT projects – they are investments in IT-enabled business change – investments in which IT is an essential, but often small part.

Unfortunately, our approach to managing IT continues to lag in recognizing this shift. We still exhibit “silver bullet thinking” when it comes to IT. We focus on the technology, and delegate – more often abdicate – responsibility for realizing value from the technology to the IT function. In a recent post, IT Value Remains Elusive, I discussed a recent ISACA survey in which 49 percent of respondents stated that the CIO or IT managers are responsible for ensuring that stakeholder returns on such investments are optimized – with 8 percent saying no one was responsible. Technology in and of itself does not create value – it is how enterprises use technology that creates value. With the evolution of how we use IT, a different approach to the management of investments involving IT has become a business imperative if we are to fully realize the potential value of these investments.

Realizing this value requires broadening our thinking to take many more interrelating activities into account – moving beyond stand-alone IT project management to business programme management. Managing programmes of business change where technology initiatives contribute to business results in concert with initiatives to change other elements of the overall business system, including the business model, business processes, people skills, and organizational structure. It also means that accountability now must be shared between the business and the IT function – while the IT function is accountable for delivering the required technology capabilities, it is the business that must be accountable for realizing value from the use of the technology. This includes: deciding which programmes to undertake; ownership of the overall programme – including all the necessary  initiatives ; and ensuring that expected business value is realized over the full life cycle of the investment decision. Further, to support this, the business case for any proposed investment should be: at the programme level; complete and comprehensive – including the full scope of change initiatives required to achieve the desired outcomes; and a “living”, operational document that is kept up to date and used to manage the programme through its full economic life cycle.

We originally introduced programme management as one of the cornerstones of the Benefits Realization Approach in The Information Paradox. With Val IT™, we included it as part of the Investment Management domain (IM). OGC has also introduced Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) and, more recently, Portfolio, Programme and Project Offices (P3O), and the Project Management Institute (PMI) have extended their PMBOK to include Programme Management. The good news is that there is certainly no shortage of resources for those who want to implement Programmme Management. The bad news is that, while many organizations across the world have significantly increased value through their use of Programme Management, they are the “early adopters” with the majority of enterprises still lagging.

One of the reasons for this is that there is a common tendency to view programmes  as large, complex beasts – only applicable to large enterprises – and a mistaken belief that using the term will over-complicate things. Nothing could be further from the truth – certainly not when programme management is intelligently applied. Enterprise Resource Planning, Customer Relationship Management, Supply Chain Management, Business Intelligence, Social Networking, etc. are extremely complex programs of business change. Denying complexity – taking a simplistic view of change – only increases complexity. Only when complexity is understood can it be simplified, and then only so far. As Albert Einstein once said “Everything should be as simple as possible but no simpler.” The line between simple and simplistic is a dangerous one. Implementing organisational change requires changing our “traditional” approaches to governance – it requires that we “change how we change”!   Effective Programme Management is an important part of that change.

Taking the programme view can still however be a very daunting prospect – there can be just too much to take in all at once – unless an appropriate technique is used – one designed specifically for this purpose. In an earlier post, A Fool’s Errand, I discussed the need for a benefits mapping process (using Fujitsu’s Results ChainCranfield’s Benefits Dependency Modelling, The State of Victoria’s Investment Logic Mapping, or some other similar technique) to develop “road maps” that support understanding and proactive management of a programme throughout its full economic life cycle. Using Fujitsu’s Results Chain terminology – the one I am most familiar with – the process is used to build simple yet rigorous models of the linkages among four core elements of a programme: outcomes, initiatives, contributions, and assumptions. With the right stakeholders involved, and supported by strong facilitation, such a process can, in a relatively short time frame, result in clearly defined business outcomes and contributions, enabling management to ensure alignment with business strategy, define clear and relevant measurements, and assign clear and unambiguous accountability. They help to “connect the dots” and facilitate understanding and “buy in” of the those who will ultimately receive the benefits.

The challenge facing enterprises today is not implementing technology, although this is certainly not becoming any easier, but implementing IT-enabled organisational change such that value is created and sustained, and risk is known, mitigated or contained. This is where Programme Management, supported by benefits mapping can and must play a key role. The OGC states that: “The fundamental reason for beginning a programme is to realise the benefits through change.” In a March, 2008 Research Note, Gartner said that “We believe [strategic program management] is the management construct best suited to enable better business engagement, value delivery and risk”. Enterprises who want to enable such outcomes would do well to take a serious look at Programme Management.

Lies, Damn Lies and Business Cases

A 2006 Cranfield University School of Management study[1] found that while 96 percent of respondents developed business cases for most investments involving IT, 69 percent were not satisfied with the effectiveness of the practice. Specifically, they found that while 96% of respondents indicated that a business case was required for IT enabled investments:

  • 69% were not satisfied with the business case development process;
  • 68% were not satisfied with the identification and structuring of benefits;
  • 81% were not satisfied with the evaluation and review of results; and
  • 38% admitted that benefits claims were exaggerated to get the business

Stephen Jenner, described by John Suffolk, the UK Gov’t CIO as the “rotweiller of benefits management”, is quoted in the June edition of CIPFA‘s Pinpoint asking “Why is it that, if the rationale for projects and programmes is to realize benefits, they are so poorly articulated in business cases, and so few projects are able to demonstrate those benefits in practice?” His answer – “…that it’s not perceived in anyone’s interest.” Unfortunately, this is sad but true! Supporting the Cranfield research above, Stephen goes on to quote Bent Flyvbjerg – now BT Professor and Chair of Major Programme Management at Said Business School, who argues that the result is “the planned, systematic, deliberate misstatement of costs and benefits to get projects approved.” Now, when I was at school, this was called lying! Given the dismal track record of IT projects, specifically their failure to create or sustain value while incurring huge costs, we as taxpayers and/or shareholders should be demanding action. Why aren’t we? Because we assume, or have been conditioned to believe that this is “just the way it is”. It doesn’t have to be so! One key to fixing this malaise is an effective business case process.

Unfortunately, in most enterprises today, the business case is generally seen as a necessary evil, or a bureaucratic “hurdle” that has to be got through in order to get required financial and other resources. The focus is on the technology project, and the costs of the technology, with only a cursory discussion of benefits, or of the other changes that the business might have to make – as part of an overall business change programme – to actually create or sustain value from the use of the technology – changes that could impact the business model, processes, people’s competencies, technology, organizational structure etc. Business cases are also all too often treated as ‘one-off’ documents that are rarely looked at again once the required resources have been obtained other than, possibly, at a “post-implementation review”. I worked with one organization who were undertaking a $USM350+ implementation of an ERP. The business case was nine Powerpoint slides – not one statement in which was correct soon into the project. It was never reviewed or revisited. The results – well, you can guess! And, no, there was not even a post implementation review!

This current approach to business cases pretty well guarantees failure. A well developed and intelligently used business case  is actually one of the most valuable tools available to management – the quality of the business case and the processes involved in its creation and use throughout the economic life cycle of an investment has an enormous impact on creating and sustaining value. It describes a proposed journey from initial ideas through to maximising expected outcomes for beneficiaries (i.e. those whose money is being invested and for whom the return should be secured) and other affected stakeholders.

In the case of IT investments – or, more accurately, investments in IT-enabled change  – the responsibility for business cases, and the accountability for the promised return, cannot be abdicated to the CIO and the IT function. Boards, Executive and Business Management have to “step up to the plate” and take ownership. After all, it’s not technology itself that delivers value, it’s how the business – directed by the Board, Executive and Business Management – uses the technology that delivers value and they must be held accountable. I’m certainly not letting the IT function off the hook here – they must also be held accountable for delivering the required technology services reliably, securely and cost-effectively but they cannot be held accountable for how they are used or the results of their use/misuse.

The failure of enterprises to step up to this challenge is disturbing. The consequences are often catastrophic, with the costs being borne by taxpayers and shareholders, and the opportunity cost – the value not being delivered – having huge economic and social impacts on all of us. Again, it doesn’t have to be way – fixing the business case process would be a good start  – it’s time we made our voices heard!


[1] Ward, John; ‘Delivering Value From Information Systems and Technology Investments:  Learning From Success’, Forum (the monthly newsletter of Cranfield School of Management), August 2006