When the business is the IT service provider
Your organisation might not be a unicorn like Amazon and Netflix but there’s a likelihood that it’s a digital enterprise. That’s an enterprise with which customers – and other stakeholders – have non-trivial interactions via a digital interface. This may be in addition to old-fashioned personal interactions. In a service economy or experience economy, the enterprise’s success strongly depends on how the customer feels before, during and after the service or experience.
The profit is in the detail
Considerable attention has to be paid to the design and execution of these interactions – both the devil and the profit are in the detail. Digital and human experiences should be consistent with each other and of course, satisfying. Interactions with uncompromising algorithms are just as bad as those with inconsiderate people. Unsurprisingly, designing and co-creating digital experiences requires in-depth knowledge of both the business context and the use of information and related technology.
The crucial question is how to organize this knowledge work. Traditionally, business people and IT people have been segregated. They worked in separate locations, both physically and culturally. When a ‘person of IT’ had to visit a business area, they were tolerated but treated with suspicion. The sooner the interaction was over, the better. For the business, this segregated way of working with IT as a necessary evil had the advantage of not having to invest too much time and effort into understanding IT and collaborating with those people of IT with their strange symbols, rituals and values.
Equal rights for IT
But this all changes when business people realize that IT isn’t just a utilitarian business resource, but is something that they really need to embrace, understand and integrate into their regular activities. It’s the difference between the chicken and the pig in producing an eggs and bacon breakfast: the chicken is involved but the pig is committed. Once the business has taken this step and has offered equal rights to IT, several changes are likely to occur.
In this new setting, people of IT are regarded as equal (although quirky) co-workers, rather than order-takers to be blamed when things go wrong. Trust is fostered by sharing not only opportunities but also limitations and concerns. The traditionally loosely coupled transactional way of working morphs into a tighter collaboration with co-creation by people with complementary capabilities and closer interests. Multi-disciplinary approaches such Agile and DevOps are highly suited to co-creationism, particularly when the business needs a rapid response to unpredictable event.
Things will improve – they might just improve without the IT department
What are the implications of this co-creationism for the traditional IT department? First and foremost, if the IT department doesn’t go with the flow, the business will start acquiring more IT knowledge and IT people. The IT department will then be regarded more as an operational service provider than as a strategic partner. When all parties are focussed on and motivated by desired outcomes, formal service level agreements will become less relevant. There will still be requirements, but these will often be implicit, given the mutual understanding of the business context. As far as loyalty is concerned, the IT practitioner will feel committed to the business domain and at the same time part of a community of people with the same IT discipline.
This shift is one of decentralization of power and relocation of IT practitioners. It is imperative that the business takes ownership and the collaborative activities take place in the physical business setting. The tempo of these organizational changes will vary from enterprise to enterprise, and the business baton will beat time until the business has morphed into an IT service provider.
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