Digital Business Not a Spare Time Activity

Author

David F. Carr, Contributor

May 28, 2015

Wouldn’t you think implementing technologies with the potential to make people and organizations more productive would be high priority? I would. Yet efforts to make more ambitious use of collaboration, enterprise social networking, unified communications, and other workplace transformation technologies often get only passing attention from CIOs, who tend to pay more attention to the more technically complex and expensive “core systems” projects.

At last week’s Gartner Digital Workplace Summit in Orlando, one of the major themes was reconciling the need for enterprises to change the way they do business with the tendency of workplace transformation projects to be lost in the shuffle when they must compete for attention with all other IT priorities.

In that environment, the organization may pursue a few isolated initiatives and be able to point to “pockets of success” while making little progress toward anything more transformational. Implementing unified communications or social collaboration becomes something for the IT team to work on as time permits, in between other priorities judged more essential. Ironically, the relatively low cost of these workplace innovations can work against them because initiatives that command a higher share of the budget are often assumed to be more strategic.

The trouble with pursuing digital business by half measures is that an increasing number of businesses find themselves facing off with competitors who were born digital and move much faster. While the big enterprise is busy drawing up requirements documents and playing around with pilot projects, more agile upstarts are rewriting the rules of the market.

Over the past year, Gartner has been talking up the notion of bimodal IT addresses the conflict between keeping the business running and reinventing it. The idea is to maintain one mode of operations, which for many organizations will be the bulk of IT effort, that takes a more traditional, conservative approach emphasizing stability of systems and doing business with familiar enterprise systems vendors. This is the excellence of the marathon runner, moving steadily forward. But because business is too changing too fast for a plodding approach to be successful over the long term, enterprises IT also needs to carve out some energy for “mode 2” efforts where the emphasis on agility and acting more like a startup – the sprinter rather than the marathon runner.

Gartner talks about this principle in many contexts, but it particularly applies to efforts to reinvent the workplace and achieve the digital dexterity needed to remain competitive. Simply put, digital workplace initiatives will never make it onto the organizational agenda if they are forced to compete with every ERP upgrade and data center refresh.

As Gartner analyst Jeffrey Mann pointed out in one presentation, the work related to upgrading and managing core systems “expands to fill the available time.” As a result, a few small pockets of digital workplace innovation may pop up where a particular manager sees the potential, “but without an explicit mode 2 operation, you’re never going to be able to take it further,” he said.

If you are serious about changing the way your organization works, you must carve out some fraction of budget and management attention for digital workplace initiatives. Protect the people on that team from being pulled off for other assignments. Give them permission to be more adventurous in their choice of technology partners, perhaps picking a smaller innovator in Unified Communications & Collaboration over the usual suspects, the big IT systems vendors.

Gartner’s digital workplace vision is bigger than the social business and collaboration area I usually focus on, encompassing mobile and Internet of Things technologies like drones that are just beginning to make their business impact felt. Most of all, you need to give digital workplace innovators the freedom to think big and take action.

If they come back from their adventures with something promising, make sure you can take full advantage of it. At some point, successful pilot projects will require a mix of mode 2 agility and mode 1 discipline to be implemented to their full potential. Just make sure you don’t lose your ability to sprint forward as needed – don’t hobble innovation just to match the pace of the rest of the business.

This article was written by David F. Carr from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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