This is the age of 'just do it' for IT leaders

Without wishing to sound like a Nike advert, IT is entering the age of “just do it”.

One of the most important aspects of the digital transformation underway in Whitehall has been the Government Digital Service mantra of “show don’t tell”. If they see a need, they just get on and develop something to show people, instead of spending endless weeks gathering requirements and documenting specifications. “You want us to do that? Is this the sort of thing you mean?”

You can wrap it up in whatever buzzword you like – agile, disruption, digital, etc – but the essential change taking place in corporate technology delivery is the need to respond quickly and with flexibility to changing needs.

It is no longer acceptable to send your business analysts in to spend a couple of months drawing flowcharts and writing documents, turning that into a project spec and assembling a team to spend the next 12 months trying to make it happen. In the meantime, your “just do it” rivals have iterated their way to a competitive edge months ago.

Compare, for example, the online fashion players like Net-a-porter and Asos with their agile development approaches and constant updates, with Marks & Spencer. M&S used to outsource its e-commerce website to Amazon. When it decided to bring it back in house it led to a two-year development project and a “big bang” launch. Three months later, M&S online sales were down 8% year on year; in its latest financial results this week they were still down 6%.

Look instead at Nationwide – the building society has just become the first retail bank to offer a smartwatch app, for real-time balance checking. That’s a product that it is easy for some to be cynical about – jumping on a bandwagon, just a gimmick etc. But so what? Nationwide just did it – what is there to lose?

Some of the hoary old traditional IT suppliers are realising this too. HP and Microsoft, for example, have been justifiably criticised for a lack of innovation in recent years. But in the past week, HP launched its latest concept PC – strangely named Sprout – and Microsoft announced an internet of things headset designed to help visually impaired people find their way around unfamiliar places.

The success or otherwise of both products might be questionable – but it sends out the message that the suppliers are willing to try, to innovate, to just do it.

There will always be the occasions when a conventional “waterfall” style project is still more appropriate, but this is destined to be the exception. In a digital world, IT leaders need to be less “just do IT” and more “just do it”.