Change management needs to keep pace with technology innovation

This is a guest blog post by researcher, author and change adviser Geoff Codd. He is a fellow at the British Computer Society and the Institute of Directors. His book, The Drowning Director, is out now. 
Progress in IT exploitation by business and government has been strewn with damaging disasters as well as notable successes, and change management has certainly not kept pace with technology innovation
Massive IT project failures have been repeatedly investigated by the National Audit Office and the Office of Government Commerce over many years, and poor communication and collaboration between the main parties involved in bringing about change was identified as a major contributory cause of many project disasters.
It is deplorable that this situation has been with us for decades and yet the same problems recur time after time as though those lessons from the past mean nothing. Unfortunately the underlying truth is that the critical importance of those lessons was not understood by those at the very top in business and government, who have continued to apply huge pressures to achieve unrealistic and impractical business change objectives.
In the public sector, the politicians who are really in the driving seat have their own political agenda and we see a melange of often conflicting driving forces for change, each of which takes little cognizance of the critical success issues of the other parties in the change process. The consequential damage that flows from inadequate understanding and poorly aligned driving forces is self-evident.
A deep rooted cause is undoubtedly the manner in which we introduce IT systems into business and the public sector; where the IT professionals’ relationship with their users has remained largely unchanged since computers were seriously introduced into business in the 1950s.  Typically, business managers utilise IT skills and services that are managed and driven by very different management dynamics and cultural imperatives. 
Consequently, those with responsibility for business leadership now need to raise their game in order to become more intelligent users and better informed investors in, and drivers of, IT stimulated business change. There is a need to generate a better understanding of their own business and its threats and opportunities within the new IT context, and of the critical success issues in relation to those threats and opportunities.
Unfortunately today’s typical IT steering committee does little to encourage or facilitate the raised awareness of critical success issues that is now needed at a senior level. We need a more appropriate board level forum for our age – a process change management board – which would provide a means for board members to become more intimately involved contributors to the IT enabled business change process. 
Such routine top level involvement, and exposure to areas that have traditionally been outside their comfort zone and sphere of competence, then becomes an ongoing educative process that generates more perceptive and better informed direction of the business change process. It is a truly virtuous cycle. 
The considerable benefits that flow from setting up the process change management board appear quickly and grow exponentially. That is not however the end of the story because it is also the foundation for a more appropriate 21st century IT exploitation management framework. 
As this forum matures, it places critical demands on those lower down within the organisation through more perceptive questioning, better informed appraisal of performance and a growing demand for new business intelligence to inform strategic planning. 
A natural consequence of this arrangement is a decision making process that takes account of IT constraints and business opportunities and risks in equal measure, thereby avoiding many of today’s poorly informed business or political gambles with ultimate success.  
Accountability for success or failure then lies clearly at the door of the members of the process change management board, which in public sector terms might well include the government minister who is actually the driving force for change. Now there’s an interesting thought that must be worthy of debate.
The case for radical action is clear. Best practice is impotent if the environment within which it operates is unsupportive, and in some cases even downright destructive. This is a vicious cycle that must be broken.
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Good piece by Geoff. This leads us straight back to the recognition that we need better governance of IT, in particular governance mechanisms that involve and implicate senior organisational leaders in the consequences of IT-enabled change.
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