The ‘infinite monkey theorem’ posits that a metaphorical monkey punching away quite randomly on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will (almost without fail) produce a Hamlet, an Othello or any given text.
I was recently asked to lead an urgent external review on an enterprise CRM system for a medium sized global organisation that appeared to have relied on this methodology to create data value. The flag that had been raised was a planned move to a cloud based system and the subsequent highly visible and horribly erratic output during the pilot phase of the business intelligence dashboard; a device being very expensively touted as a panacea for shrinking margins and a rapidly eroding customer base.
The howls of anguish from a, till then, entirely complacent Steering Group were only matched by an apoplectic C Suite who immediately began to apportion blame and look for heads to sever as bonuses and objectives were being called into question. Add to the mix an irascible chairman, an upcoming audit and the first faltering steps in the courtship of merger. Build your own sentence using the keywords bargepole,15 foot and don’t touch.
The CIO/IT Director blamed the business users and business management for being too lazy, disengaged and too arrogant to capture data that would build the rich picture vital to achieve the project and thus business objectives.
The COO blamed the inflexibility and complexity of the existing system and said it delivered insufficient localisation to reflect the needs of country managers and therefore couldn’t and hadn’t been used.
The CFO said it met governance standards and was able compute how much had been spent on maintenance and development of the system in the last five years.
The CEO came down heavily in favour of the business users and blamed IT for delivery of a product not ‘fit for purpose’ and for spending far too much money on a demonstrably flawed system.
No one chose to mention the fact that the system had been viewed as critical to the business and had been in operation in one iteration or another for nearly 8 years. They also, all, chose to ignore the existence of sufficient memoranda, emails and committee minutes highlighting all the above to keep an industrial grade shredder busy for a month.
I am probably too experienced – some would say cynical – to be amazed by very much anymore but one thing did take me completely by surprise. In none of the discussions, nor in any of the documentation I was asked to review was the customer or the impact on the customer of either the existing system or the proposed product mentioned. I wonder what they would have said about that …?… If anybody had bothered to ask them.
I still wonder, in my more lucid moments, at what point modern business will begin to move away from a technology as cost model to technology as an investment discipline. The difference between cost of purchasing IT services or the investment therein, must lie in the managed expectation of future value/profit through the commitment of more than just hard cash by evolved businesses.
Time, care and intelligent attention to the detail of appropriate technologies and the appropriate usage of technology, must be enshrined in the objectives of C grade executives or IT will remain a beleaguered, costly and defensive corporate entity that sucks value instead of helping to create it.