We are constantly bombarded with the message that we are living through a period of unprecedented change; that technology is rewriting the rule book across all industries; that any organization that fails to fully master technology will become commoditized, obsolete, or extinct; and that the only possible solution to these challenges is to implement the latest technological miracle cure.
While we can discount the inevitable hyperbole — and, all too often, the self-interest — at the heart of these opinions, there is undoubtedly a foundational shift occurring in the information technologies that underpin our businesses and organizations. We have not yet found a consistent way to articulate this foundational shift; perhaps the closest we have come to a widely accepted definition is the categorization of business technologies into “digital” and “enterprise IT.” Digital has become synonymous with customer-facing technologies that embrace the world of social, mobile, cloud, big data, and emerging technologies such as AI, while enterprise IT remains the de facto term for back-office and enabling technologies.
These two categorizations extend to different worldviews and ways of working, with their respective practitioners adopting a tribe-like mentality to self-identify. The internecine battle between these technology tribes is a pointless distraction for most large-scale organizations. For these businesses, the new digital technologies and approaches will need to leverage and exploit the over 20 years of investment in enterprise IT if they are to fully realize their transformational potential. New digital capabilities will need to build upon existing IT-enabled operational capabilities.
In this context, the scope of digital transformation needs to be widened to incorporate both the harnessing of emerging technologies and patterns and the genuine exploitation of legacy technologies and services. However, we should be careful not to confuse exploitation of legacy technologies with the application of so-called IT “best practices.” Simply replacing old enterprise IT with new cloud enterprise IT by itself may not cut the mustard. We find this approach can often add to enterprise IT complexity (as not everything gets switched off as expected), and even the successful programs need to interact effectively with digital.
In this article, we will argue the past is a poor playbook for the future when it comes to delivering real business value from technology. Whilst successful exploitation of legacy technologies is critical, the best practices that the IT industry has promoted and applied for the last 20 years have little value in this endeavor.
In a fundamentally changed world, technologists will need to embrace and adopt “next practices” if they are to be successful. Before moving on to this challenge, though, we first need to establish that the situation we face as technologists has indeed changed fundamentally.