Technology is becoming more important than IT. Now that may sound strange, after all what is the difference between technology and IT. For years the answer was, not much. Corporate technology centered on automating corporate business processes such as ERP, CRM, SCM, PLM, etc. These technologies requires corporate IT to acquire, install, tailor and operate on behalf of the organisation. Emerging technologies were co-opted into this model through consolidation of start-ups or ‘maturing’ of the new technology.
A significant part of the internet has become ‘corporate’ as it has been structured, organised and packaged along either infrastructure or business process automation lines. While not all of the web is that way, the dominant way of thinking about technology has changed the application of the web to business.
The view of IT as technology applied to automating, structuring and managing business processes via applications and operations has dominated our thinking for the past 30 years – making technology and IT synonymous from a business and operational perspective. We assess new and emerging technologies based on their progression from raw ideas and machine capabilities into a set of structure solutions that allow anyone with the resources to reach the plateau of productivity.
New technologies like mobility, cloud, analytics and social media challenge this view. These are generative technologies, like the PC or internet they provide the basis for creating new solutions and innovation. They are a base set of technologies for amplifying the enterprise, changing its external relationships, how it handles feedback and eliminates distortions internally and within its value proposition. These technologies can include IT, but they can also go beyond our traditional notions and concepts of information technology.
Well through a view of technology as a means to open markets, attract customers, retain their attention, change their behaviour, participate in value creation etc. Mobility, cloud, analytics and the new range of technologies can do more than manage predetermined, prescriptive back office business processes. They can bring information, access, context, values, behaviour and a range of other things together to change the meaning of products, services, and work rather than just changing the way people work.
That view is emerging, but it is not from IT, it is from business leaders who are technology savvy. The difference is important to consider. Tech savvy executives see technology as a means to create an external outcome, one in the marketplace, with the customers, within the offerings etc. These leaders are concerned with behaviour, choice, context, engagement, attention, motivation, etc. They are not IT savvy in the traditional sense, as they are less concerned with internal operations, the limitations of legacy, etc. Notice the distinction between technology and IT?
By now you are saying that a business needs both technology and IT savvy and you are right. After all the innovations and excitement generated in the front office needs to be delivered in the processes and hard work at the back. You see this right now in discussions around mobility as people are looking for standard solutions to ‘manage’ mobility, control it, integrate it, operationalise it – put a fence around it even though we are just beginning to understand the free range of innovation surrounding it. That’s not a criticism of the need for emerging technology to mature, but it is an observation that we often want our technology to grow up into IT solutions too fast.
The realities of the back office do not negate the differences emerging between technology and IT, if it does, then the promise associated with mobility, analytics, cloud, etc. will falter. They will become new ways to do the same old stuff. They will focus on a different approach to automating business processes rather than creating new levels of innovation, value and advancement.
The alternative is to think about technology as including but being broader than IT. That view keeps the door open to the generative possibilities of current and future emerging technologies. It keeps the focus on how technology changes the business externally, rather than automating and integrating internally. It creates a path for current IT professionals to do more than fit new code, devices and computing into old paradigms.
It provides a way to think of how technology amplifies the enterprise.
Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs.