The rise of humanist IT leaders
It wasn't that long ago that an IT Department's two main functions were rolling out the latest Microsoft business applications and supporting employees who were having problems with their laptops.
Operating your laptop and systems back then was a bit like the days when it wasn't a question of "if" your car broke down - it was "when" your car would break down.
Things were simpler then and IT teams knew what they were supposed to do, users spent lots of time queuing on calls for IT support - it was just the way things were!
But we've moved on, and people have become much more IT literate, new players have emerged in the business application world, pretty much everyone's familiar with flexible working and how work is now an activity and not a place, a brave new world where people use a range of devices to access their information and communicate with colleagues and customers.
Business IT platforms now have integrated communications and collaboration systems - from both the established players and the new breed of social business collaboration and CRM providers, where the new platforms enable you to customise things to suit your operational requirements.
Collaboration technologies like Salesforce Chatter, Jive, Yammer, Spark and Slack ( the list is ever-growing) represent a new breed of technology that supports and enhances human behaviour - helping people start sharing, crowd sourcing, building networks and collaborating like never before. This 'new' IT needs oxygen to evolve and really make a difference. It needs ownership, collaborative management and most importantly - it needs nurturing!
And in the midst of this new world sit the old guard of IT - with a bewildered look on their faces. Whatever happened to the days when we were the only people who knew what this meant? When everybody was scared of new systems, and IT was there to help by showing them where they'd gone wrong!
Many senior IT people seem a little uncomfortable with the opportunities the new systems create for suggestions and requests for even greater effectiveness. It's as though their old hierarchical power is being undermined by a new breed of employees who can see new opportunities they can't.
In our dealings with customers we've come across some astounding things, like heads of IT who openly admit to ignoring all first emails (and most second emails) from people who are making suggestions or asking for some customisation. They clearly hope the ideas people will just go away. We've seen suggestions for cross departmental steering groups rejected out of hand, with comments like "this isn't a democracy". And of course the final tactic that surely kills off any initiatives; "I presume you've got budget allocated for us to look into your suggestions?"
The stifling of ideas to improve the way people work is clearly harmful to organisations, and long gone are the days when IT simply plugged something in and rolled it out, without any thoughts of user engagement.
These technologies are real enablers, and we need organisations to unshackle IT from the way it has operated in the past. Increased user engagement generates ideas that lead to greater productivity, efficiency and morale. And by respecting the users needs, the new platform can become the solution to many problems. Work democratically, and dare I say it collaboratively, to build something that's accessible and usable by all, rather than the creation of silos that limit creativity and potential. IT must go beyond the traditional deployment methods to a model that views systems as living entities. Gartner has been publishing a number of papers on why the old world of IT leadership, who demand and enforce obedience, is being replaced by Digital Humanism.
"As digital humanism becomes a major force behind the transformation to digital business, CIOs will need to lead their organisation on the journey. The first step is to change the focus from fixing problems to augmenting people's capabilities and effectiveness." Gartner, June 2015
A simple 'sausage machine' process just doesn't fit anymore - and the most enlightened IT leaders are the ones actively seeking user engagement, ideas and feedback. They see the value of tapping into the knowledge and expertise of employees, suppliers, partners and even customers. Actively engaging the people with skill and vision will ensure that a return on investment is realised.