I spent four hours recently with the CIO (and his team) of a large retailer discussing their strategy (or current lack thereof) for social applications. We had about 3 half hour prep calls for the session. After these prep calls I was under the impression they were too technology focused too early. It is always difficult when this happens because I have to tell them that it is too soon to talk technology and ecosystem. They aren’t ready for that discussion and it can be detrimental to their efforts. In doing this I run the risk of appearing that I can’t add value to the technology discussion and that I can’t meet their needs.
This technology before purpose problem is so rampant in IT. We see it over and over again. Buy an ESB then we are ready for SOA. Choose a social software platform and we are pretty much there, etc., etc., etc. Isn’t this somewhat unique to to IT. When I think about other industries I can’t imagine they take this approach. Do home builders go out and buy (or rent) a bunch of tools and materials before they know exactly what they are building? Do automakers go out and buy generic plant equipment thinking, “Well, we know we are building automobiles so just go out and get me some automobile building stuff and we will figure out how to use it.” Is it the strong culture out there that IT is generic infrastructure? Is it the enduring fallacy that we can buy now what we will need in five years?
Back to the retailer. Thank the Lord for the CIO. He was a no nonsense, down to earth, seen it all (and have the stories.. and pictures to prove it), experienced CIO who is skeptical of the value of IT. He recognizes that IT in itself IS NOT an asset. You must turn it into an asset. His opening remarks set the right agenda for the meeting. His goal was to understand the value of social applications and start formulating a solid strategy for exactly how they can apply them for business value. He nipped some of the more detailed technology centric questions in the bud with a statement something like, “How can we determine that technology need when we don’t yet know what we are delivering to the community and to our business.” They have bought some social tools and handed them out for some “experimentation.” He said the efforts have been disappointing because they lack focus on how to apply the tools to change behaviors. I think with this attitude they are starting down the path to success.
This is another validation of the importance of understanding purpose and building a purpose roadmap prior to thinking technology. A focus on technology before value and strategy is a sure path to disappointment.
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