Spending some time with my kids at the weekend I was struck by the generational differences that exist in our expectations of time. I am not talking about the classic 'seems like only yesterday' stuff that we all find ourselves saying once we are north of 40. This is much more about the expectations that we have about what can be achieved within a specific timeframe. My kids simply expect things to be completed faster. Part of this is simply a child’s impatience but there is something more to it than that.
My kids have grown up in a world in which you can access almost anything instantly. Surrounded by, and immersed in, digital technology their ‘always on’ environment means they expect instant results. When they want to buy something they pick up whichever device is closest and buy it. These days they don’t even have to wait for it to be delivered – they can click and collect. When they want to contact someone it’s the same deal. They expect an instant response... step away from your phone, tablet or computer for just minutes and you will miss entire conversations. You even have sites like SnapChat that delete images within seconds of them being posted. There is a lot you can miss in the time it takes boil a kettle or (god forbid) have an actual face-to-face conversation (a very old fashion concept anyway according to my son who seems to be connected to his friends 24/7 anyway).
So aside from making us all feel really old what does any of this mean? It means that the world is moving at a faster and faster pace and, as the people that make the world (or business function) go round, CIOs need to respond. This isn’t just about getting updates out quicker and answering your emails, it’s about the speed with which concepts become reality, how fast we accept/ reject/ prove/ disprove ideas and how quickly we can respond to the needs of the business. It is no longer acceptable for projects timelines to be in months, it needs to be days. You have to be able to determine the feasibility of a concept in hours rather than weeks. The windows of opportunity are now so small and so fleeting that a new product or service has to be created, tested and ready to go in the time it takes your average management consultant to send an invoice. Of course flawless execution is a given for the CIO, the business assumes that IT have learnt from the chaos of the first and second Internet waves, new approaches delivering new age applications.
Some industries have cottoned on to this need for speed already, usually setting up a Lab in Shoreditch! One of the start-ups I mentor is a company called Red Badger (www.red-badger.com) they are a company built around rapid prototyping and minimum viable products (MVP) using agile and lean processes which is essentially a methodology for turning ideas into reality at fast pace and lower costs. They are also advocates for a new way of working which gets rid of the time consuming, ineffective and usually poorly managed engagement processes favoured by most big organisations (see previous rant about procurement) in favour of an approach that includes the design and build of a prototype as part of the ‘pitch’.
When you think about it it’s a bit of a no brainer really – a kind of try before you buy – but the problem is that the mindset of the average business is that technology is complicated, expensive and takes ages to implement so you can’t ask a supplier to start building anything until you have committed to them and put them through the procurement inquisition.
Of course it’s in the interests of the big software companies and systems integrators to perpetuate this myth. After all they don’t want to commit time and billable resource to delivery until the contract is signed. But when you think about it its hardly surprising that eight out of ten IT projects run over budget and overtime when you don’t actually know what you are buying. It’s the same kind of insanity that sees school pupils being asked to write a paper on app development rather than actually develop an app!
To take it back to the issue of pace it is critical that CIOs find ways to deliver faster but without compromising on quality or increasing the risk to the business. Working with smaller, faster and more flexible suppliers means that not only do you have a partner for whom you are important but you also get to learn about new methodologies like rapid prototyping and discover new ways of working. These are companies designed and built in the modern world – not wedded to the 1990s when it was perfectly acceptable for an IT project to have a three year implementation plan.
It was really re-freshing to hear at the CIO Summit, Michael Paulson CTO at the Co-Op outlining that the Co-Op are embracing this approach, changing the culture to ‘test and learn’, moving at a faster pace were value is achieved faster as releases arrive at the customer more frequently.
Of course as I explained to my son last weekend it isn’t true to say that faster is always better. There is a time and place to take things slowly (exam revision for example) but IT implementations need no longer be one of them.