The long history of business IT has been one focused on efficiency and optimisation. From the early days of computing power being used to help food manufacturers to crunch numbers, enterprise technology has been focused on automation and process improvement. The CIO has been, as one of my old bosses used to put it, "Director of Gross Margin".
But today the game is changing. IT is upending many sectors, and even those that are structurally immune to being Ubered are seeing significant shifts in customer expectation as everyone raises their digital game. And here lies the central challenge for IT: to be able to both optimise and innovate.
In my work at the moment there appears to be one area where this transformation is starkly in relief: the world of collaboration.
Collaboration means people working together. It also means a category of software product. And IT groups need to be extremely cognisant that not only does the latter not guarantee the former, but also that teams that are able to collaborate effectively (not just efficiently) are crucial to an organisation's ability to innovate.
You don't innovate through optimisation of processes. You don't, crucially, get insight from poring over masses of data - much psychological and neurological research shows that true moments of insight are most likely to be triggered when the brain isn't thinking "logically". Innovation, as soft and as woolly as this will sound, comes from giving teams space, some constraints, and a bit of time pressure. Good tools to support that can then help.
Think about that when you are next reviewing a business case for collaborative tools in your organisation. What's the story? Is it one of efficiency and person hours saved? One of cost effectiveness in infrastructure? If your organisation is driving purely for efficiency, then great. But if innovation is on your agenda, collaboration itself should be seen as a crucial lever, and so effectiveness should be as big a goal (if not eclipsing) efficiency targets.