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Summary

"Digital transformation" has quickly become one of the IT industry's hot topics, but it is not all good news. While there have been some clear successes, there have also been some high-profile failures, caused in part by a lack of attention to driving cultural change. Leading change is about leading people – it is about creating alignment, building commitment, and constructing partnerships. This is not a new message, and variations have continued to resonate through the ages.

Humans can be remarkably adaptable, but poor leadership can stifle innovation

Over the years, there have been many examples where the thought leaders of the time have taken the easy path and have poured scorn on the inevitable challenges of technological change.

In recent history, much has been written in the media about the potential negative consequences of the Internet and social networking. In 2008, Nicholas Carr wrote a popular article, "Is Google making us stupid?" in which he argued that people were losing the ability to focus on detail and follow logic because they had become more accustomed to skim reading information off the Internet.

Carr is not alone in questioning the way technology development is affecting the way people think. Indeed, there are many historical equivalents where similar claims were made about technology. More than two thousand years ago, classical Greek philosopher Socrates complained about the invention of writing, and that it might be having an adverse impact on people's brains. He believed that writing "will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it. People will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing."

Complaints about technology's adverse effects have continued throughout history. In 1815, Thomas Clifford Allbutt (famous at the time for inventing the medical thermometer) complained there are "a number of nervous maladies resulting from living at high pressure – the whirl of the railway; the pelting of telegrams; the strife of business; the hunger for riches; the lust of vulgar minds for coarse and instant pleasures …."

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we now know the practice of writing did prove to be extremely useful. People did not lose their memory but gained a valuable tool for recording far more than the human memory could possibly contain. We also know that telegrams and locomotives did not fry people's brains, and the Internet did not create an epidemic of stupidity.

It is OK to be an IT person

Good leadership needs to draw upon the same underlying qualities of human ingenuity that have helped humanity to adapt and succeed across the millennia. Today, we are again faced with challenges that are about not only managing projects but also leading people.

It is also time to consign the phrase "I am not an IT person" to the rubbish bin. This phrase no longer reflects business reality, and it is clear that the next generation of millennials frankly do not even care. Technology has become an inevitable part of the business landscape. It is no longer appropriate to cling to a past where it was the practice to separate the two. The big challenge for today's contemporary enterprise is fixing not only legacy systems but also legacy thinking.

Appendix

Further reading

"Is Google making us stupid?" Available from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/ [Accessed: September 27, 2016]

"Disruption needs greater consideration in ICT strategy development,"IT0007-000904 (August 2016)

"National economies can profit from the global digital gold rush,"IT0007-000899 (July 2016)

"Managing cultural challenges as technologies converge,"IT0007-000878 (March 2016)

Author

Kevin Noonan, Lead Analyst, Government

kevin.noonan@ovum.com

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