Thursday, September 22, 2022

Like a Rock: IT Strategy & Corporate Culture

We face many challenges in securing investments for modernization of information technology, systems and business solutions. Tight budgets, staffing issues, competing priorities and revenue shortfalls all conspire to create a very challenging environment in which to secure funding.
None of the challenges are as serious as our own corporate culture.
I had a friend that was the CIO of a local "aggregates" company. That means they sold stone in many forms and other building materials for roads, foundations and pilasters. I remember a conversation with him about Blackberry PDAs. This was about 2009 when we were all rushing to adopt the  Research In Motion (RIM) blackberry exchange server and roll out the Blackberrys. I was aghast that he wasn't interested and had no plans to move in that direction.
When in a meeting with local business CIOs, I called him out on it. How could he be so lagging in adopting this emerging technology? His answer gave me one of the best lessons I have ever learned in technology leadership.
He told me, and I am paraphrasing since it has been many years, "My customers do two things. They make little rocks out of big rocks. They sell the rocks to people they have been doing business with for years. They are not interested in technology, unless it helps makes little rocks out of big rocks."
This CIO was very astute. He assessed his corporate culture succinctly. It was all about strength, transformation and sales. Break the rocks, transform them, sell them, repeat. 
Our goal as CIOs is to marry technology with the business strategy, working within the confines of the culture, to equip the business to be successful. Note I said "working within the confines of the culture". Peter Drucker said, very famously, that "culture eats strategy for breakfast". My friend knew that his rock-based culture would trump any of his mobile device modernization plans.  
Does technology in an organization influence the corporate culture? Certainly it does. Does it drive change in the corporate culture? That is a risky and hard road to go down. In a business like my friend was in, it would not. In a more progressive industry like advertising, merchandising, etc. perhaps.
Sadly, I lost touch with this CIO and I don't know how his technology vision transformed the organization. He was talented. I am sure his energies were appreciated in  the fullness of time. I am certain his efforts either accompanied other cultural changes in the business or followed along other changes that were brought to bear by the market. Rocks require technology, after all. 
Think about your corporate culture for a moment. First of all, do you understand it? Does your technology strategy enable or inhibit the corporate culture? Is your IT strategy in sync with, or at odds with, your corporate strategy? Think of ways you can use the corporate culture to move your strategy ahead. As an example in my friends case, I would have suggested he demonstrate the hardened version of the Blackberry, the one you could run over with a tank. It was as tough as a rock. That would mesh it with the corporate culture!
We have enough challenges as IT leaders in gathering the resources needed to equip the business to be successful. We don't need to add to them by butting heads with our own culture. 

No comments: