I made a bet with a bank’s CTO that this year, saying the same “IT doesn’t matter” as Nicholas G. Carr in HBR in 2003 won’t elicit any of the violent response it did 16 years ago.
Technology doesn’t matter. Why would I say that when my company makes a software solution itself?
Because it doesn’t. No matter how revolutionary or fundamentally brilliant it is or will ever be, the tech in itself is of no value. In fact, we want it to be in flux, ever in development, never done, always questionable. What is not replicable are the cornerstone attributes of those of us making it.
Over the years this theme has incited many a controversy.
It’s progress that we no longer get up in arms when IT is compared to pure infrastructure which was the main criticism against his article with voices defending it as ever evolving and therefore incomparable to the examples he was using in the article and his following book – electricity, railroads or telephones which were limited to a fixed set of functionality and applicability.
A few years later, when CI/CD – which stands for “Continuous Integration – Continuous Delivery”- came about, Carr was further vindicated as technology moved from being a fixed asset meant to be created and used for years to come as a competitive advantage into a dynamic, ever-changing temporary advantage ready to be dethroned by anyone who wanted to build more, faster.
It’s progress that the terms around CI/CD have become mainstream enough that irrespective which side of the equation we reside in, business or IT we would have heard of it and understood it’s about ever evolving and that few contest that those who found the right process groove in their ways of work and can routinely deliver in a continuous delivery fashion may get to market 20x faster and have 98% fewer errors.
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We shouldn’t expect many people to have sat around pondering the difference between “CI/CD” and “DevOps” but those who did know the key ingredient that builds the nuance is the human element. (In broad terms that deserve a better debate, the former refers to a way to automate every aspect of software creation and integration whereas the latter includes why it’s encouraged, a view towards the business drivers as well as advocates an intrinsic change in the culture of the companies employing it.)
It is also undoubtedly progress that we all now collectively view technology as a means to an end and that end is giving the consumer the experience and service they need and not a goal in itself. This hasn’t come about from some altruistic a-ha crisis of consciousness global technology powered corporations have had but from the fact that the lessons of the ones consistently winning with the consumers have become mainstream enough for them to understand the dollar value of creating beloved experiences.
Not every company learned the same lessons mainstream and universally available as they are, not everyone lives in a DevOps cultural paradise of psychologically safe teams and Agile deliveries driven by human centered design hypothesis that is ever questioned, tweaked and improved but those that do, are laughing on the way to their digital banking app.
So I put it to you that few people would still object to the point that technology is but a commodity but at the same time, it’s easy to understand why that’s such a hard thought to let go of.
When we agree that technology is never an asset we have to look around and wonder what is. Customers are, undoubtedly in the way they relate to our companies. That relationship elusive as it is to create and maintain is what we must count as capital. But beyond that, what is truly an asset is our own people. Our employees. Their knowledge – not skill set; their emotional investment, their heart being into it – not their engagement; their courage and empathy and intuition – not their quantifiable number targets; that’s what’s a worthwhile asset we can count on. That’s what shouldn’t be seen as a commodity and why I am so reactive to the devaluating terminology in “Human Resources”.
So if those are our assets, if that’s where we know our capital is – the two people facets of the equation – internal and external, both sides of the coin strictly about humanity therefore by definition and as a function of our understanding of it, hard to comprehend, quantify and change or at least much, much harder than technology – of course, we’re all collectively weary to admit it. But we must.
Say it with me “technology doesn’t matter, the people that make it and those we make it for, do.” Once we agree this is our collective hymn sheet, we can focus less on things that don’t matter and spend more time figuring out how to make those people happy and do so “through” tech not “for” tech.