The real trick to innovating with digital technologies is closing the gap between business creativity and IT opportunity

1,000 songs in your pocket
That was the guiding vision behind the design, and then marketing, of the iPod. Not to be the best MP3 player (there were plenty already on the market). Not to talk about replacing the old-fashioned cassette-playing market leader referred to as a ‘Walkman’. Not to claim a new way of buying, storing and playing music. Just a simple guiding vision focused on the actual usage scenario – the ability to play any of one thousand songs from a small device tucked in your pocket. At the point of launch, the only MP3 players able to store 1,000+ songs did not fit comfortably into your pocket. And only the tech-savvy found it easy to get the songs transferred across to the device. Flash storage and an online music store changed everything. All summed up in a one-liner that didn’t mention either.

Whilst technology continues to move into the background in consumer-driven scenarios, the enterprise space is still dominated by far too much focus on the latest new product to gain popularity and how it’s going to destroy the market of an incumbent player rather than talking about what the opportunity means in real business terms for the organisation. In my world of digital workspaces, communications, collaboration, productivity and information management (not to mention my background at Microsoft) that talk invariably involves the death of SharePoint.

Just one recent example is an article on CMSWire about how Microsoft’s acquisition of Yammer spells the end of SharePoint for extranet scenarios. Really? That depends on what the purpose of providing an extranet is for. It doesn’t always involve conversation-led decisions. As long as IT roles spend more energy arguing which software tool is best for what technology capability, the gap between business and IT will continue to grow. A recent quote brilliantly summarised what really needs to happen:

The real trick is closing the gap between business creativity and IT opportunity – Jos Creese, CIO

That gap won’t close if IT people remain focused on the latest shifts in how technology works rather than why those shifts matter (or not) to where the business needs to be. And it won’t close unless business people at all levels in the organisation are prepared to disrupt how they work along the way. This is a journey where both sides need to be partners if a digital transformation is to succeed.

In the meantime, Apple continues to focus on what technology can do for people, not what other technology it replaces:

(video no longer available – Apple’s Christmas 2013 advert)

— Update 20th December —

After first publishing this post, I was pointed to a recent article on Betanews about the differences in language used by Apple and Microsoft when talking about their products, and how this has always been the case. When looking at recent upgrades to their tablet ranges – the Microsoft Surface and Apple iPad – Microsoft goes into detail about the technology improvements in the background. New Intel processor, upgraded circuitry, optimised battery life etc. Whilst Apple talks about what those improvements mean – faster, thinner, lighter.

It’s a reminder of how deeply embedded the culture of an organisation is. A leader can’t just articulate a new vision for the organisation and talk as if it were already so when actions clearly demonstrate otherwise. At Gartner’s CIO Symposium in October, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt touched on this in a brief comment that mostly went by unnoticed:

A company’s culture, once it gets to a certain size, is incredibly difficult to change

Many modern IT projects fail because success is increasingly dependent on factors far beyond the control of the IT department. Until technology moves into the background, not much will change…


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Flickr-iPodinPocketFeatured image: ‘iPod in your pocket‘ kindly shared on Flickr by Mayhem Chaos

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