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IT Transformation 30 years on

By Darrell Woods, Senior Account Manager at Devoteam UK

September 2018

Devoteam was the first, to my knowledge, to unite our multiple offers and present ourselves to the market as leaders in Digital Transformation, back in 2015. This conveyed succinctly that we were agents of change, with the outcome foremost in our minds, leveraging the huge leap that digital technology was playing or about to play in all manner of business and consumer activities.

The IT Industry sadly does have a lemming-like quality and loves to follow someone else’s lead before then flogging it to death so that the original clarity and meaning is buried in over-familiarity.

Current examples of this could include

– AI
– Cloud
– Bots

To focus then solely on the “Transformation” example. Glance around in 2018 and everybody is transforming into something else, and this term has the added advantage that you can insert virtually any word in front so thus we have Business Transformation, Digital Transformation, Transforming Customer Service and many others.

The word is old, Latin-based and defined as “A marked change in form, nature, or appearance.”

Now we have all been involved in some projects (upgrades for supportability reasons, anyone?) where minimal change was a project objective but these are historical relics. It seems obvious that unless there is a desire to make a meaningful change then there is no requirement. So one would suggest that the key word here is “marked” or “significant”. Assessing what this means is a fundamental skill of a salesperson – since (a) it can mean many things within a single organisation (b) the individual motivations for and resistance to change are profound competing forces (c) people rarely offer up the full reasons for change in anything short of an interrogation.

Like all “hot names” transformation is starting to look less shiny as advocates either inside the client or from the supplier add it to all engagements to make them sound more important. I suspect that many IT projects are somewhat less transformational than we would all like to think for a host of reasons or are, perhaps, only “Step One” on a journey that can only go as fast as the slowest moving parts.

Assuming that profound change is desired, then Transformation suggests scale and cost. If it were easy, like a snake shedding an old skin, then companies would just do it themselves, right? Well no. We are all aware of historical estimates, made since the so-called ‘software crisis’ of the 1960s, of over 70% of the cost of software development being spent on maintenance after a system has been implemented. This highlights the limited bandwidth and funding that most organisations have left after wrestling with BAU issues. If you then layer on fundamental human resistance to change then one can see why the individuals who are successful change agents out there are so valued.

To quote Darwin: “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”

To quote Darwin: “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”

So we all agree it’s really hard. You are fighting inertia, personal agendas and the consequences of hundreds of legacy decisions that may well all have been right at the time given the technology choices available at that time. Just to make it more interesting, the speed of IT innovation and time to market (with capabilities let’s not forget and less so the solutions they are labelled as) is increasing faster than ever. Cloud, DevOps, Microservices have given developers a richer palette and removed some of the tractor tyres strapped around the leg of more traditional projects. To give an idea of the acceleration in IT development, IDC forecasts that digital transformation spending in Europe will reach $272 billion by 2020, a 37% increase from 2017*.

One of my old bosses from away back told me that IT is the place to be if the fact that a new set of challenges every year needs to be addressed by a new set of IT functions – this is either supremely interesting intellectually or is too weary a burden since what you know and can be sure about has a very brief shelf life – and I oscillate sometimes between these points of view like everyone else depending on the day I am having!

So why do it? because if you are working in IT the quest to solve business problems so that your client can gain even a slight advantage in their competitive market is tremendously rewarding. And let us be in no doubt that Transformation is a journey that has been going on for some time….

This month marks my 30th Anniversary in paid employment in the IT Industry. Only 30 mind – I joined a $6billion US tech company, NCR, in 1988. Transforming the way we work through better use of technology sounds like it is new/current/straight out of the packaging… However, marked change has certainly already occurred as here are a few of the things I recall in the world of work when I started:

  • We still had a telex room with a telex operator sitting in it all day, barely evolved from the wireless operator in the wild west towns of 120 years earlier;
  • You got a VDU where you could choose the colour of the text – amber, green or white. This had basic word processing but not yet a Mouse, and anything important was typed by the secretaries;
  • You could smoke at your desk;
  • If out of the office, a friendly colleague would answer your phone, have an actual conversation with your contact, and then write a “while you were out” message on a small specially printed pad;
  • There was no email. Internal documents moved around through “the internal post” twice a day (assuming you were in the same office) where you crossed off the last name on the envelope and added the next recipient.

Without mobile devices there was no “always on” pressure and similarly friends and family were more distant. Instead, you became more connected with your work colleagues, forming the sorts of bonds that are almost unimaginable today

To prepare for a presentation someone would need to pick up a letterhead or similar and Kev would create their logo one pixel at a time so that it could be added to each 35mm slide. You would go to the meeting with the carousel tucked under your arm. Your prospect would then sit in the dark (no questions till the end) while you presented.

No, I’m not Rip Van Winkle. And this was in an IT company! However, one nice sidebar about the cyclical nature of IT was that my first role was in Marketing – in a team focused on AI and Expert Systems! Plus ça change…

Transformation as a generic stamp will probably soon be replaced by a new favourite term across the industry, but the impact of marked change on the ways we work will continue to be profound. Covet your fellow change agents inside the customer – they are rare jewels not easily rediscovered. They also get bored quickly – so befriend them and then follow close behind to their next employment – the best lead source you can have!


*Source: “The Digital‐Native Enterprise: The Red Hat and Devoteam Success Formula” | IDC Partner Spotlight, Sponsored by: Red Hat | Author: Jan van Vonno, July 2018. Read here.