2012 #3 Don't confuse your personal digital experience with business

Your personal experience of the worlds of technology toys, tech bling, and personal computing do not tell us about how the world of business will change in response to technology. Tweet this

It all started with a tweet from @VigilantGuy "Burrus: use technology-driven transformation 2 ur advantage - ex. record-to-disc-to-mp3 transformed how we listen to music #simposium2012". I know I drive Matthew Hooper (VigilantGuy) crazy at the best of times, but this time I think I really bugged him by replying "all business analogies drawn from consumer experience should be punished. Business is business". We went back and forward from there. I will now revel in the broad expanses of email to better explain what I meant.

Many of us are immersed in a personal digital experience, surrounded by iCandy (iPad, iPod, iPhone, iHateApple...) and Kindle, and cars that talk to phones, and fridges that talk to who knows what. That personal experience changes at a staggering rate and has undoubtedly had a major impact on the lives of those wealthy enough to be living the digital dream.

A smaller proportion of us lead a business life that revolves around websites and tablets and little apps banged up by agile teams on Windows machines and Amazon clouds. This is especially true of start-ups and new businesses.

A phenomenon of human thought that you can only do a certain amount to prevent is when you start to project your own personal experience onto the world: you start to think everybody and everything else is experiencing what you do; you start to see the world through the lens of your own experience.

I mocked this bias in a post about CMDB http://www.itskeptic.org/cmdb-swiss-bank-account

To get back to my point - and I do have one - this amazing personal magic-carpet-ride gets projected onto business, and we get told that the world of business will be transformed by dazzling new technologies; that change will happen in a year or two; that users demand the same experience at work that they get at home; and so on.

It just ain't so.

You are not a reflection of the world

Your personal digital experience is governed by one person (or perhaps two counting your spouse); funded by the end user; and planned based on status and gratification, not ROI or TCO. The risk of change is minimal; the compliance and standards constraints are non-existent; the effort to change is measured in hours; much of the legacy data is disposable or at least of sufficiently low value that we write it off; the rest of the data we manually migrate; and the complexity of change is so low that you plan it in your head.

To extrapolate from your own experience - or even the experience of your small business or nimble start-up - to the world of business is delusional. It is that projection phenomenon at work.

Business has mass and momentum, and some basic physics

Business change is slow, expensive, and dangerous. Businesses are built on top of almost priceless data assets that must be protected; and on information systems that represent huge investments that still need to be realised; and staggering complexity that costs a fortune to overcome.

Sure, internet of things and semantic web and Cloud and BYOD and chips implanted in your ear are great ideas. They will all appear in business, in good time. There are still companies out there with apps with character-based interfaces; or running Windows XP or earlier; or Novell. MVS and CICS and COBOL are still with us, growing even. Look at how long something as simple as IPv6 is taking to roll out.

Even when all these spangly new technologies do appear in business, they won't change the fundamentals. e-commerce didn't change the principles of profit and loss and cashflow, as a number of companies found out the hard way. The laws of economic gravity are not suspended by new tech. Cloud does not erase the need for governance, management, or assurance. Agile and devops do not conjure away risk. And BTW, BYOD is not a basic human right.


There are age-old rules of business that must still be observed, and the kids in suits who don't observe them put at risk the money of the grown-ups who own their employers.

Apple is not reality

There is another related fallacy where the impact of wild technology change on retail technology companies is used as a model for business change. If you sell tech-bling like Nokia and Blackberry and Sony then you better watch out for radical shifts in your market. But iof you don't sell tech bling, then not so much. If Apple or Microsoft - or Saint Steve - get cited one more time as a model for how the rest of us should conduct business I'm gonna throw up.

When we talk about the impact of technology on business can we please talk about business. What technology does to your personal life or your new little company or some tablet-maker is simply not illuminating when we consider large complex established organisations.

Related posts from the blog (don't forget to check out the comments! Always good):

The future of IT management I'm misinterpreted as saying I don't think these things matter, or they will have zero effect. I'm not saying that. I'm saying they won't change our strategies in the governance of IT, they won't change the principles by which we operate, they won't change the overall practices we employ.

The cult of innovation novelty is king; development/improvement a headlong rush into the future; only the bleeding edge survives. We ought to know better.

The cult of the customer Examine your assumptions around "customer first". Often but not always. There is such a thing as over-servicing the customer. Who is paying and what do THEY want?

Cloud is a distraction to IT's day job You're an undisciplined rabble of kids who run out the gate to dance shrieking around anything shiny or noisy that comes along the road.

Talk of IT innovation is the last gasp of the IT cowboys All this crap about IT being innovators who lead the business is the last gasp resistance of a generation of geeks who can't stand the idea that IT is about as exciting and creative as building roads

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