The Business of IT: The Third C

There are two powerful trends at work in the world of IT, both of which begin with “C.” Yet there’s also another trend that hasn’t been getting enough attention.

Romi Mahajan

You’d have to be living under a rock to not realize that everyone is talking about the two big “C’s” in technology: “Cloud” and “Consumerization.” These days, it’s practically impossible to escape either of these two concepts.

In just a short period of time, they’ve gone from novel concepts to entrenched ideas. There isn’t an industry pundit who can speak for more than a minute without touching on one or both. And there isn’t a company in the industry that isn’t working hard to lay claim to being a leader in cloud services or integrating consumer devices. The “idea-sphere” is filled with riffs on both cloud computing and the consumerization of IT.

What about the third C, though? This is the C that binds the others together—“Culture.” The industry doesn’t seem to be retooling its culture in ways significant enough to make good on the ample promises made by the other two C’s.

Culture of Change

The IT industry is too often led by platitudes and too infrequently by deep thinking. It’s easy to talk about consumerization as a clear trend (witness the rise of Apple and Google). It’s also relatively straightforward to discuss the ways this changes our industry. However, it’s hard to understand just what this trend implies for the organizational blueprint and culture of the modern enterprise.

Is every company laying claim to cloud or consumerization dominance hiring anthropologists by the truckload? Are they modifying their hiring and firing practices, their “employee review” procedures and their internal policies? Are they actively working to lay “The Peter Principle” to rest and support the notion that experience might be a mitigating factor in success, given the new era in which we’re working? There hasn’t been much evidence to suggest the industry gets that just yet.

Culture change in technology or any other industry requires a force born of both irony and contradiction. In most cases, those who preside over the commanding heights of decision making have to voluntarily unlearn, step down and cede the mantle to folks with far fewer battle scars and “experience.” Culture change asks the emperor to depose himself, the general to listen to the corporal, the parent to seek wisdom from the child. 

Culture change also requires a clear connection between idea generation and action. This connection was severed long ago by the “conservative layer” of middle management that only serves to absorb and negate creative energies. This is perhaps overstating the case, but no more than the industry is overstating the revolutionary changes coming to the fore with trends like cloud computing and consumerization.

If we don’t retool our culture, we risk diminishing our ability to make good on the promises offered by the first two C’s. Corporate culture needs to adapt to these emerging trends sooner rather than later. If we work assiduously, we may indeed usher in the era of dynamic change that we all discuss and welcome. 

It is my firm belief that the culture of IT can change more rapidly than the culture in other parts of the organization. This is partially because IT gets constant input from its customers. Areas like marketing, finance and operations receive only periodic input by comparison. It’s also true in part because so much of the change we’re discussing is led by IT.

It’s an exciting time for the world of IT. The sheer pace of change, the waxing and waning of empires within the span of a few years, and the complexity of IT-related jobs all point to huge opportunity. However, IT professionals won’t be able to successfully meet this opportunity without depth, thoroughness, coherence and wisdom.

Culture change can fall victim to the frenetic pace with which we conduct our professional life. For many in the technology profession, there’s little time to reflect, change, unlearn and learn. In the absence of doing so, however, we collectively encumber progress and create unsuccessful dreams.

Think deeply about your organizational culture next time you read about industry trends. Ask yourself, “How would I have to be different to truly drive the dream I’m offering?” It’s a sobering exercise, but one that will yield huge rewards. You’ll find reward personally, as will your industry. Then you’ll realize that to get to the third C, you need an abundance of a fourth: Courage.

Romi Mahajan

Romi Mahajan is president of KKM Group. Prior to joining KKM, Mahajan was chief marketing officer of Ascentium Corp. A well-known speaker on the technology and media circuit, he serves on a variety of advisory boards and speaks at more than a dozen industry events per year.