The past 25 years have seen one corporate IT revolution after another, like waves crashing on the beach.
How can corporate information technology staff support businesses more effectively in the face of continuous technology revolutions? The recent book "The Technology Doesn't Matter" by Rachel Lockett, chief information officer of Pohlad Cos., addresses the topic.
In the mid-1990s, the overwhelming majority of computing at major corporations was performed by mainframes, as it had been for 30 years. Then over a short time in terms of corporate change, client/server computing was introduced.
Within years came the dot-com era, with business-to-business and business-to-consumer computing developing at lightning speed. After the dot-com crash, it seemed that corporations would be busy for a long while fine-tuning internet computing.
But in less than a decade, smartphones and social networks shook the foundations of IT. Most recently, data science and artificial intelligence have once again turned IT on its head.
IT professionals repeatedly relearned how to efficiently leverage powerful and flexible new hardware and software technologies.
At the same time, business executives often fumed at the mixed results of their large investments in IT, and at IT's tendency to prioritize implementing new technologies over adding business value.
Some commentators suggested companies slow down the introduction of new IT, learning off the trial and error of early adopters, as Nicholas Carr famously did in his 2003 Harvard Business Review article, "IT Doesn't Matter."
But it increasingly became clear that companies did not — and still do not — have that luxury. If you are not constantly innovating, you could easily lose markets to companies built on a digital foundation.
Change in the realm of IT is unlikely to slow down. But if technology revolutions have become, in industry parlance, "a feature, not a bug," how can IT increase its effectiveness?
It is important to consider the IT field like an engineering discipline. Civil engineering is 2,000 years old. The Romans knew how to grade roads and raise arches. Electrical engineering is 150 years old.
Modern IT is generally considered to have begun in 1965 with the IBM 360 mainframe. Information management, which critically enables "a single version of the truth," is about 30 years old, as is the World Wide Web.
IT is slowly maturing as an engineering discipline. Methodologies like DevOps — a combination of software development and operations, borrowed from manufacturing process optimization — are turning IT operations from a craft to a repeatable process.
Software development will continue to become more intuitive in a "no code" future, enhanced by AI tools like ChatGPT. Business people will become increasingly savvy relative to data and analytics.
IT will, in the words of pioneering management consultant Peter Drucker, become more focused on the "I rather than the T" — the information, rather than the hardware and software.
Lockett's book is written for a joint audience of business and technology leaders, with the objective of improving the alignment between technology's function and business strategy.
Lockett maintains the interest of technical and nontechnical readers alike with an engaging style, humorous anecdotes and numerous case studies.
Topics addressed include the four types of business executives relative to their relationship with IT; the prevalence of information technologists who are on the autism spectrum (it's a competitive advantage) and how to manage and develop them; and the implications for increasing the representation of women as technologists.
"The Technology Doesn't Matter" is a somewhat rare find. The majority of books on IT are written by technologists or strategic consultants.
Lockett's book is a primer full of useful heuristics on how to optimize the return on investment of corporate IT, shared by an executive with over 25 years' experience in the field.
Isaac Cheifetz, a Twin Cities executive recruiter, can be reached through catalytic1.com.