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New wave technology: where is it, then?

20170731_Aikman01I’m currently intrigued by the new wave of technology that we are NOT seeing in the real world. 

For example, TSB and Visa famously and recently had some wee problemettes that had the Twitter IT community baying for blockchain.  Presumably, it wasn’t in use. 

And a few weeks ago, I went to Rethink! IT Europe 2018 with the great and the good. And even there I was struck by what was NOT happening in robotics, AI and machine learning.  The conference was stuffed-to-the-rafters with talented CIOs from large organisations with forward-looking colleagues.  And yet very few of them appeared to be authentically using, in production, all the new technology we hear so much about.  Yes, there was some nibbling round the edges, with partial implementation of some aspects of these technologies. And yes, there were some brilliant and innovative ideas from people in major brands: but even these were at only-just-passing-proof-of-concept stage.

So why are we not truly and comprehensively using all the tempting new technology?  Why are CIOs not climbing over each other to be first to market with it?

I have discussed this within the CIO community and we have identified four clear areas of blockage to the adoption of new technology:

Solutions looking for problems
Tech startups – especially academic spin-outs – often have fantastic ideas.  They invent, sometimes simply because they can.  They launch, sometimes before it’s all thought-through.  A visionary CIO will put two and two together and see the opportunity for particular forms of new technological innovation in the organisation and seize the day. 

But not everyone is that imaginative.  And there are so many bright ideas out there, often on shoestring marketing budgets, it would be very easy to miss the niche item of technology or application that will be the perfect fit for your need.

We need better methods of showcasing and matching innovation with need. The current IT conference system, which favours established and well-financed vendors, is not it

Education, education, education
My colleague Chris Weston believes that a key need is education.  At the moment, most innovators need to do much better on translating their offer for the market.  Solutions have been devised, but the buyers and decision-makers are not always fully-appraised of why they need this particular technology for existing business problems.

And some solutions might look impressive, but its difficult to see what customer benefit this new technology truly represents.  Innovators – and those CIOs who get it – need to work hard on telling the story of why a technology has client-relevance.

Perhaps worse, some senior decision-makers have misunderstood the capabilities of the new technologies.  These people are giving silver-bullet-status to something they read about in the Sunday Times, and chivvying CIOs to install it forthwith.

I believe CIOs need to revise their own job descriptions.  We will need to patiently take on the role of explainers and educators if we are to have any hope of adopting the best and most useful elements of the new technology.

Fear factor
Of course, it’s easy to assume that cultural risk aversion is what’s really putting the brakes on.

If this were the case, it would mean that CIOs know just what’s out there; and understand precisely how new technology could benefit the organisation and its customers.  However, those CIOs are surrounded by people who are afraid that leaping into the unknown and using unproven technology might be too risky. The CFO worries about cost; the CMO worries about reputational risk; the CTO worries that the technology we’re looking at might be superseded before its even deployed; and the CEO just sees TSB and worries… 

So CIOs, says industry commentator Matt Ballantine, are in the unenviable position of having to make a rock solid business case for untried technology, to a nervous audience.

And even if this persuasion is successful, the testing will then need to be exhaustive (e.g. model, pilot, test, retest, remodel the retest, and test the pilot, twice) to assuage fears.  Consequently, none of us at the moment are anywhere near going live.

Structural problems
Finally, there might be a fundamental barrier: the role and degree of influence of the CIO within an organisation.

As described above, adoption of new technology by the senior team is, as a minimum, confusing, uncertain and risky.  That leadership team is not going to pursue such a dubious path – at speed – unless it is reassured and persuaded by a high-status peer in whom the team has confidence and whose judgement is trusted, almost with blind faith. 

So once again, I suspect that some of the slow speed at which the new technologies are embedding is down to a structural problem.  Many CIOs still lack sufficient influence over the organisation’s decision-making to persuade senior colleagues they need to rapidly seize the opportunities that new technology presents.

And therefore,  I don’t think we can expect to see AI, robotics and machine learning woven throughout every UK organisation within the decade. At least.

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About Mark Aikman 4 Articles
Listed in the CIO 100 for 2017, Mark is a Technology Leader working with Global companies, IT operations and leadership of highly complex change and digital transformation programmes. He has an innovative and contemporary approach to leadership and partnership, and is passionate about delivering successful business outcomes using technology rejuvenations. His background spans many verticals such as FMCG, Finance & Insurance, Oil & Gas and Telecommunications, leading major operations and transformations at North Group, BP, T-Mobile and the Cadbury Schweppes organisations.
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