Thursday, December 20, 2018

Apply Soft Science Disciplines to Reimagine IT

Businesses today need to understand that IT is not just technical or scientific, but also artistic and delightful.

Through the traditional lens, IT is a hard science - the engineering discipline; through the digital lens, IT needs to embed art into the science and apply soft science discipline to explore the art of possible. Besides applying hard engineering disciplines to run a solid IT for achieving operational excellence, CIOs need to reimagine IT from design, cognitive, sociological, and philosophical, etc, perspective. IT management development should focus more on “soft stuff,” such as communication or culture, business relationships, and partnership, in order to build a creative workplace and reinvent IT to get digital ready.

The design perspective: Many traditional IT organizations still get stuck at the lower level of maturity to keep the lights only and keep things functioning. However, to digitize IT for building a customer-centric business, it’s important to leverage design thinking for delivering tailored products and services to delight customers. Actually, design in the product development is a full lifecycle of research-define-design-prototype-iterate-test, with the digital characteristics of nonlinearity and iteration. The design does need more recognition as thinking and problem-solving process. It is actually even a strategic differentiator. Design thinking is not a process, it is a collection of methodologies. Rather than focus on one method, as a team with broad expertise across a range of disciplines, there are choices of tools or methods appropriate for the challenge. From IT management perspective, the methodologies being put into design thinking bucket are somewhat unique and previously outside of the business norm, but have the great potential to reframe the problem which in itself is a huge contribution to IT innovation. The digital IT leaders understand how things like design thinking can fundamentally change organizations as well as their societal impact. The important IT management discipline is to focus on constantly building collective and differentiated business competencies by which the problems can be solved creatively, and IT can become the strategic advantage of the business. The important thing is to identify the common design principles and the shared body of knowledge that will help to raise design thinking from an inwardly focused semantic argument to the truly recognized digital management discipline.

The cognitive perspective: A digital IT with highly cognitive connectivity is like the nerve system of the business to collect, process and update information, to ensure the right people getting the right information to make right decisions timely. If traditional IT is perhaps like the "left brain" of the business, rationale, machine-like, and isolated, it is easy to get disrupted by digitalization. The digital era is about options and innovation. IT plays a critical role as a “whole brain” of the organization to process information, drive changes and build the high-effective and high-intelligent digital organization. The overwhelming growth of information and fierce competitions force IT leaders to get really creative about how they orchestrate and implement changes, to ensuring IT is strategically positioned to be ahead of where the business is moving next and guide the business in the right direction. If the digital business is a living system, and then digital IT with cognitive connectivity brings data-based insight, fine-tunes underlying business functions and processes to bridge silos, captures business opportunities and prevents emerging risks. A cognitive IT organization helps the business frame business processes and leverage limited resources to manage a well-balanced innovation portfolio in a sustainable way.

The philosophical perspective: To run a highly innovative IT organization, it’s important to apply digital philosophy and set guiding principles to clarify (WHY), not to manipulate (HOW). IT engineering practices and disciplines require scientific approaches and structural problem-solving capabilities. The science is the ability to produce solutions in a problem domain repeatedly. Science always needs philosophy. If there were no critical philosophy to add to the brainstorming, science will in the end loose ground. It cannot reason, deductively or inductively without logic. Philosophy is a Greek portmanteau of the love of wisdom. All the academics claim to love the information-knowledge-wisdom. IT is often the official owner of the business information, and play a critical role in managing collective wisdom. The digital organization is a living system. The most basic principle is that every system is a construct of the mind. Every system has an inside and an outside, created by the one defining the system. Running a borderless digital organization does mean less restrictive rules or bureaucracy, but it also means that the guiding principles become more crucial to be defined as decision and behavior guideline. Keep in mind though, there needs to be a pragmatic way of applying whatever principles to the problem in a consistent manner, otherwise, it is a waste of effort to even state them.

IT leadership is key to apply soft science disciplines to reinventing IT for getting digital ready. Businesses today need to understand that IT is not just technical or scientific, but also artistic and delightful. IT is no longer just the mechanical or monolithic hardware pieces to keep the business spinning or only a mechanism for realizing a vision described by others. Running digital IT needs to work cross boxes instead within the box, for connecting wider dots and unleashing the full digital potential.


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