Technology builds the business. Technology refines the business. Technology grows the business.
Technology is the business.
Robert Plant recently wrote an article over at Harvard Business Review that started turning the wheels in my pen-and-paper, words-kind-of–girl head. Plant claims that IT Has Finally Cracked the C-Suite.
With the proliferation of cloud computing, business units are able to take control of their technology needs instead of relying on their IT department. Freed from “911 HELP” calls hailing from other departments, the tech experts can bring their knowledge to the decision making table, using information technology to achieve business goals throughout all departments.
According to Plant, these IT minds, who were formerly housed in the Data Center, will “no longer be at the periphery, but will be fully integrated into the core strategic work of the firm, the business itself.”
In other words: Technology becomes the business, no matter the industry.
Tech Infiltrates the Biz
So, what does the infiltration of technology do to the business?
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
Instead of the marketing team working alongside the finance guys, who work alongside the product gurus, who work alongside tech team, all of these departments, including their goals and strategies, begin to overlap and work in tandem.
They can no longer conduct “business as usual” because business as usual can’t function in this tech-driven, digital environment. Instead, goals must be integrated and strategies cohesive. Most likely, experiences across the previous siloed departments will inform each other, teach each other and propel each other.
In breaking down these departmental barriers, technology has unleashed a hell of a lot of data. Case in point: the oft-quoted stat from Google’s Eric Schmidt back in August 2010:
“Between the birth of the world and 2003, there were five exabytes of information created. We [now] create five exabytes every two days. See why it’s so painful to operate in information markets?”
That amount of data, by itself, is ambiguous and abstract. It means nothing without context. Along with some understanding of number crunching – which you will not learn in this post, my apologies – you need to understand people, as author and data scientist wannabe Ciara Byrne learned from Jake Kyamka, founder of the Insight Data Science Fellows Program: “Data science is not just about number-crunching … It’s all about people. The data comes from what people are doing; great data scientists have an ability to understand people and the ideal result is something which is going to help people.”
Well, ya don’t say, Jake. Data people have to be people-people, too.
But it’s not just the data people that have to understand people. The product development people have to, and the finance and marketing teams must as well. This digitally integrated reality requires a macro understanding of the company and its context in society, in addition to a micro mastery of the nitty-gritty. One unit’s decisions affect the strategy of another unit; you can’t make moves in isolation. Rather, you must know the full story.
A Return to Holistic Education
To me, the requirements of this digital reality sound like the reasoning behind liberal education. According to the Association of American Universities and Colleges:
“Liberal Education is an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g. science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth study in a specific area of interest.”
The idea is that by involving ourselves holistically in the world, we are more able to understand its patterns, tendencies, problems, etc. And from understanding comes an ability to apply knowledge to solve problems in other areas, i.e. your business.
It appears that the future will go to those individuals, those teams, those organizations that are able to simultaneously maintain a macro understanding of their environment and a micro mastery of a specific area of their field, as a business does not exist, rather cannot exist, outside the context of society.
So, grab a book. Watch a documentary about the Gold Rush. Research Russian history. They just might help you navigate this chaos.