I sometimes have pictures explode into my mind – metaphorical pictures that tell a story. I am convinced God made all our brains uniquely with various strengths and weaknesses. For example, I am horrible at memorizing text. I can read over a sentence 100 times and you could ask me for the words in an hour and I will not be able to quote them. I will clearly remember the context and subject, just not the words. I do however see patterns in the world in amazing ways. My brain seems to be wired to consume large amounts of data points and then be able to see the critical connections between things. Which is all to say that the picture I want to paint for you now is important…
In the consulting work I do, I am blessed to be in and out of lots of organizations – large and small – and in all different industries. This gives me the chance to study how they do technology, and get a first hand view into how these digital tools support the team. Over the last twenty years, humanity has received an explosion of technology tools and platforms that lay the foundation for operating our organizations, and helping us each be more productive. We have woven together off the shelf technologies with custom coding and applications in order to build the digital plumbing we all run on. This is true for organizations at a massive level, and for each of us at a personal level. Individually, each one of us has woven together an inventory of devices, and a collection of software, in order to facilitate all we want to do in our personal lives and careers. Therefore, we have our own digital plumbing, and we participate in the larger digital plumbing of our employers.
Although ten to twenty years might seem like a long time to most people, it is a screamingly short amount of time if looked at in the history of humanity. So in just a brief flash, we have been handed a huge toolbox of technology. We all did the best we could to architect how we use it based on our individual interest and tolerance to invest time learning and implementing. Organizations have been spending liberally to lay in a foundation of applications and hardware that facilitate growth and improvement. Many made good short-term decisions that have now turned into a junk heap of pieces that do not flow data, and do not have the features they wish they had. Others threw obscene amounts of money at their technology in order to buy their way to prosperity, only to find out that bigger (and more expensive) is not always better. Then there are the few who have never understood technology, didn’t invest well, and are now faced with catching up, or going extinct. In short, we have a vast majority of organizations, and people, who are competing from a weak and shaky base.
Which takes me back to the picture in my head. Nearly every week I am doing some kind of evaluation of the digital plumbing of an organization, and constantly answering questions from audience members about their personal technology usage. It is very clear to me at this point that every person in the economy, and every organization, is operating on top of a pretty sophisticated collection of technologies (which make up what I call their digital plumbing.) For those who have a very undependable, unorganized, and half finished platform beneath them, it is a struggle to compete in a market with others who have made the investment of time and money to build more solid platforms. Those who have a solid platform of digital plumbing beneath them can now focus on winning in the market without the anchor of poorly executed technology draining time, visibility into data, and resources. This frees them to spend more time on innovation, customer relationships, digital marketing, and online collaboration.
From a timeline standpoint, I am very clear that we are at a crossroads where individually, and corporatly, we must build powerful technology platforms beneath our personal careers and organizations so that we can focus our energies in the most high value aspects of our lives, and our corporate missions. Those who fail to do this are stuck in a quicksand like cycle of burning more energy and resources than those around them which will inextorably lead to poor performance when benchmarked against those who have solid digital footing.
I am sure there are some people who will continue to refuse to learn new skills with technology tools, and they will slowly become less relevant. As there will also be organizations who built the 1.0 version of the digital plumbing, who are panicking and freezing at the thought of making the investment into a 2.0 version of their plumbing for fear of the costs and brainpower necessary to do it right this time. And I am sure that we will one day look back to this time and see that there were clearly winners and losers as people made decisions (good or bad) about how they applied technology in their lives.