In most organizations, technology is neither properly understood nor managed. It is bought and it is used. 

Management expect it to do magical things like improve productivity without them having to be in any way involved in managing it. In fact, technology is so magical that it is expected to do the managing.

Take content management software as an example. What happens, time and again, with this software is that organizations pay a lot of money for it, install it and fill it with lots of content. Often this happens as a ‘migration’ from the old environment. There is close to zero management of the content. In fact, in a great many organizations, most content isn’t even owned. Nobody is in any way responsible.

Enterprise search is the same. Organizations think that if they buy the software and point it at the content then it will just magically create a perfect index and that everything will be really findable. That, of course, never happens.

Traditional managers have tried to avoid engaging with technology for a couple of reasons. The first and most important reason is because they are afraid to reveal their ignorance. Most senior managers simply don’t understand technology and are unwilling to learn. 

Secondly, because they don’t understand technology, yet know it’s powerful, they believe it’s magical. They believe they need to offer up alms to the IT department in the form of big budgets, because the IT department can make it rain and can make the organization more productive. Just like magic.

We are only now getting a new generation of managers who actually realize that technology is not magic. That it does require careful management to get the best out of it. This is what the essence of digital transformation is about. It is about the transformation of management practice so that it can better manage the technology that is essential to its survival.

Learning Opportunities

At the bottom of the Google News homepage is a statement: “The selection and placement of stories on this page were determined automatically by a computer program.” What Google is implying here is that its news is chosen by a totally objective algorithm, untouched by human bias.

Algorithms are the new magic. Algorithms, strangely enough, are written by humans. They can have inherent bias written into them or they can be manipulated in all sorts of subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Algorithms are most definitely not moral- or bias-free zones.

Facebook’s algorithms have been recently accused of having a liberal bias. Tay, a Microsoft chatbot, was supposed to behave like a friendly teenager but within 24 hours of launch had turned into a vile, hate-spewing Nazi.

I heard a couple of great talks by Josh Clark at An Event Apart held in Boston this month. His basic message was that it’s time to care. That technology needs to be thought deeply about. That it needs to be carefully managed. He quoted interaction designer Simone Rebaudengo as stating that, “Most of the people behind these algorithms don’t give a damn about you.”

Don’t make digital technology the new god. It’s complex but it’s not magic. We have a choice to shape the technology in positive ways before it shapes us in ways we might not like at all.

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