Last May, at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium main-stage discussion on “Emerging Stronger from the Downturn,” one panelist listened with a growing private smile as his fellow speakers described example after example of how technology-driven information and analytics applications were transforming their companies. The stories were of data and analysis being used to understand customers, parse trends, distribute decision making, manage risk; they foretold of organizations being reinvented and management practice being rethought. They told of change, basically. A lot of it. Driven by ever-emerging technology and the new things it could do.
That was the point at which the panelist, a multinational industrial COO, turned to the audience and unofficially summarized, “So, the lesson: If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”
He’s right. Change is here. Failure to adapt means irrelevance. Time and progress march on, but at a Moore’s law pace instead of a clock’s.
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However, the focus on exactly what’s changing can be misplaced. For all the swiftness with which technology is shifting — getting smarter, more powerful, more cognitively “human” — it’s sometimes true that the attention we pay to the next new technology is a distraction. It distracts us from the changes that organizations could make with no more new technology at all — the changes organizations could achieve just by capitalizing on how current technology can enable them to capture, analyze and act on information. (Though the “just” in that sentence may be ill-advised.)
MIT Sloan School’s Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Center for Digital Business, talked about that kind of change in an interview with SMR:
“Although most of what I’ve been talking about has focused on changes in the technology, I think the biggest changes are going to be in the way the companies use the technology. If some catastrophe happened and technology just froze for the next couple of decades, I believe the pace of organizational change would continue just as rapidly, because we have so much catching up to do.