by Mark Chillingworth

Transformation is about people, not technology

Jul 13, 20114 mins
IT Leadership

A week ago 36 CIOs gathered at Mercedes-Benz World in Surrey to discuss the transformative role they do and need to have in their organisations. As the editor of CIO and involved in the organisation of this event what interested me most was that the discussion took on a very people oriented theme. 
Mention transformation to many outside of the CIO sphere and they take our interest and knowledge of technology as an indication that transformation is achieved through the introduction of technology. Although the CIOs presenting have all been instrumental in the introduction of technology as part of a transformation project, all the speakers were focused on the human element of transformation. 
Speakers discussed the complex human relationships between senior members of an organisation and telecommunications billing in the public sector, as James Thomas, CIO at the University Central London Hospital detailed how his pioneering work with Azzuri has drastically cut costs, improved patient services and enabled the hospital to react to emergencies more effectively. 
Others talked of new business opportunities in financial services and marketing that leading a transformation project has unleashed from the people in their organisation. Steve Monaghan explained how the human element of transformation is also often outside of a CIO’s control as customers move to new ways of consumption, which his organisation Sony Music UK has been grappling with. Of course, cloud computing got more than a few mentions for its potential to transform not only technology, but again, the human relationships in organisations. Sponsors Star revealed how retailers are already seeing cloud benefits. 
All the CIOs presenting and those asking questions from the forum had a people centric approach to how technology is used. Time and time again CIOs talked of unleashing the workforce, giving staff greater control, allowing teams to make their own decisions and being free to experiment. This juxtaposed with the afternoon’s Mercedes-Benz driving experience in the shadow of the famous Brooklands race track near Weybridge. Taking part in the driving experience I was fascinated at how the Mercedes-Benz pitch for its cars is the opposite of CIOs. Mercedes want to remove control from the driver and prevent you from making your own decision and take control of the car away from you. A dizzy array of buttons, gadgets and driver aids took control away from the driver should they be foolish enough to over accelerate, brake too hard or take an SUV over the kerb. 
Although the Mercedes technology is undoubtedly clever, I question whether it really achieves its end game, which Mercedes claim is to make driving safer. The world’s roads are more dangerous now than when Carl Benz invented his first car and road death rates continue to rise around the planet. Driving the Mercedes cars and my wife’s similar car I’m always struck by how bored I become and how I lose concentration at the wheel because I don’t need to think about gear changes, clutch biting points or use my senses to listen to the engine or feel the braking forces. In these Germanic titans of technology you are merely a passenger who occasionally nudges the vehicle in the direction you want to go in. Can this be safe? 
The CIO forum concluded that embracing the ideas and intelligence of your organisation’s staff is better for the organisation. As our national society re-examines itself in the wake of the hacking scandals at the Murdoch owned News of the World, CIOs and their C-level peers are looking to make their organisations more transparent. Giving the workforce more control can lead to greater transparency. 
All of us in this CIO community enjoy technology and the power it gives, is there anyone amongst us who doesn’t marvel at the latest tablet operating systems or enjoy the power of instant information delivered by the internet? But we are also genuinely people driven leaders, keen to allow people to flourish. Perhaps if car manufacturers put some effort into making cars a sense engaging and physically engrossing experience the roads would be a safer, calmer place.