How does anthropology fit with today's CIO?

One of the key tasks for a CIO is to be a horizon scanner using your thorough understanding of the business to identify the opportunities where new developments in IT can lead to business disruption or enable business IT transformation to help you meet your organisation's objectives.

One important element of this is not only understanding the business from the board's point of view, but being able to take a look at the business from the outside; from your customer's point of view and, more widely, from society's viewpoint. In fact, it goes deeper than the point of view. It encompasses current and likely future behaviours of your customers and society.

For example, you may be thinking about how 3D printing or augmented reality has the potential to disrupt your business but in order to do this have you considered looking at what is dubbed as "design anthropology"?

Is 'design anthropology' a buzzword or something for CIOs to take seriously?

Some of the larger technology companies have been working with anthropologists for a number of years including the likes of Intel, HP, IBM to name a few. It's been a key component in understanding mobile development in the third world as well the development of the driverless car – learning and understanding how people drive cars today in order to understand what design elements need to be taken into consideration.

What is it?

Anthropology is described as 'the scientific study of the origin; the behaviour; and the physical, social, and cultural development of humans'. Design anthropology has been described as a merger of the study of humankind with design thinking. It's an area that many anthropologists are interested in working in order to help influence technological innovation.

For the CIO, there are many considerations but the two biggest are understanding how your customers behave and also understanding how your team behave, want to work and work best.

By understanding the behaviour of your customers, you can design the technology that will better appeal to them and greatly improve their engagement with your organisation. Getting to grips with the potential impact, positive and negative, of any developments can help you to truly develop or innovate successfully and give you the edge on your competitors. With the rise of Big Data many organisations have the opportunity to do this, looking at the data from many sources to build a truly accurate picture of behaviour, but it does require expertise and buy-in by the whole organisation. No easy task when we already think we know our customer.

This mindset has led to a greater understanding of some of the more potentially disruptive elements of changing behaviour. Avis bought zip car not as a play for greater market share in airport based car hire, more because the trend is no longer aspiration for car ownership but a subscription and convenience-based model. Instagramers are agnostic towards ownership, passionate about experiences. Which retailer or brand will become synonymous with 3D printing?

However, it's not just your customer you need to consider. As a CIO do you see people in your team who you think aren't achieving all that they could and might benefit from a different way of working? By understanding anthropology you could gain a real insight into your teams and how to enable them to do their jobs and better achieve their full potential.

Some organisations are embracing change in working practices to achieve a greater relaxed, more flexible and creative approach. Look at Google Campus for example, where offices are built around creativity and have a more relaxed atmosphere without the standard desk based layout.

There has also been a shift in the way people work across an organisation, with a move to multi-disciplinary teams, matrix management and agile working. By understanding our teams, acting as a coach and mentor, we can really help to develop the teams not only to achieve the business objectives but also to allow people to excel. There's also the benefit being able to attract and retain real talent.

CIOs who understand the technology, their business, the behaviour of their customers and their teams, have the potential to drive and deliver successful innovation.


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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