Moving out of the fast lane

Principal Data Strategist, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence Read time: 3 mins
When it comes to new technology, organisations would be better served by slowing down and considering whether they first really need it. Holly Armitage explains why it’s better to hit the brakes
Moving out of the fast lane blog The US historian John Lewis Gaddis defined strategy as “the alignment of potentially unlimited aspirations with necessarily limited capabilities”.
 
The quote came to me as I was scanning through the British government’s recent Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign policy. Packed full of goals and aims, it sets out the “vision for the UK’s role in the world over the next decade and the action we will take to 2025” – it certainly makes for interesting reading. 
 
As you might expect, cutting edge science and technology loom large throughout – a pledge to “drive forward a modernisation programme that embraces the newer domains of cyber and space” is one of many transformational pledges to catch the eye. But listing such priorities is one thing, turning them into reality quite another.
 
Now this might sound a bit odd from someone who works for a technology consulting firm, but I believe that digital or technological or ‘whatever-you-want-to-call-it’ transformation is not actually about technology. Nor is it about the scale of the ambition and the resources available.
 
Rather, it’s about the game plan and reimagining and reshaping how you think. Being able to play in the digital age requires more than just a tech upgrade, it needs a strategy upgrade.
 

It’s not just about the tech

Look, I get why people can see a shiny new technology and be excited. I do, too. It’s a natural human reaction when you come across something truly ground-breaking – I imagine previous generations were similarly excited by Gutenberg’s printing press or Logie-Baird’s television.
 
And certainly, disruptive technologies can make things look super-duper easy. Suddenly, we can envisage streamlined processes, revolutionised working practices and an altogether easier life – at home and at work.
 
However, it’s also important to say that quickly developed and pretty prototypes belie the complexity of creating robust systems that work at scale. The hype is a double edged sword, and you risk being shackled to chasing the technology.
 
On some levels this is understandable. After all, when so many people and organisations are advocating how earth-shatteringly important something is, and how any organisation not on board is doomed to failure, it isn’t surprising that many start with the ‘how’ without first considering the ‘why’.
 

The power of the siren call

What I am increasingly starting to observe is how many organisations – regardless of the sector – are easily distracted by new technology sparkle. Like magpies, they end up chasing the hype of shiny new tech without pausing to really think about:
  • What it enables them to do differently within the remit of their core organisation purpose, and why it enhances their overall value proposition. 
  • What will the organisation will need to do to incorporate this technology (and its outputs and benefits) into its functions, and what will the organisation need to do to adapt its systems and processes appropriately.
  • What it means for underlying principles such as innovation, their customers/users, their data, their competition, their people and ways of working.
 
For me, this is the key reason we see so many proof of concepts failing to get out of the blocks and into production. In proof of concept-land everything is exciting, and the focus is on proving the idea could technically work without spending any time thinking about the broader issues, such as governance, ethics, data bias and so on.
 

Better building blocks

As my colleague Paul Spedding has rightly pointed out, organisations need to architect systems and governance from the outset. This is music to my ears because if you don’t do this from the start you have put your organisation into technical, governance and ethical debt from the very beginning.
 
In other words, they start on the back foot before they can even score a benefit. Which I find a pretty scary strategy and surely one unlikely to lead to long-term competitive success.  
 

About the author
Holly Armitage is a Principal Data Strategist at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
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Holly Armitage Principal Data Strategist, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence 7 May 2021