Digital is in Wild Wild West and IT is stuck in Legacy… Now what?

Digital and Customer Transformations are more difficult for more complex and larger businesses. In earlier stages of their Digital Maturity, as they transition from functional silos to more value-centric and cross-functional organizational structures, it is very common to hear the following the “us vs them” sentiments. IT reflects on borderline negligent adoption of technology (often driven by customer demand) may say “Digital is in Wild Wild West” (also play on “www” in website addresses). Digital teams frustrated with slow speed of progress often respond “IT is stuck in Legacy Land”. The part of the picture often not represented is the customer perhaps reluctantly saying “My time and money is a scarce resource so get your act together or I’m going to someone else”.

The Big Picture

Before we tackle this “point of time” issue and provide specific recommendations, let’s gain a broader perspective and context. The problem isn’t necessarily with Digital or IT. The “problem” was initiated because customers are more digital and have more product / service options (especially in the global market). There are many industries like government services where the customer doesn’t get a “choice” and simply suffers. The conflict described above is a common “messy middle” state during Digital and Customer Transformation. And in my humble opinion, it is NOT caused by ignorance, stubbornness, negligence, or resistance to change. It is caused by lack of alignment in how to realize divergent purposes / mandates of siloed departments, in this case Digital and IT.

Please permit me to oversimplify a few things just to clarify my main point. For many (not all) InfoTech departments, OPERATIONAL STABILITY (WHY) is the primary purpose. And this mandate is often perceived through availability, uptime, and security (HOW). This is realized in part through infrastructure, policies, procedures, audits, etc. (WHAT). And this USED to sufficient but the customer changed. Customer takes this stability for granted and wants far more. Whether you perceive this as a problem or opportunity, many companies pursue this new direction through Digital / Customer transformation. Digital teams are often born as technology becomes a core part of customer experience. But their purpose is not stability but rather CUSTOMER SATISFACTION resulting in REVENUE increase (WHY). This new exciting fresh mandate is more glamorous and often perceived through streamlining and digitization of customer experience (CX), voice of customer measurement, and much more (HOW). This is increasingly (but not exclusively) realized introduction of web / social / mobile experiences, introduction of human-centered design, and insatiable appetite for new product / service innovation.


Unfortunately, the way organization manage this change often increases the chasm between the two groups. Instead of solving the issue and aligning on how all teams are to embrace the new direction, they permit and in some cases even endorse this DIVERGENCE OF PURPOSE. Digital pressured by rapid changes in customer demand, tries to accelerate changes and in many cases is unintentionally ignorant + negligent to why specific IT procedures and policies existed in the first place (to provide high stability). At the same time, IT is pressured to maintain stability and security amidst rapid advancement in new technologies and pressures from their internal clients. No wonder they clash. All this to say that neither IT nor Digital is to blame. Blame people in your organization that provide direction or are negligent to align the direction in face of customer change, not to mention create a new culture to empower this change. Feel better? Probably not because you want to know how to resolve this messy middle? Great let’s keep going!

Fortunately the solution is quite obvious. We see parts of it already through shifts like Lean Agile adoption, UX adoption, and DevOps.

Here is the SOLUTION

  1. STOP THE BLAME GAME. Even senior leadership most likely didn’t know how to manage this new industry shift. Assume “positive intent in a difficult situation” and agree to move forward.
  2. Realize and appreciate that at the core you SHARE A COMMON PURPOSE to benefit the business AND the customer. Let this be your starting point, your common bond, the new lens through which you both look for solutions.
  3. Being a new journey by REMOVING KNOWLEDGE GAPS on both sides. Educate each other. Executives need to invest time to align top-level mandates. Ensure that mid-level (managers / team-leads) take bridging courses like DevOps. Provide lower-level cross-training opportunities like job shadowing.
  4. Ignore organizational power struggles and partner through PURPOSEFUL COLLABORATION & CO-CREATION. Together align on problems and solutions. Focus on causes not symptoms.
  5. IMPROVE INCREMENTALLY, share in risks, celebrate together and fail / learn together. Continue being united through your SHARED PURPOSE and use that purpose to resolve your differences.
  6. When you are ready, INVOLVE THE CUSTOMER to point you in the right direction. There is nothing better than actual customer behaviour and feedback to direct ideological or product conflicts.
  7. PASS IT FORWARD as I’m doing here. Don’t keep these deep insights & knowledge to yourself. This is an industry wide problem / opportunity. Share it with other businesses, peers, and professional communities.

Shameless Plug

And yes if you need help with this challenge, either through training on coaching / consulting, feel free to reach out to us. We’ll be happy to help.

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