Technology projects keep us all in business, writes Tarnveer Singh MBCS. But, amidst all the hype about new kit, methodologies and theories… are we forgetting about people?

In a world where the expectations of our customers are influenced by digital consumer services like Google, Amazon and Uber, the temptation could be to try and imitate them. People should figure prominently in your organisation’s technology strategy. There is a need to develop 'digital people' who have the depth of skills, expertise and the ability to communicate and collaborate with others from different disciplines.

The digital world offers exciting possibilities, but we won't optimise them without technologically powered, customer-centred people. We need all of our people to buy into the digital strategy and see it as a key enabler of competitive advantage.

We need to maintain and recruit the best staff. Our employees are no different from our clients, who purchase electronic products and services. Quick outcomes are anticipated, with streamlined platforms. Employment should not be something different than the other facets of our lives. We need to nurture our existing staff and all their passion, commitment and creativity, but this needs to be set against the background of a fast-changing, technologically advancing world.

It's unlikely that we wouldn't listen to consumer feedback, so it's equally important that co-worker views are always taken into consideration. This promotes a very new ecosystem in which technology, software, lean and agile operating processes are used to build experience for both consumers and employees. We will build internal social networks that can improve employee participation and satisfaction.

Despite good leaders, the development of a healthy digital society does not happen. It is about the duty of both the members and executives to create a lively and diverse new society. Leaders that do not show a clear technical capacity have limited expectations of pushing a digital culture to success.

A true digital change programme will be a major improvement to the recruiting policy for any organisation. Younger generations who have very different ambitions than their elders will eventually dominate the job market. It would draw the most ambitious 'millennials' and 'generation Ys' to forward-thinking, creative employers that are as technologically empowered as they are.

Implementing tech strategy

A digital strategy is painstaking, but by comparison, implementation is fraught with danger. Strategy deployment is challenged by complexities within the organisation. This includes employee motivations, vested interests, politics, cliques and levels of trust.

Successful deployment of strategy relies on aligning divergent stakeholder interests. There are uncertainties within the firm. Nobody can predict what is in the mind of another individual. Strategies are subject to bias or poor communication. Strategy deployment is challenged by how company assets are utilised to fulfil these aspirations.

Strategy is tested by complexities in the macro context. This includes rival firms, their strategies and the interplay between these. Complexities come from customers, their responses and the availability of required resources in the supply chain. Uncertainty in the environment impacts on the relative success or otherwise of technology projects.

Markets are fast moving and volatile due to the economic climate we are now in. Technology strategy deployment must be analysed to assess whether strategies produce anticipated or desirable outcomes. Strategies can be derailed by unexpected market deviations, lack of support from employees or consumer whims or fads.

Within an organisation, resistance from employees can cause technology strategy to fail. Staff motivation cannot be predicted. There is no perfect information or any one person with an absolute view. No one person has all the skills to resolve all strategic issues companies face. In reality organisations are dysfunctional.

Grounding strategy in reality

If we look at how strategy is actually devised in practice within a company, this provides a better approach which concentrates on answering what people engaged in strategising actually do and how they influence outcomes. It is important that we develop a strong insight and concentrate on the firm from a practical basis rather than on individuals or theory. This prevents strategy being based on top-down decision-making.

Technology strategists can note that this approach is particularly useful to help highlight potential issues that may arise in reality. Organisations sometimes do not factor in complexity or uncertainty. This allows complexity to be recognised. It focuses on the actions people do in reality.

Technology leaders may consider researching the prevailing organisation prior to technology deployment through observation (work shadowing, conversation and meetings), interpretations (interviews and questionnaires) and artefacts (minutes, plans and reports).

We can take some time to sit in middle management and executive meetings to understand how things are done. Technology leaders can consider how much uncertainty they face when formulating strategy. Is uncertainty low enough that they can develop scenarios based on how residual uncertainties might play out? Reducing to a concise list of possible scenarios minimises complexity.

It is helpful to formulate scenarios representing a broad a range of future outcomes. We can assess how robust strategies are, possible victory and failure, and approximate dangers in maintaining the existing state of affairs.

Leadership to overcome complexity

Vested interest groups within an organisation add complexity and can be analysed on their effect on internal strategy. Technology strategy can clash with other business strategy or objectives. Situations are determined through deviating interests of diverse cliques. Each group has enough influence to safeguard their goals. Firms are not coherent strategic bodies, but pluralistic with inconsistent strategic foci.

Multiple, disjointed and conflicting strategic objectives are a commercial reality. This causes tensions between knowledge intensive workforces like technologists with diverse professional identities and interests which may be antithetical to those of management. Hence, technology strategists can consider wider stakeholder interests for engagement.

Leadership backgrounds, personalities and ethos significantly affect understanding in circumstances encountered thereby influencing their decisions. Complex, ambiguous circumstances can be interpreted but not objectively known. Leaders are fallible to bias, jealousy, exhaustion, politics and egotism.

Charismatic leaders understand their audience and the situation and then strategically use rhetoric to influence others and their perceived ethos (credibility) in difficult circumstances, influencing their logos (appeal to logic) and pathos (appeal to emotions).

Technology leaders can make effective use of middle management. Middle management can be identified in many firms as drawing on tacit knowledge and effective in championing alternatives, synthesising information, facilitating adaptability and implementing strategy. They are vital in ‘telling and selling’ with important stakeholders such as staff, customers and senior leadership.

Technologists can learn to develop a virtuous circle by engaging staff such as middle managers throughout the development of technology strategy, inviting participation, providing coaching and developing strategic capability of people at all levels. Better understanding their individual needs can help align motivations. Greater use of away days, workshops and collaborative working platforms helps bring people on board.