In many companies today, the “consumerization of IT” is turning into the “Digitization of IT.” The spreading of consumer technologies and services into the workplace is being expanded into a larger set of IT practices, borrowed from Silicon Valley innovators and adapted to the needs of enterprises in a variety of industries.
The old IT was analog IT: A single-purpose function designed to automate specific business activities, provide support and governance, and “keep the trains running on time.” The new IT is digital: Multi-purpose, extremely flexible, weaved into every aspect of the business, and gushing with unexplored and previously unknown opportunities.
The digitization of IT means that the IT organization is both stable and innovative, fault tolerant and fast learning, reliable and experimental. It solves the paradox of “safe is risky, stable is dangerous.” It promotes a culture of constant change which ensures resilience, and experimentation which safeguards continuity. Yes, you can have the best of both worlds.
Driving this change in the way IT is perceived and managed is what MIT’s Peter Weill and Stephanie Woerner call total digitization. They recently wrote in the HBR Blog
: “We believe that managing total digitization is one of the biggest opportunities and challenges facing enterprises—and their CIOs—today. We are already seeing companies in which the total digitization spend is over 25% of the operating budget and expect this will become commonplace. In our ever-more-fully digitized world, you need to strategically manage total digitization or you run the risk of digital anarchy in your enterprise.”
I agree but I also think that they define total digitization too narrowly: “A multitude of digital devices and sensors creating streams of data, as well as any number of digital services and products for both internal and external use, distributed throughout the enterprise, and sometimes, but not always, connected.”
The digitization of everything is much more than devices and services. At the center of the wave of digitization is the use of digital data to do something new—to gain a new insight, to start a new venture, to launch a new product, to redesign a supply chain, or to engage with customers through new channels. Digitization is a process of constant innovation.
Digital IT introduces new tools and applications at unprecedented speed while servicing the on-going needs of the business. At Facebook, updating a business that serves more than 1 billion customers is done by releasing multiple new versions of its software daily without causing one minute of downtime. Just like the consumerization of IT, this type of practices and this new culture of IT are spreading fast to enterprises everywhere, influencing how they perceive and manage their IT activities. Total digitization requires total commitment of the enterprise to frequently change how it operates internally and engages externally. Digital IT is a crucial component of the new digital enterprise.