Current users of IT asked to exercise restraint in the interests of future generations
Prof Colin Coulson-Thomas, Chairman of Adaptation and President of the Institute of Management Services, called for restraint in our use of IT during a talk on ‘Enabling or Disruptive Technologies: Lessons, Risks and Issues’ at the 2019 Global Information Technology Summit. Drawing upon his experience at Xerox, as a vision holder of complex transformation projects when energy markets opened up in the UK and overseas, and as a co-founder and chair of a winner of national and international innovation awards he also touched on the privacy versus security debate and how boards, governance arrangements and collective decision making struggle to cope and Governments and regulators play catch up.
Xerox PARC developed and used helpful AI environments in the 1980s. Their wider use has been agonisingly slow. The Adaptation chairman sometimes finds the least understanding of IT in corporate boardrooms. “The potential of AI seems to be forever ahead of our willingness and ability to sensibly employ it. Insecure directors do not know to whom to turn for independent and objective advice”. He suggested that our view of IT depends upon our perspective: “In themselves, information technologies are neutral. Whether they help us or harm us depends upon how we use them, who uses them, and for what purpose. We can use them to improve existing activities or to enable new business models.”
Coulson-Thomas finds that “Innovation is often agonisingly slow and more talked about than practiced. Many boards are risk averse and influenced by vested interests. They protect existing activities rather than enable new business models. While process vision holder of complex transformation projects as energy markets opened up, I encountered a willingness to spend millions on new suites of processes and systems that were largely the same as those used by most competitors, but a reluctance to spend relatively small sums on practical performance support tools that would quickly transform how people undertook difficult jobs, differentiate and deliver multiple other benefits for both them and the organisations concerned, while providing huge returns on investment.”
The Adaptation chairman believes: “Many inter-related challenges and opportunities are not addressed because CEOs and boards do not have a single department or an objective and trusted adviser to refer them to, and/or a collective or collaborative response is needed. IT governance and decision making needs to improve. We must think longer-term and be more flexible, responsible and practical. We need lifestyle changes and innovative and sustainable IT applications that address environmental and climate change challenges.”
Coulson-Thomas finds that: “Many young people are increasingly worried about the implications of our use of finite resources, including certain rare minerals and the question of whether, without innovation, future generations will have access to IT as we know it.” He concluded with some questions: “Will there be enough rare minerals to enable future mobile and other devices to be built? Unless innovation occurs, will our children and grand-children have to scavenge for rare minerals in thrown away devices in dumps of our rubbish during extreme weather events? Will we exercise restraint today to transform their tomorrows?”
The first day of the 2019 Global Information Technology Summit was held at the London School of Economics. The second day was hosted at Westminster in Portcullis House. Colin’s previous involvements with the UK parliament include being Chairman of BIM’s Crossbencher Parliamentary Liaison Programme and thirteen years on the Council of the Parliamentary Information Technology Committee (PITCOM). Prof Colin Coulson-Thomas, chairman of Adaptation and author of Winning Companies: Winning People and Developing Directors has been involved with IT for over 30 years. In addition to a variety of public, private and professional leadership roles, he has advised directors and boards in over 40 countries. Details of his latest books and reports on critical success factors and quicker, more affordable and less disruptive ways of transforming performance and practical support tools can be obtained from: https://www.adaptation.ltd/