When conventional wisdom goes wrong

Many times I’ve seen decisions on critical business IT hampered by conventional thinking. They used to say “nobody gets fired for choosing IBM”. Now, the safe thinking is to upgrade or otherwise remain with incumbent technology. This is perfectly understandable and often the wisest strategy – better the devil you know – but it’s also a strategy that guarantees that a business won’t evolve. If you’re not in the business of evolving, that’s fine, but most organisations have to move with the times.

Site LogoBut there’s another behaviour that is just as short sighted and that’s to go with the latest new technology. Working with start-ups can be fun. They’re eager to please and will be more responsive to special requests. It’s exciting to feel that you’re not just implementing bleeding edge software, you’re actually pioneering. I’m reminded of another one of those other old business adages – “pioneer and disappear” and “the second mouse gets the cheese”. Pioneering is a risky business and generally it is the first movers that pave the way for the others rather than actually succeeding.

So what is the best approach when implementing or upgrading? Stay safe and stick with the incumbent or go for something new and more current? There is of course no single answer however, those making decisions do have an important responsibility to ensure that they are properly informed. Choosing to go for the start up because their technology is sexy is not good enough and neither is the safety first tactic without consideration of the alternatives.

The hasty decision to go with the start-up is not so common, at least not in large organisations but I see all the time, intelligent, senior decision makers opting for what they know without exploring what they don’t know. I saw a great example of this recently. I watched with despair as a CFO chose an OCR solution to address a paper problem in accounts payable. Why? Because in a previous life he’d done that before. He didn’t think strategically. He’d sought some advice but chose to ignore it. He went for what he thought was safe. He stuck with what he knew. Regrettably, what he knew about AP automation wasn’t a lot. What he didn’t know is that many of his major suppliers were already sending electronic invoices to their customers. He also didn’t know that his ERP system was more than up to the job of accepting them. He also didn’t appreciate that as the world economies become more and more digitally based, he would increasingly be pressured by his suppliers to stop asking for paper. OCR has its place even in 2016 and I don’t believe that a decision to opt for OCR over e-invoicing is necessarily wrong. However, in this case it was the wrong decision based on wilful ignorance. It was a case where conventional wisdom went wrong.

It can be difficult to find the time or the bandwidth to keep up to date on new and emerging trends but there are industry analysts that do just that. Take safe decisions by all means. There is merit in safety and risks in going for the unconventional but there is no excuse for blinding yourself to the alternatives by relying solely on out of date, conventional wisdom.

Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin

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