Zero One: Culture and Tech Go Hand-in-Hand

What technology your company uses says a lot about what it’s like to work there.

Companies struggle making changes to their culture in order to win in the new digital economy. Corporate culture is a tricky, complex problem and one of the giant obstacles facing digital transformation. So what can companies do to create a speedy, agile innovative culture?

One area most business executives overlook is IT. Technology is often pushed to the margins of most companies, only becoming visible as a roadblock to worker productivity. But believe it or not, a company’s IT mirrors its culture.

“If you show me your IT stack, I can typically tell you your culture,” says Jeetu Patel, chief strategy officer at Box, speaking at Mobile World Congress in San Francisco this week.

It’s true that IT has been a big blocker of cultural advancement at most companies. Perhaps this is why they lack a culture that grows with the times. However, Patel contends that companies can change their culture by changing technology.

For instance, if a company transforms its legacy IT stack to a more progressive one, this can lead to a more transparent culture, which, in turn, encourages the sharing of information. A siloed IT stack, on the other hand, leads to information hoarding and a culture of internal turf warfare.

It’s important that companies don’t allow this kind of culture to slow them down in a fast-moving digital economy. That is, companies must become disruptors or risk being disrupted. They need a culture of speed, agility and innovation – the seeds of disruption.

Related: Zero One: Why Can’t Companies Get Culture Right?

With speed and agility, it’s easy to see how agile computing and DevOps support them. How companies adopt new tech also plays a role. Case-in-point: A CIO’s RFP requirement, jam-packed with useless features and taking months to complete, opens the door to shadow IT, thus creating a culture of end-arounds.

Another speaker at Mobile World Congress, Monica Adractas, director of Workplace by Facebook, a collaboration tool, says business leaders who have specific problems tend to make the buying decision, not IT. More often than not, Workplace by Facebook gets bought directly by the line-of-business executive.

The biggest correlation between IT and culture, though, happens in the most important place – namely, a company’s ability to innovate.

Consider the fact that smart people want to innovate and solve difficult problems -- “The harder the problem, the better the talent you’ll attract, and the higher the probability you’ll succeed,” Patel says. But smart people want tech tools that allow them to focus.

If a company deploys technology that causes friction to the employee experience, it’ll be difficult to create a culture of innovation. Consider security technology, which has traditionally been at odds with user productivity.

Patel says companies should take a lesson from Apple’s new iPhone X, which uses facial recognition to unlock the phone. The degree of security goes up, but the friction goes down. It’s these kinds of technologies that say a lot about company culture and what it’s like to work there.

Tom Kaneshige writes the Zero One blog covering digital transformation, AI, marketing tech and the Internet of Things for line-of-business executives. He is based in Silicon Valley. You can reach him at [email protected].

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