The 4 Jobs of Technology

I have recently reread some of Clayton Christensen’s work. Christensen is most famous for his theory of disruptive innovation first espoused in the Innovator’s Dilemma.  In many ways the popularisation of the term disruption can be traced back to Christensen.  In one of the pieces I read Christensen looks at how incumbent companies can avoid or at least be prepared for disruption in their industry. One of the thing Christensen advises is that most businesses would be better off if they focused on “the job to be done” rather than the more traditional industry and business model view of an enterprise. He argues this is important, as some jobs required by customers are more easily disrupted than others, and if you begin to conceptualise your business as fulfilling a series of jobs or needs on behalf of your customer then you can more easily prepare for what lies ahead or even begin to get ahead of the competition.

It makes sense and I have been challenging some of my corporate IT clients to begin to think this way particularly as they approach their IT strategy work.  If we can understand what jobs the organisation is fulfilling on behalf of customers then we can begin to identify and position technology that will help us to do that. Reviewing the article also caused me to ask a question closer to home – what jobs does technology fulfill for the organisation?

My first cut answer came quickly, after all I’ve been talking about this for years. Technology fundamentally fulfills 2 key needs.

1. It automates and streamlines work making it easier and quicker to get work done.  You’ll recognise these projects. They are all about process redesign and primarily seek to reduce organisational costs through increased efficiency.

2. It allows us to aggregate and present information to decision makers supporting them to make better and more timely decisions.  There is an efficiency element to information and decision making projects, however they are can also help to improve margins and sales (what prices should I charge, when and by how much should I discount).

I contemplated this answer with some disappointment.  Is that all there is?  This whole new wave of disruption and is that all there is.    I found myself snapping back at myself (I hope that makes sense) no that’s not all.  In fact SMAC (social, mobile, analytics / big data, and cloud) has allowed technology to fulfil two new jobs as well. They are:

1. Using technology to engage our people, whether they are customers, staff members of other interested stakeholders.  As the online conversation has democratised, giving individuals and small groups the potential of a global voice, technology now allows, or perhaps forces us to build relationships with people rather than simply facilitate transactions.  These conversations can build or destroy brand connection and advocacy, which in turn can drive sales and profitability.

2. Using technology to “detect and act”.  As the internet of things spreads there are increasing opportunities to monitor the performance, location and tolerances of things and based upon this information act upon opportunities (location based offers for example) and avert potential threats and obstacles (re-routing traffic real time, predicting failure and scheduling maintenance to prevent the failure).

I confess to having a bit of an awakening as I contemplated the two new jobs of technology.  I began to see that it was fulfilling these two new jobs and that it was largely driving the latest wave of innovation. Whether it was Uber and AirBnB engaging their customers and providers in new ways, or GEs drive to embed sensors in everything and to use the data to improve the performance of their products.

So, as IT professionals we need to ensure we are thinking about all four jobs that technology can do and I encourage you to ask yourself these two questions:

1. Does your IT strategy consider all four IT jobs to be done?
2. Are you having conversations across your organisation about the 4 jobs to be done, educating your peers on what is possible?

I would love to hear your answers and your challenges.

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