13 years, 8 months ago

Understanding IT Fashion

Seeing what is next is important in my world.  Consulting firms, management gurus, researchers, and even public agencies all seem to be suppliers of IT fashion through certain rhetoric and techniques.  Cloud computing, green IT, unified communications, Government 2.0…  The list of new IT fashions is long.  How do we know what is just buzz and what is not…?

Creating Beliefs
A good framework for understanding the many fashions in the IT industry is Abrahamson’s management fashion theory.  Abrahamson defines management fashion as “The process by which management fashion-setters (consulting firms, management gurus, researchers, etc.) continuously redefine both their own and fashion followers´ collective beliefs about management techniques which lead to rational management progress”.  He describes the phenomenon as “rapid, bell shaped swings” in management techniques where norms of managerial progress represent societal expectations that managers use as forms of improved management techniques.

According to Abrahamson’s framework, the fashion-setters in consulting firms or research institutions elaborate on different rhetoric to convince the management fashion market and the fashion-followers that their techniques are both rational and at the forefront of management progress.  They aim to do so by attempting to create beliefs that there are organizational performance gaps and that the created techniques facilitates the process of reducing these gaps.  In many cases, fashion-setters exploit techniques that are being used by a few currently successful companies, and present their success to justify their claims.

Think Before Jumping the IT Fashion Bandwagon
Thus, we must be cautious when adopting leading edge technologies or management ideas in the IT industry.  Together with Professor Jan Pries-Heje, I have myself looked at the promises of enterprise architecture programs in government.  Enterprise Architecture has been promoted as a key tool for transformation and modernization by many governments around the world.  However, taking Abrahamson’s framework further we found that the causal direction reversed from enterprise architecture programs being transformative and prescriptive in its nature to programs being reshaped and adopted in step with the institutional forces in public organizations and their macro environment (see full paper under Publications).

Similarly, if cloud computing, green IT, unified communications, government 2.0, and other fashions want to be more than just fashion fads in government, they must provide real business value; not just nice to have buzz words that look good in a glossy strategy paper – but real value for the public servants, citizens, and businesses. 

Seeing what is next – requires looking closer, asking yourself “what’s really in it for me?”, and not just jumping the next IT fashion bandwagon…

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