No bandwidth for the future?

Insight

Research shows that 41% of technology directors are losing sleep over their unmanageable workloads. But if the technologists are entirely focused on the day-to-day running of the business, who’s keeping an eye on the game-changing new technologies coming over the horizon?

At Manifesto we recently commissioned some research into the attitudes of technology and creative directors towards emerging technologies, and the potential for technology to replace people in creative roles. We wanted to find out whether there was a divergence in thinking between the technologists and creatives about where things were heading (there was – less than a third of creative directors thought technology would kill off creativity) and whether creatives thought that they should know more about technology (they did – 60% thought a better understanding of technology would help them). But out of the responses came an unexpected story: technology directors have too much on their plates to keep up with new technologies.

What’s keeping technology directors up at night?

The research, which surveyed 100 technology decision makers, found that 21% are kept awake by not having a sufficient work-life balance and a further 20% are having sleepless nights because they simply have too much to do during the day.

A similar number of respondents (20%) reported worrying about unresolved issues at work, whilst unrealistic deadlines (17%) and concerns about managing their teams (13%) are keeping others up at night. Such high numbers suggest that many technology directors need more support from their organisations. If the most senior technology person is fully consumed by the day-to-day running of the business, how can they keep an eye on the rapidly-changing technological landscape?

Of course, we were fully aware that we might have been rushing to a premature conclusion, based on such scanty evidence. After all, if it was true that technologists didn’t have enough time to think clearly about the implications of emerging technology, surely there would be some evidence of muddled thinking on some of these topics. Could we find that kind of corroborative evidence? Indeed we could.

Hugely disruptive, but with minimal impact

Take a look at the third question in our technology survey:

Q3. Uber is a business that has used technology to disrupt the world of transport and logistics, which of the following technologies do you think is most likely to cause disruption on a similar scale?

Here’s how the respondents answered:

  • Artificial Intelligence – 27%
  • Autonomous vehicles – 13%
  • Social media – 12.5%
  • Machine learning – 10%
  • Multiple platform media hubs – 8.5%

Not too surprising, you might think. Artificial Intelligence is at peak hype, according to Gartner. But if AI is about to cause such huge disruption – and remember, with AI, we’re talking about the kind of disruption that isn’t limited to any particular sector or industry – then surely it would be high up on the list of things that technology directors think will most affect their jobs in the medium to long term. Let’s take a look at question four.

Q4. Looking ahead to the next five years, which one of the following do you think will have the biggest impact on your role?

And our respondents’ answers:

  • Changing demands from clients/ the business – 27.5%
  • Ways of working, such as remote working – 19%
  • Changing consumer behaviour – 18.5%
  • Machine learning – 16%
  • Robots – 12%

This is a huge disconnect. Even though they think that new technologies like AI and machine learning have the potential to cause huge disruption to their businesses, the senior technology specialists predict that the decisions of senior management will have more impact on their jobs.

Give tech directors time and space to think

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to disparage the technology directors we surveyed for not displaying clear thinking about the disruptive power of Artificial Intelligence. Quite the reverse. The role of a senior technologist is an incredibly demanding one and of course senior tech people are going to get heavily involved in the operational side of the strategies they develop. But there’s significant evidence here that many are getting completely immersed in the day-to-day running of the business, rather than focusing on how technology can add real value to the company.

Given the vital role that technology plays in modern business, there’s a real onus on senior management to redress this balance. Only when technology directors are empowered to drive innovation can they keep the company one step ahead of the competition. One way to achieve this is via dual track transformation or, in other words, creating an innovation hub that’s kept at arms-length from business as usual so that the day-to-day running of the business doesn’t act as a blocker to change.