Do we need diversity for our IT plans?

“Diverse groups of problem solvers – groups of people with diverse tools – consistently outperform groups of the best and brightest. If I formed two groups, one of random (and therefore diverse)[by definition] and one consisting of the best individual performers, the first group, the diverse group, almost always did better. Diversity trumped ability.”

—Scott Page, The Difference: How the power of diversity creates better groups, firms, schools and societies.

When I came across this in context with business decision-making, it really got me thinking about my experience watching business owners making IT decisions over the ten years I have been running my business and meeting with business owners every day. I have watched people grapple with decisions regarding technology and costs, in-sourcing and outsourcing. I have seen good decisions and bad. The key issue I have seen in the poor decisions made is a narrow view of options.

I am not suggesting that we go out and get random people off the street. The focus here is on people with diverse tools, not random capabilities.

As my business has grown from two people to over 30, I have seen the decision-making processes within the business change in many ways. In my personal experience, diversity certainly makes for better decisions. However, trust in the decisions needs more than diversity, it needs diversity of educated opinions.

This is a difficult thing to achieve if the education stream is identical. Hence a broad spectrum of education can add value to an organisation. Bringing in external advisors on multiple aspects of the business, from HR to finance to marketing and leadership, has helped us to grow and keep improving. Often it has taken significant investment to gain the diversity and advice required, but it has helped to build a strong foundation for success.

This leads to the need for diversity within our business and the need to listen actively to each of the participants and not dismiss them based on personal direction or ego.

If, in your business, decisions are made based on the opinion of one industry expert from the IT field, chances are that you are missing out on the diversity of the industry.

Even within my firm of 30 people, we lack diversity across the broad range of technologies we could cover. While this gives us great strength on some specialisations, it leaves gaps where we may not provide the best solution to our clients. Seeking the best diversity we can afford is a mantra that plays out well for our business and also for the clients we advise.

We have always limited the scale of clients we seek to ensure the diversity we have is appropriate for the clients we have. Yet we see larger organisations with two or three internal IT staff, failing to seek diverse opinions on their IT strategy. I see this as akin to popping down to your GP to have a plantar wart treated and getting a bit of brain surgery while you are there. It just does not make sense to have complex systems all handled at the general practitioner level.

Occasionally, you want the diversity of a brain surgeon getting involved in the activity and don’t forget the anaesthetist, nursing staff and orderlies either. It takes a team to perform surgical extraction of the right concepts.

Ask yourself if you have an appropriate level of diversity in the advice you are being given. Should you be getting further input before committing to next year’s IT budgets?

Have you made plans to implement upgrades or migrations to new technology? And, if you have, did you consider a broad range of options or did you let a specialist sell you their product without real comparison of options?

There is no doubt we are in for more financial volatility with Europe in unknown waters and so our cost areas such as IT need to demonstrate value to gain budget.

With new technologies for mobile devices, virtualised servers, cloud services, outsourcing, hosting and data networks and more, it may be time to seek a more diverse input to your IT strategy for the year ahead to ensure that when the volatility turns to growth your business is ready to excel.

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