The mobility megatrend: Embrace the change or get left behind

Mobility and everything the technology is influencing could bring about more change than the Internet revolution did. How can we succeed? Embrace change and lead.

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Organizational development was one of the courses I took when I resumed an interrupted MBA program a few years

ago (I completed the degree this time). Of particular interest to me was the section of the course in which we discussed how individuals and organizations deal with change. According to the textbook I used at the time, people and groups react to change in one of three ways: They deny it, they resist it or they embrace it.

Niel Nickolaisen
The Real Niel
Niel Nickolaisen

Ever since that class, I have pondered these three reactions, and would like to add one more possibility to the list: Deal with change by leading it.

When we IT executives are faced with changes in technology, business rules, market conditions and so forth, one of our best options is to be a leader. In my experience, we make ourselves obsolete if we deny change. If we resist change, we get fired. If we embrace change, we keep our jobs. If we lead change, however, we prosper, IT prospers and the organization thinks we are geniuses!

Leadership is especially important in the face of megatrends, and we now are in the early stages of a megatrend that creates an incredible opportunity: mobility. This megatrend includes advances in wireless technology, the consumerization of IT, and end-point devices that are getting smarter and smaller.

I believe the mobility megatrend will rock our worlds as much as the megatrend we called the Internet revolution did 15 years ago. Mobility is different from the Internet revolution in one critical way, however: The Internet drove changes to the technology that connected us with our customers and partners. The wireless-consumerization-smart-and-small-device mobility megatrend, in contrast, opens the door to a dramatic change for our workforce. I have come up with four specific things I can do to lead my mobile workforce into this megatrend:

Think future perfect. Over time, all technologies become perfect. So, as I put together my thoughts of how to support an increasingly mobile workforce, I shouldn't let current technological barriers limit my thinking as to what I eventually will be able to do with mobile technologies. For example, I shouldn't let current bandwidth constraints define the things I let mobile workers do. Those constraints will ease, and future-perfect thinking will keep you at the forefront.

Be a pattern-matcher. Recall the ways the Internet changed business rules and interactions, and extend those patterns to the ways mobility will change how work is done. One of the words the Internet age taught us is disintermediation: the elimination of the middleman. Which processes and roles will mobility disintermediate for our employees?

Be willing to experiment. I always form a small group of users -- the people who are some of the IT department's toughest critics -- to be a test case for any new technology or process I'm considering. My users put the new technology through its paces, and let me know what they think will -- or won't -- work. This allows me to test -- and fail -- on a small scale, and gather early feedback that I can use to correct my course as needed.

Be open. I don't know everything; I certainly cannot imagine everything. So, I need to be open to the ideas and experiences of others. To lead in the face of the mobility megatrend, I probably need to think well outside the box. I can't do that if I already have made up my mind about what will and won't work for my mobile workforce.

Mobility represents a seismic shift in how we interact with customers, with each other and with our employees. I want to react to this change by being a leader.

Niel Nickolaisen is CIO at Western Governors University in Salt Lake City. He is a frequent speaker, presenter and writer on IT's dual role enabling strategy and delivering operational excellence. Write to him at nnick@wgu.edu.

This was first published in April 2011

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