How might information insights help solve Tangled Legacy or an Innovative Future?

By Jon Faulkner

Events Org Change

You’ve probably heard the famous and very likely never said Henry Ford quote, that if he’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. Well, what would people have said if you asked them about how they wanted their lawnmowers to evolve say 10 years ago?

Whilst a mixture of people said that they didn’t want to or have time to spend hours cutting the grass, others may have wanted some clever use of new robotic technology which was wonderfully quiet, wasn’t power hungry and wouldn’t cause any damage to plants and garden features.

But doesn’t all this potentially miss the point completely? Don’t people just really want to be able to enjoy a well-kept lawn and not have to think about or invest in lawnmowers at all? So the ideal thing for them would actually be a new form of grass seed, which produces very slow growing grass, is guaranteed to be completely weed free and repels next door’s cat from using your garden as a toilet?

There are many potential thoughts to take from this.  People don’t always know what they want.  People don’t always ask the right questions.  People individually don’t necessarily have the creativity or innovation to come up with completely new ideas. People always jump to solutions and then doggedly stick with them, no matter what.

What would help in all of these situations is information and evidence, be that impact on performance, overall user satisfaction, budgetary impact, RoI or many more.

Each of you reading this, very likely have a broad span of accountability and responsibility, across teams of people, breadth of services, budgets, infrastructure, communities you serve and so on.

Ask yourself … to what extent do you believe that the people you lead, the services you provide, the way digital and traditional IT is aligned to your organisation and the plans you have for the future are mostly acting in direct fulfilment of your organisation’s mission.  Or is it more about keeping an extensive set of complex solutions and technologies operational, at lowest effective life-time cost and with risks mitigated?  How do you gain insights to inform your decision making and evidence for business cases and winning over determined stakeholders?

Imagine for a moment, that the way you are currently contributing to the overall success of your organisation and their diverse communities isn’t right.  [Collective sharp intake of breath]. Perhaps you’ve known this for a while, perhaps you are just getting to realise it, or perhaps you need a little more encouragement yet to get to that place of acceptance.  

Take how you felt a few moments ago, before reading the last two paragraphs and think about how you are feeling now and take a moment to think about where you are on the Kubler-Ross change curve, related to your accountabilities and reflect on how that means you are showing up with your time, in stakeholder meetings, taking decisions and addressing long-term plans.

Now overlay thoughts of the well documented disruption to the film industry that initially Blockbuster and then Netflix brought – for the achievement of delivery and enjoyment of visual entertainment.  The almost here reality of car ownership, evolving to temporary zip cars and Ubers utilisation, to autonomous driverless vehicles – for the achievement of travelling safely, cost-efficiently and with the people and luggage you choose and with the added benefit of costly assets sitting unused >90% of the time.  Banking, hotels, supermarkets, manufacturing, medicine, they’ve all been impacted and continue to be so.  To date, Education has had more of a tickle around the edges, rather than a full scale disruption, but it will come and likely in the near future.

How are you positioned to respond, change and thrive in that future context?  To what extent are you positioned and acting now to lead and deliver within a reality that demands complexity, sustainability and innovation?  And perhaps more importantly, what is your main reference point? Is it cost, community experience or risk mitigation?

What’s your future-minded vision and objectives and how are you going to get there?

Perhaps you’ve already had the opportunity to do a Horizon Mapping exercise before?  If you haven’t, they are well worth committing time and contribution to.

You’re probably all familiar with the common indication that around 70-80% of total Digital and IT spend is purely keeping everyday operations running and evolving just ahead of obsolescence.  This means between 20-30% is potentially being invested in significant advancement of organisational capability and changes to operating model.

How are you discerning what it is you should be doing, why and how and when?  That’s where Horizon Mapping comes in.  The progressive steps towards a desired future state, broken down into achievable chunks, addressing complexity and time investment available at any one point.  What should you start, what should you carry on with and what should you stop doing?

How might you move strategically from your current state to a sustainable, impactful, mission-fulfilling, outcome delivering and positive experience providing future state?

How’s that 70-80% just keeping the place ticking-over feeling?  And how do you measure against these aspirations?

Horizon map

Start at the beginning and consider the following:

  1. What is the organisational strategy you are aiming to contribute to and fulfil?  Who are the communities you are serving and how?  e.g. can you easily define that and trace a line from each of your team’s activities? 
  2. What are the capabilities that your organisation needs and which should you be delivering yourselves or passing to others to provide?  e.g. what does outsourcing the effort, cost and complexity of running a greater proportion of your technical infrastructure to others afford you?  What might you do with that time, capability and budget?
  3. How are you ensuring you are discovering, defining and delivering the services that your external and internal communities need in a way that both works for them and you? e.g. what does true collaborative design and delivery of future services look like and how can you achieve a culture and capability to achieve that?
  4. How are you delivering innovative, sustainable, impactful and resilient change to your own organisations and sector, such that together you are breathing life into the impending and aspired disruption? e.g. students as customers are already asking for more and different, what do your responses include?


How might you address your tangled legacy to liberate your team and budgets for an innovative future? 

Data driven, evidence based and user researched and designed are the foundations of your future success.  

Information insights can be hard won, but they are valuable to pursue and critical to your sustainability.

If you are interested to hear more and already a member of the ucisa community, join us at the ucisa London event on 15th June, or for a one-to-one conversation, contact us directly at