A Bridge Over Troubled Waters – What Winston Churchill Can Teach Us About Digital Transformation

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s 1970 global smash hit is often considered their signature song. A calming and soothing song for deeply troubled times.

By spring 1969 both Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were gone – assassinated. Racial tensions were erupting across the US. The war in Vietnam was still lumbering along like some gigantic apocalyptic zombie just waiting to be put out of its dreadful misery.

So just what were sensitive and reflective artists like this New York folk duo to do? They would reach inside of course, reach for words and melody, words and melody that would resonate across a globe.

Fast forward some 49 years, and you may be wondering just what has all of that got to do with business technology in year 2019?

With high stakes, complex situations and often stressful and demanding businesses around us, CIOs today need to create their own bridges over the often-troubled waters and choppy seas of digital transformation.

And please don’t say that it’s not needed, because I won’t believe you! I’m more than happy to talk a lot more about why those troubled waters of digital transformation exist in the first place, but that’s for another story (and maybe another musical reference). But for now can we please just agree that they exist!

Forward thinking CIOs will know that in complex matrix enterprises, the vital journey from a traditional IT department to a truly strategic business partner can be accelerated through linking roles. Bridges if you like.

And as we look to build modern adaptive operating models for technology, there is a lot we can learn from HR and Finance, where business partnering is a more mature capability. Even so I was surprised to find no basic model that explained, in nutshell, the Business Technology Partners’ role, which got me thinking….

And as I was thinking Lady Serendipity strikes!

At what seemed to be exactly the right moment in time, I just happened to be listening to the always excellent WB40 Podcast and what do I hear – my good industry friends Matt Ballantine and Chris Weston (a fellow CIO Watercooler expert contributor) talking about this very topic. Interestingly Matt referred to Professor David Ulrich’s 1997 model for HR Business Partnering, which got me thinking.

Both inspired and unashamed, I immediately set about re-purposing his work for our needs in Technology. Let’s face it we all love simple 2 x 2 Boston Grid to help explain things to the other Execs and Business Leaders!

So here it is. A little thought starter as to where Business Technology Partnering can help bridge our own CIO version of a bridge over troubled waters

So what has Britain’s wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, got to do with all of this. Undoubtedly a leader of his time, this brilliant orator once said “The farther back you can lookthe farther forward you are likely to see”.  

And so there you have it; looking back 49 years, to a a time when the world was gently soothed by Art & Paul, there is a great deal CIOs can learn about how to navigate the choppy seas of digital transformation from this simple song.

One of the most important things we can do as a CIO is build bridges, and what better message for our business colleagues than that contained in this  haunting song:

“When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all
I’m on your side, when times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down”

(Thanks must also go to Mark Aikman,Claire Priestley, Jon Baxter, Shelley Brackenridge, Gareth Nutt and Pat Graham who all chipped in to help on the journey at some stage)

Adrian Wakefield

A successful IT & business leader with 25 years experience in delivering large scale organisation, operations, sales & customer experience transformation programmes in global organisations. I am able to develop, align & implement business & IT strategies, design organisations, create teams & inspire individuals. I have a deep understanding of IT programmes, projects & methods. I build great relationships, know how to get things done and am able to make a difference in complex and challenging circumstances. Being results-driven & commercially focused I have a proven track record in delivering on-going business value. Operating at 'C' level, where I am valued for my broad experience, as well as for my specific skills and expertise.

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