The Digital Tock-Tick


Paul Armstrong Original 1

By Paul Armstrong

There is a certain order to things that we all know, but sometimes do not understand. Clocks go tick-tock, not tock-tick; you ‘criss’ before you ‘cross’, not cross-criss; and you must ‘zig’ before you ‘zag’, you can’t zag-zig.

The same is true in business, but unlike tick-tock, the message and order of events is sometimes lost through the passage of time and space.

Take, for example, the selection of a technology product, the choice to build a software app, or just to automate a business process. Are these ticks or tocks?

Using the 'five why' technique of (you guessed it) asking 'why' five times, will normally get you to the answer.

Why build an app? Because the project demands it. Why have a project? Because the business strategy required it. Why do we have a business strategy? Because our goals need a way of being realised. Why do we have goals? Because our vision needed focus.

Now play that forwards and we hear the familiar clockwork sound of business. You start with vision, which leads quickly to goals, followed by strategy, and then execution, finally you realise your product choice, software app, or automated business process. Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. Not the otherway around; tocks don’t proceed ticks.

The Challenge

However, how many times have we thought we have heard the sound of the ticking clock, only to be surprised to learn that your company switched to digital. And any sound people thought they heard was instead what they wanted or expected to hear.

The problem is that this happens way more than it should, and with significant and poor consequences.

A significant longitudinal study over more than 30 years, shows that business productivity has increased by just 1.0% through IT investment. Focusing in on 10 years, 1995-2005, the figure drops to 0.6%. And today, this number is only expected to rise to between 0.8% and 1.4% due to the current and forecast advancements in digital technology.

At the same time there are some standout business successes through technology investments.

A recent MIT study of more than 1200 businesses revealed that “organisations who are led by the CEO as the digital master are 26% more profitable than their peers in the same industry.” 26% better than your peers is one measure of standout success.

The reason why organisations fail in IT investments is because organisations try and break the laws of physics. They jump forward in time to tock, before they tick.

They failed to ensure that the work they execute is supported and demand by the activites up the line; right up through strategy, goals, and to vision. And like clock work, they are failing. Significantly.

Anyone that thinks that 1.0% or maybe 1.4% is okay is kidding themselves about their future. In the past, business productivity did not rely on your company's IT investment. Back when the productivity of your staff, your IP, or you dominance over a commodity was where you got your profit and productivity from. However, now:

  • Research varies, but between 40-50% of jobs will either go or will have their workload reduced by these percentages, due to digital disruption. If you have the same number of staff, or have them doing the same things then they will be between 40-50% less productive.
  • Three of the top five most valuable firms in 2011 were commodity based businesses. This year all five are now tech firms. Solar technology is replacing oil, gas, coal, hydro, and wind. In 2015, 40% of all new electricity capacity in the US was sollar. Animal proteins are now being grown in the lab, and may in future be produced like beer; in the factory or “home brewed”. Traditional commodities are being replaced by technologies enabled via digital.
  • IP is arguably the new battleground in a digital world. An ironic example of this in action is the recent replacement of IP lawyers by IBM’s Watson Artificial Intelligence (AI) compute service.

If you and your business do not respond correctly you'll become the grandfather clock your grandparents inherited from their parents. Loved, respected, but unwanted in anyone’s hallway. While your competitors not only have digital watches, their consumers are buying theirs and not yours.

The Opportunity

Knowing that the opportunities are good, and the consequences of no action or mis-action are bad, what businesses need to do is:

  • Re-imagine your business through the lens of digital;
  • When you do, do so through the correct order of events; tick-tock; vision, goal, strategy, through to execution and beyond; and 
  • You must act quickly.

“71% of C-Level Executives and business unit leaders believe they can make decisions for their departments better and faster without the involvement of IT staff.” - Avanade “


 ... 10 years ago you would re-engineer your operating model every 9 years. Today the average timeframe is 18-24 months.” - Kevin Bandy, SVP and CDO Cisco.


Tempus neminem manet - time waits for no one. Time will not stand still nor wait for you to catch up. Pragmatism is required in your actions.

With this in mind you will need to work with a partner that has IP that can unlock your vision digitally and guide you through goals, strategy, execution and eventually evolution of your digital ecosystem.

You will want to choose a partner who has IP that is built on agile and design thinking as the two state-of-the-art methods for realising quickly what is required, while still maintaining a link to what is expected.

A partner that has an end-to-end capability in method and technology. One that can help you from the start and keep the course in what is right for you in your digital selection.

A partner that understands what success looks like, and that is defined by our customers success first.

If you would like to learn more about digital strategy then please feel free to message me within LinkedIn or email me here.

If you want to know why we go tick-tock and not tock-tick then go to this BBC article.

And of course, you can learn about them both. But, tick-tock.

Follow Fronde on LinkedIn here.