CIO, Opinion

What If Domino’s Stopped Making Pizzas: Jettison the Technology Hyperbole to Achieve Better Alignment

What if Domino’s stopped making pizzas this very minute?  What would happen?  If you answered, “well, they’d go out of business” then you already have a grasp on why one of today’s favorite phrases should be jettisoned from your business phrasebook.

Every so often in the technology world, a new phrase is dreamed up that is used by technology vendors and CIOs alike in order to drive home to executive teams the criticality of the IT function.  There is absolutely no question that the role of technology in almost every company plays an increasingly important role.  Frankly, that’s been the case throughout history, even as the word “technology” has transformed.  Early on, “technology” may have referred to the wheel, which put the walking package carriers out of business.  Then, the printing press relegated monastic scribes to the dark corners of the monasteries as the technology of the printing press came into widespread use, but it didn’t mean that such companies were technology companies.  Later, the technology of the internal combustion engine-centric automobile put horse and carriage companies out of business, but it didn’t mean that automobile companies were technology companies.  Eventually, electricity came into widespread use in the corporate world as companies around the globe sought ways that they could leverage this technology to improve business operations.  Again, strategic use of electricity to improve the business didn’t mean that these companies suddenly became technology companies.

But, today, we constantly hear the phrase “every company is a technology company” as people strive to find a way to indicate just how important digital transformation efforts have become. One example I’ve heard more times than I can count is Domino’s Pizza.  Domino’s has truly transformed the organization and has become a technology powerhouse.  I’ve also heard the same thing about companies like Bank of America.  In fact, the specific phrasing that was used was “Bank of America is a technology company that also happens to do banking.”

Really?  So, you’re saying that if Domino’s or Bank of America suddenly stopped making pizzas or stopped being a bank that the remaining organization would continue to thrive?  No!  As soon as Domino’s stops making pizzas, the revenue spigot also stops, and the rest of the business would wither and die since the core of the business is gone.

It’s difficult for me to put into words how much I dislike the “every company is a technology company” mantra, but, as you may suspect, I’ll try anyway.  Frankly, I see such phrasing as arrogant and presumptuous.  For decades, there has been a struggle between IT and “the business” as some CIOs and IT leaders have been perceived as being out of touch and, in some cases, overstating their importance.  That “IT” and “the business” separation is dangerous and leads to a rift in some organizations.  Remember, unless your primary product is technology, IT is subservient to the business, not the other way around.

Using the phrase “every company is a technology company” is disrespectful to the actual business of the organization and twists outcomes.  Such a phrase would seem to indicate that the sole purpose of Domino’s making pizzas is to feed a technology engine when, in reality, the reverse is true.  The technology exists to feed the pizza delivery engine.  The same is true for Bank of America.

The phrase is arrogant because it implies that the business of the company isn’t the center of that company’s existence.  The phrase is presumptuous because it places IT in the center of the business rather than as an enabler of the business.

There’s no question that organizations that have fundamentally transformed are far more technology-centric and technology-driven than their less savvy corporate brethren.  But that’s the thing – they’re technology-centric.  They have hordes of technology professionals running around, and, in some cases, leading the company, but it’s all in an effort to get more pizzas out the door.

Making pizzas is still the core of what Domino’s does.  They just happen to do it in a far more digital fashion than some of their competitors.  They’ve fundamentally reshaped the customer experience and their internal processes, to bring technology to the forefront of their business.  They’ve succeeded where so many others have failed.  While I don’t eat a lot of Domino’s, when I do, I love the experience.

But, no matter how much Domino’s automates and improves the experience, they’re always going to be a pizza company and that’s ok.  Let’s not make them—and others—something they’re not.