Can your enterprise be permanently agile? It better be!

My perspective as a life-long business technologist predisposes me to the reality of constant change. Businesses today cannot stop innovating, because technology and impactful technological change is pervasive. The concept of the internet of things continues to undersell the magnitude of the change given that everything is becoming connected and that everything is signaling, everything has a voice, everything has a vote!

From an information technology perspective, a mantra today is continuous experimentation and continuous innovation. In the context of a customer, monolithic step by step projects which rollout functionality years after beginning are relics. Today’s successful and customer integrated enterprise rolls out functionality continually, continually experimenting and continually testing what works better today than it did yesterday.

A challenge in all this innovation and experimentation is developing a pathway or roadmap. It certainly can’t be a traditional and detailed plan that covers months or years – that would most likely constrain the delivery of experimentation and true innovation.

The innovation pathway then, must be hypothesis driven. There must be something of value or something tangible that an organization is driving towards; there should be a target since innovation probably won’t be random. The hypothesis, the aspects of customer connectedness or customer preferences that an enterprise is aiming to refine, is then tested against big data. Big data becomes the data source, the repository of feedback that needs to be sifted through in order to prove or disprove the hypothesis. This is very much the scientific method applied to massive data resulting from very many “test subjects”. The hypothesis has to be in place to guide the innovation, otherwise the investment in effort and time will just be random experimentation instead of targeted innovation.

A significant challenge in most organizations with Information Technology professionals schooled in rigorous and methodical processes is how to become agile and then stay that way. There is tremendous value in a deep background of IT experiences and leadership; experience is a prerequisite to successful innovation – the challenge is to shift the mindset and timeframe of expectations to an agile one.

Connect with me if you are interested in discussing Information Technology innovation in your enterprise.

The Anywhere Everywhere Enterprise

Proactive and leading the way is the only way to thrive and prosper in the digital world we live in. It is interesting to think that being agile and flexible isn’t enough when it comes to the Information Technologies meant to enable your employees and your customers.

Let me dig into that a little deeper – it really does depend on where in your business’s ecosystem you are actually agile and flexible. If innovative, novel and customer and employee connected ideas are not hitting the business’s radar screen, then no amount of flexible and agile IT solutions delivery will move the profitability and growth needles in the right direction.

Time and again, I have seen effective transformation within IT organizations which drive rapid development, flexible infrastructure, and responsive solutions – only to find that the partner business components are lagging behind. Implementing yesterday’s ideas in an agile and flexible way can’t possible hit the bottom line in a truly positive way.

Unless your digital transformation strategy addresses the continuum of business processes interconnecting the anywhere, everywhere enterprise, you will be left behind.

Let’s talk about the best way to drive your enterprise to being an anywhere, everywhere enterprise.

Digital Leadership Part 3 – Make it Habit Forming

An interesting article that appeared unrelated to digital transformation and digital leadership crossed my desk the other day – it had to do with motivation and physical fitness. Looking back at it now, the article was very directly related to creating a successful and dynamic digital leadership environment in any business organization.

The article referenced the European Journal of Social Psychology. According to this journal, it takes 66 days to form a new habit or routine. A new behavior or habit needs to be repeated in the same way regularly in order for it to “stick”. In other words, it takes 66 days of repetition in order for something to become the new, established way of doing something.

Digital Leadership and Digital Transformation need to be habit forming – they cannot be onetime events or one-hit wonders. I have encountered many organizations that put together special committees or separately staffed working groups to address technological innovation on behalf of the ultimate customer. If these groups don’t address the fact that innovation needs to be a constant, the chance of change becoming habit forming is slight indeed. And the ultimate change needs to be deeply embedded within and throughout the organization.

What was another interesting and relevant highlight of the journal article? When new habits take hold, they don’t necessarily stop the old habits; they have just taken a higher priority in daily behavior. Old habits, especially those that are counter-productive to your objectives, must be consciously eliminated in order to reinforce the new habits. Don’t assume “bad” habits have been eliminated simply because new habits have been put in place.

Driving digital transformation in your business through digital leadership needs to be continuous and pervasive – make it habit forming.

Digital Leadership Part 2 – Transform and Grow

Digital Leaders invest in digital transformation while digital laggards try to save their way to prosperity. Digital Leaders embrace digital transformation and drive changes in their businesses to delight their customers and enrich their employees and shareholders.

Positive outcomes happen when the right investments are made in the right enabling technologies to meet the right business objectives.

To successfully embrace digital transformation, the transformation must be a strategic objective for the organization, and the urgency of the need must also be recognized. Since digital transformation involves the way individuals work, the way a company goes to market and the way an organization attempts to delight its customers, the agenda and direction must be set at the top with executive leadership.

Interestingly, I have had several conversations recently with executives, who, since they were running essentially companies that sold physical products, were content that digital transformation was not critical for them to embrace. They were effectively saying: “thank goodness I manufacture and sell a product that can’t be digitized”.

No business is immune to new business models. No business is exempt from the potential effects of a competitor’s or start-up’s digital transformation. Your physical product may still be important, but the entire value chain may get disrupted and margins and/or market share may erode overnight.

Business outcomes and desired business objectives must drive digital transformation and be folded into a comprehensive Digital Transformation Roadmap. The roadmap must be enterprise-wide, truly cross-functional and embedded in culture of the organization to be successful.

More in Part 3.

Digital Leadership Part 1 – Transform and Grow

Focus on growth while controlling costs because focusing on costs “at all costs” is a losing proposition.

The challenges faced within a business are continuous – all involve tradeoffs, priorities, risk and potentially rewards. The silver lining today is that Digital Leadership doesn’t necessarily translate into escalating costs. On the contrary, the Information Technology landscape today allows for increased utilization of enabling technologies, while potentially significantly reducing expenses over time. Every aspect of enabling technology today is better, faster and cheaper than it was yesterday; and that trend will continue. The challenge really lies in the application of the appropriate set of options and capabilities available from a myriad of sources; all without diluting business focus or significantly under-utilizing those capabilities.

For the most part, you can’t save your way to prosperity. What you can do, is invest in enabling technology which helps your business grow while creating opportunities to reduce expenses over time. With cloud services, IT leadership as a service, and other compelling capabilities today, businesses of every size and in every industry, can leverage Digital Leadership to grow.

More in Part 2.

Morphing Omni-Channel Thinking into a Broad Customer Continuum

I have posted comments on omni-channel marketing before. I’ve also posted about the need for IT organizations to apply the same omni-channel techniques they are applying outside to their internal users in a way to boost agility, responsiveness and overall satisfaction with IT. In this way, omni-channel thinking can apply both externally and internally.

While doing some work recently, I grew to appreciate that the concept of “channels” has the potential of limiting thinking in terms of scope and capabilities. As soon as you actually discuss the channels in omni-channel, the conversation has a chance of becoming mired in current channels, current technologies, current capabilities and even current service offerings to your customers. The true intention of omni-channel, of course, is to provide a seamless and boundless approach to satisfying the broadest possible customer requirements, even if it may mean increasing or changing the scope of your current customer interactions.

By taking a broader customer continuum perspective, you can truly look at customer needs and customer requirements without restricting thinking to instant messaging or email or electronic shopping carts. The truly creative and therefore leading edge enterprises will re-imagine the best way to serve customer needs in a very holistic way and therefore realize that delivery methods, payment options, product packaging, personal branding and even bundling with complementary products and services not currently offered by one company may indeed be the way the customer wants to do business.

Of course, everything must be financially feasible in order to provide a sustainable and profitable approach to meeting your customers’ requirements. The real challenge businesses must overcome is rooted in the fact that technology cost curves continue to change rapidly. Providing some facet of service may be cost-prohibitive today, but that cost may be about to drastically change. Companies must be able to plan ahead of the technology cost-curve. It will either be your company or your competitor that will step up to the challenge first!

So, if your customer really wants a pizza delivered at the same time their new headphones arrive, perhaps you should think about meeting the need.

Can We Collaborate? And I Want to Use My Own Tools!

Collaboration is such a tricky word these days – everyone knows it is critical, no one really agrees on how to deliver it.

If you assume that “No Man is an Island” (thank you to English poet John Donne), then everyone needs to work together to get things accomplished anyway. Working together “the right way” should bring about a result that is in some way better than not working “the right way” – the result should be faster or cheaper or more in keeping with requirements or all of these. Taking this view then, collaboration and synergy should be in some way synonymous in this context. Things should be better because we worked together on it in a collaborative way.

From a technology perspective, a very large challenge in business today is that personal productivity tools and team productivity tools have not evolved together and are at different levels of maturity and capability. Additionally, the line between corporate focused productivity tools and consumer or individual focused productivity tools has blurred substantially due to many factors, including the consumerization of IT. Because of this, everyone brings their own personal productivity tools to the table and these generally do not mesh or work well, if at all, with the corporate prescribed collaboration tools.

In a nutshell: personal productivity and team productivity have grown up in separate technology silos and interaction is not seamless between the two.

What’s one way to address this complexity currently: wait! Technology will continue to evolve and bring solutions to the table which will allow collaborative productivity and individual productivity to co-exist.

What’s another way to address this complexity: don’t get overly ambitious with the scope of collaboration! In other words, accept that niche solutions which address specific collaboration challenges such as those in sales, marketing, procurement and others exist because the collaboration within that domain was specific enough that a solution could be defined, developed and implemented.

The state of the art today will not yet fully help achieve collaboration across all domains with the same tool set – but solutions do exist within specific domains which allow for true collaboration. Know the difference, implement what is feasible today and be ready when the next wave of collaboration acceleration technology comes along. Then collaborate like crazy to get it done.

Cyber-Security – Bake it in, Don’t Just Bolt It On

An immediate disclaimer to this post: if you haven’t been paying attention to the broad issues surrounding cyber-security, then you have no choice but to bolt it on, and bolt it on in a major way. The true intent of this post, though, is to draw a parallel between “safety first” and “cyber-security first”. Historically, the mantra “safety first” has been invoked to trigger a mind-set – the mind-set of don’t even think of doing something that would endanger life or limb. The costs of ignoring safety in an organization have been proven and the case for insuring safety in the workplace is solid.

Enter “cyber-security first” – don’t even think of doing anything that would endanger your information and technology based assets. Given the number of organizations that are playing catch-up in the cyber-security arena, it is clear that the financial and business linkages measuring cyber-risk and cost are far less crystal clear than in the area of “safety first”. Otherwise, why would companies be suffering from some of the symptoms of immature cyber-security practices?

In the world of data, information and technology, every initiative needs to strive for a target level of quality based on budget and organizational requirements. The time to get cyber-security correctly positioned in every effort, is to include it as an upfront requirement The same way that all important and relevant factors must be considered at the initial stages of any project, of any effort, of any initiative If you are serious about cyber-security, then the “cyber-security first” mantra has to find its way into everyone’s mind-set.

Bake it in, and your downstream work will be simplified.

The CDO or Chief Digital Officer can include and expand on the role of the CIO within an organization

One of the most significant challenges within organizations today is that traditional back office and front office processes need to be seamlessly integrated. In the past, the back office has been the realm of ERP and other transactional systems, clearly under the purview of the CIO. The front office could fall under a Customer Service organization, Marketing, Sales and potentially a variety of combinations of these as the industry and geographic requirements dictated. Today, the requirement of providing a seamless view of a business to the customer dictates that the front office and back office distinctions should exist only as vestige concepts that used to characterize a boundary. Today, the boundaries must be broken down and an underlying technical architecture must exist which enables information in context to flow in any direction required in order to satisfy the needs of the customer. A customer’s expectation is that there is no difference between checking an order status, seeking warranty information, getting feedback from fellow customers on satisfaction, or giving their own opinions about company behavior to the market at large. Back office and front office aren’t distinctions in a customer’s mind – they shouldn’t be a distinction in the way a company’s systems are architected.

Know Why You Are Integrating That Acquisition

In a recent conversation with a CEO of a company on a buying spree, we had a very focused dialog on IT integration failures in the acquisition space.

More often than not, IT organizations are simply tasked with integrating an acquired company into current operations. Interestingly enough, due to many complexities which arise in business today, that task alone is not straightforward and is often mismanaged.
The largest missing element, though, is the core understanding of what the value proposition was that led to the acquisition in the first place. Companies buy other companies for very specific and strategic reasons. Sometimes it’s a customer list, sometimes, its specific talent within a company, sometimes it’s the company’s intellectual property.

Whatever the reason, or list of reasons, it is imperative that the project team tasked with integration is fully involved with and knowledgeable about the investment rationale and dynamics of the purchase. This helps to shape the integration strategy and helps to insure that the target value that was assumed in the purchase due diligence, is in fact delivered once systems and processes have been harmonized across the resulting organizations.