Filtering the signals from the noise to understand digital

“Digital” is generating a lot of distracting chatter that needs to be separated from the core concepts that make up digital. To filter the signals from the noise, let’s focus on the four stages of digital technology creation: design, develop, deliver and operate.

Design

Before making the first jump and heading into a long and drawn-out Design phase, it should be noted that Design and Develop need to be closely coupled. In some cases, in the very early phases you could hold off design and move into just developing something based on a simple ideation or user story. But be careful; design is a critical part and needs to be done before you step too far down the life cycle.

The design process for a system in a digital world must:

  1. Start quickly with the big picture, broken down into smaller chunks to guide developers.
  2. Be strongly influenced by end-user thinking (empathizing) using Design Thinking principles.
  3. Incorporate feedback from the Develop and Deliver phases, addressing and fixing issues and features requests continuously.
  4. Be highly collaborative, engaging developers and engineers early to reduce risk, build trust and leverage knowledge.
  5. Apply good practices to ensure the design can adapt quickly with minimal impact to the business. The goal is “design for operations” using automation and intelligence at scale for frictionless adoption.

Develop

Considerations for moving to a DevOps model include:

  1. Decide on which DevOps model (there are many). Consider your business model and operating structure.
  2. Don’t be too prescriptive. The value of development in a digital world is allowing developers to have autonomy, using the guardrails and requirements from the Design phase. Remember to feed findings back into the Design phase.
  3. Do not confuse the multiple stages of development (alpha, beta, prototype, pilot). A simple rule is that the early stages are unconstrained, allowing developers to show the art of the possible. As you move towards later stages, the reality of operating in the business (compliance, regulations, integration) means you may have more constrained (structured) thinking. The Design phase should also consider this.
  4. Explore new ways of accelerating development. Open source, crowdsourcing, hackathons and buildathons are new ways to develop products. Some lend themselves to the unconstrained space (crowdsourcing, hackathons), while others are better suited to more structured development (open source, buildathons). Other considerations are coding styles; for example, Extreme Programming is a popular method.

Deliver

In the digital era, deliver is a continuous motion in which delivery organizations must:

  1. Engage proactively in the development process rather than waiting for the output. Deliver needs to part of the development team, where knowledge is shared and Deliver teams are aware of the next release (i.e., “no surprises”).
  2. Deploy in small increments. This reduces risk, improves support and makes system changes a normal, daily task.
  3. Build trust with the business and customers. That is what happens when you deploy small incremental improvements. You upgrade your smartphone apps without fear; this is same feeling we need in the enterprise.
  4. Remove governance bottlenecks and traditional change control processes as trust builds. Test some rollouts, and once you are confident, replace processes with automated tests that the development team must validate against.
  5. Give feedback to development and design on future improvements and issue resolution.
  6. Structure teams and operations for high frequency by automating as much as possible to move fast and reduce the risk of failures.

Operate

The final stage, operating the new service, requires the system to be highly automated and almost completely self-serving. Teams must:

  1. Capture log data from all systems and applications. This data, although specific to an individual device, app or service, when combined with other logs can provide amazing insight into the operation of the end-to-end solution.
  2. Automate good processes and fix bad ones before automating them.
  3. Integrate operations and security to resolve problems faster. For example, a denial of service attack might start with a server or firewall outage. How much time is wasted sending this to the wrong teams to fix?

Linked life cycle

To determine if a service or product is truly digital, ask if it is designed, developed, delivered and operated using the new techniques. If it is not, eventually it will fall short of expectations.

The most critical aspect of the four stages is that they are linked. There are no gaps between the stages, no fences to throw things over, no long and drawn out governance models. Feedback loops ensure that issues are dealt with and improvements are made.

The optimal example of digital is when a product can flow from left to right (design –> develop –> deploy –> operate) as a single value chain, with information, teams and processes all interlocking and supporting the stages. Feedback is provided from the earlier stages to continuously improve the product.

Consider Google or Amazon Web Services, who bring new services to market at mind-boggling velocity. This is possible not just because they have a common platform, but because they have an operating model that supports this left-to-right motion that embraces the best practices, most of which they are writing or contributing towards.

Although the people aspects are just as important as the technology when shifting to a digital world, you should now be able to filter out the noise in terms of the technology to focus on becoming a digital business, and be able to evaluate services and products to see if they are deemed worthy of carrying the “Digital” brand.

The secret to digital transformation? Start by looking in the mirror

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital is not just a technical thing. In fact, I would argue that technology can sometimes distract from true digital transformation.

So, what is digital?  It is the ability of a business to respond to or even predict change in a way that causes minimum disruption to the business, based on information from many sources (system and human, outside and in), and presented in a way that develops trust and understanding.

Digital transformation impacts three dimensions of a business:

  • People –Digital transformation impacts every level including employees, partners and clients. If you don’t believe this, you might be part of the problem.
  • Process – Business processes and the operating model are impacted by the new digital processes. How the company operates, make decisions and structures itself is key for success.
  • Technology – This is not the leading dimension but more a follower. Having platforms that support the speed of the organization, whilst seamlessly providing information to other systems and services, is critical.

A bit like the fire triangle, you need all three dimensions functioning to transform an organization into a truly digital one.

Organizational culture is king

Let’s focus on the big one, though: people. Suddenly organizational culture has become the big word on the street. Years ago, I raised the word culture as a mechanism for change, pointing out the maxim “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” One leader basically said they didn’t believe in culture impacting the business; you do what they say, as in “my way or the highway!” Not sure that this was a digital highway.

So, what do we need to do to start digital transformation from a people aspect? Firstly, look in the mirror.

Change for people occurs at every level of the organization. It requires people to understand what they are going to do differently. How will they behave, work with others, develop, and grow themselves and others in the new digital business?

Some of the human factors that need to be incorporated into the culture of a new digital organization are:

Trust, Humility, Collaboration, Teams, Self-Learning, Transparency, Risk, Listening

Digital companies of the future will manifest these soft skills in the operating model or fabric of the business. Heroes will be few and far between.

There is no quick fix to culture; this is a long game. We can migrate System A to System B, and we can shift our process from Waterfall to Agile; these things only require money, skills and technology to implement.  But to be truly digital is to move people to thinking digital in every action they do, and this is hard. It impacts beliefs, behaviours, historic cultures and current impeding actions.

Digital people

A good starting point is to surround yourself with digital people who inspire you to think and operate differently, exhibiting the skills above and impacting decision making in the business. Don’t convert them; let them convert you. Don’t just wake up on Monday saying you are digital; you need to go through your own transformation.

Test areas of changes within your organization. Create groups of people and programs of work that are empowered and enabled to work differently, driving towards a common strategy.

At some point, when you have enough evidence, you will need to take the findings of the test programs and roll the changes into the operating model of the business. This should include human resources changes, performance measurement methods, new ways of recruiting and improving key skills, strong teaming structures and rewards for business outcomes.

Digital transformation questions you should be asking

A successful digital transformation program requires the biggest change in people, from the top down, before changing technology and processes. Ensure you understand the culture and characteristics of the people needed in your organization to support the transformation and ongoing execution.

Below are questions you should be asking to assess how digital you are. Consider what each question is asking and why. I hope these questions help you think about the changes you need to make for a successful digital transformation.

The Digital Person Questionnaire

1: Do you listen to others before you make your decision?

 

2: Do you obtain information from many others inside and outside your ecosystem?

 

3: Do you trust the people executing your tasks, are you macro or micro managing?

 

4: Do you or your team collaborate on content and decisions?

 

5: Do you learn and develop new skills?

 

6: Do you help others learn and develop new skills?

 

7: Do you accept failure from others, to help understand what went wrong?

 

8: Do you work in isolation or with a team?

 

9: Do you create a personal relationship or connection with your staff, team and colleagues?

 

10: Do you consider yourself to be humble — do you demonstrate humility?

 

11: Do you lead through influence or is it more “my way or the highway”?

 

12: Do you embrace change?

 

13: Do you try to fix the big problem in one go, or break it down in stages?

 

14: Do you focus on your own success or the success of the team?

 

15: Do you recruit or surround yourself with clever people?

 

Next Generation IT: Platform Part 4 of 6

Platform

As we move down the stack from the front-end applications and business process aspects of an IT solution, we dive into back office IT. This is the enabling area of the IT estate that underpins the business applications and provides key support services to the solution. Without back office IT we would not be able to operate.

The Platform layer has many dimensions, and although certain features and support services span the entire stack, we need a launch pad for them. The Platform layer is a good home. If we consider that platforms are a combination of products (excluding the core business applications) that provide a framework on which applications can be delivered and supported, we can examine a combination of platform solutions that include DevOps, Big Data Platforms, Application Hosting, Virtual Desktop and Mobility.

We can also examine some of the supporting platforms that typically operate up and down the stack. These are critical to ensure the integrated solution is able to operate in the business. One of the critical areas is Service Management, in the form of Operational and Business Support Systems (OSS/BSS). You need to be able to report on the operation of the overall IT solution, alert on issues, capture problems before they arise, and ensure that the business is receiving the service performance and stability that is required, aligned to its business SLAs.

Another critical area is Security Systems, which can get more complicated with regulatory compliance laws. However, the fundamentals for antivirus, identity management, audit logging and firewalls are the default must-haves, and these need to integrate up and down the stack. As we move applications to the cloud, be it public or private, we must ensure that we secure the data, data transport, and end-user interaction with the data at all times. The cloud infers that physical infrastructure is shared in some manner, either with other customers, business units or applications. Therefore, security needs to be integrated much deeper into the Platform and Application layers than the traditional client-server solutions of the past, which could lock themselves behind physical ring-fenced architecture and firewalls. Today’s security platforms are software enabled, embedding themselves into the applications and platforms to provide much more granular control.

Although some might put Orchestration under the Service Management umbrella, let’s pull it out as a separate area, as it is very important in the new integrated solution architecture to consider how we make the deployment, management and configuration of any IT solution easier, and reduce the pressure on the typically depleted and over-run IT department. Cloud providers could not operate if they did not employ automation within their IT estate. Imagine the change requests coming into Amazon every day, or even every hour. Your workforce and systems could not cope. The fact that you can’t quickly stand up systems, make adjustments and react to business change is not a technology issue; it is a resource and process issue.

Today the technology in workflow management and orchestration tools are designed to orchestrate and manipulate products through common APIs and protocols. This lets you request, deploy and manage complex environments with minimum effort. This may scare some people, but your business is looking at the competition and trying to move quickly. Your IT estate has to do the same thing. Otherwise your business’s time to market will be impacted and revenue lost. I think we all know what typically happens next.

As we look across our IT estate, we need to ensure that the orchestration tools focus not only on provisioning an application but also deploying the service management tools and agents, configuring the security polices, and setting up connections to other systems and end user applications. So can we expect orchestration to configure and commission 100% of our IT estate? Not today, but we should be moving towards 70-80% of the estate, with the remaining configuration being custom tweaks and tunes required by the application that are too variable to automate.

Platforms will always be the connection between applications and infrastructure. In many ways Platform is the most important layer in the IT estate, because it not only provides the home for the business applications but is the enabler for Service Management, Security and Orchestration. As mentioned in the Application section, the move to the cloud is a key driver, and Cloud Platforms are fundamental to the success of moving applications to the cloud, or providing supporting services with easy integration.

Link to Part 5 Infrastructure

Next Generation IT: Business Process Part 2 of 6

Business Process

It does not matter if the process is an industry vertical business process or a cross-industry business process. Either way, the process is the output — the deliverable — that will define success or failure for any business. All the other layers are merely enablers to get you to this point.

At this layer we consider asset management, supply chain / order processing, marketing, financial management, customer relationship management and knowledge management, to name a few processes. With unique industry and business requirements, we can see how the Business Process layer requires many variables and strong industry expertise. So what about Next Generation solutions? There are well-established application products that support these processes, but consider the extra value pieces like analytics. In most cases today the Business Process layer is supported by legacy business intelligence reporting that tells you what has been rather than what could be. This comes from the data locked inside internal systems. What about all the data you know has value and insights but are not able to access?

The first aspect of Next Generation solutions is the addition / supportability of Big Data Analytics, recognizing there is more data that can be analysed to better answer critical business questions and help solidify business decisions. Although the execution of these analytic queries will be done in the Application and Platform layers, the query itself is based on key performance indicators and metrics that require deep business knowledge and the ability to translate this knowledge into an executable hypothesis.

 

If we think about other aspects of a solution that is defined in, and directly dependent on, the Business Process layer but is executed in the other layers, then Business Continuity Planning must be a factor. This is about aligning the response of the technology, people and process to the impact of an outage or disaster that cripples the business. This comes down to knowing the acceptable Recovery Time Objective (RTO) for the critical business applications. For example, a patient record system for a health provider can only accept a very small RTO; the technology, people and process have to be designed to handle this, so the solution is generally not cheap. However, a small manufacturing business can tolerate a less aggressive RTO. Although it needs to get production back up and running, the business can use alternate technologies, reducing the cost and enabling the business to meet its customer SLAs.

Another aspect of the Business Process layer to focus on is enabling people to work better with the business applications as well as collaborate and share information and knowledge. Mobility (discussed later) should be considered to empower the workforce, drive the business forward and respond quickly to changing business situations.

Link to Part 3 Application