Month: January 2021

Why is Digital Transformation So Important to Sustained Success? (Part 2)

 

 

BECOMING DIGITAL IS BUILT ON AN OPERATIONAL BACKBONE

Since the operational backbone is the foundation for everything else that will be developed, built, and offered to your customers, it’s important to get it right from the design stage. That’s why regrouping with your people and process is so fundamental to the process. DESIGNED FOR DIGITAL points out that although companies have been engaged, in one way or another, with digitization (remember: digitizing does not equal digital) transformation since the late 1990s, the majority of them did not have operational backbones to support their digital transformation.

The story of Intel’s dramatic digital transformation presents a good example of starting with the business needs in mind. Use the collective input of the organization to determine where exactly the business is headed. Talk to the people in the company. Talk to your customers. Strive to get an accurate big picture of your company based on facts, insight, and impressions from your customers.

Shesha Krishnapura’s, a chief technology officer at Intel, wrote an article THE ANATOMY OF INTEL’S DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION, where he explains how lines of communication between Intel’s many business units helped shape the new operating business model.

“When we look at new technologies, we investigate what it will take to transition from legacy approaches to the new ones. We look at our affordability targets and determine which one gives us the highest return on investment. One area of technology that is crucial to Intel’s digital transformation is a hybrid cloud. It is the next step in a natural evolution that started with everyone having their workstation and locally stored data. Eventually, virtual clients came along, with applications and data stored centrally (but on-premises). Now hyper-scale computing, or high-performance computing, is the trend, where a lot of computational jobs can be done in a very short amount of time using a significant amount of fungible computing capacity. But on-premises capacity can reach a saturated utilization, and enterprises need burst capacity. The ability to seamlessly move workloads between private and public clouds—i.e., a hybrid cloud—is the answer.”

 

Operational Backbone
An operational backbone is a coherent set of enterprise systems, data, and processes supporting a company’s core operations.

 

Although an operational backbone is a digital building block for becoming a digital company, it is not something that is etched in stone. Far from it. Because a business changes, an operational backbone is never complete. Technology changes, and you may discover through analyzing customer data, that their needs have changed. So your operational backbone has to be designed in such a way that it continuously evolves to meet the situation as it evolves. All the components that make up your operational backbone have to be agile and flexible as well. If any aspect of it has limitations or rigid parameters, it’s going to gum up the works. Like clogging up an artery, it could cause paralysis or worse.

Invest in an Operational Backbone and a Digital Platform to Secure Efficiency & Revenue Growth

Having done the work to assemble an operational backbone, you’ll have set in motion the ways and means to create a digital platform. Properly designed, this platform will enable quick and easy access to data, configure, and reconfigure business processes, and technology components to generate and enhance digital offerings. At the base of this platform is a repository of cloud services. Depending on the specific demands and needs of your company, this might be a public, private, or hybrid cloud environment. Whatever the architecture happens to be, make sure it is flexible enough to adapt as you need the rest of the platform to adapt.

Let’s take a moment to discuss the cloud service component. Cloud services provide the foundation. It is the basis for everything else that follows. Trevor Clohessy, Thomas Acton, and Lorraine Morgan’s 2017 paper THE IMPACT OF CLOUD-BASED DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION ON ICT SERVICE PROVIDERS’ STRATEGIES found that cloud-based digital transformation positively impacted the realization of strategic objectives such as agility and competitive positioning.

DESIGNED FOR DIGITAL (MIT Press) describes a digital platform as 3 repositories built on a base of cloud technologies. The book states that cloud services are “fairly standard across all vendors.” While that statement is true, it’s important to know that not all cloud designs are equal just as not all strategies are equal. The best ones take in the big picture of where the company is at present and where it wants to be in 5 years….in 10 years. In the context of cloud computing, a strategy can be defined as a “set of decisions required to create and deploy a network-based, information service delivery strategy that results in both cost savings and organizational agility.

The Competitive Imperative of Digital Transformation

In a 2018 Forbes article titled “Cloud Computing Comes of Age as the Foundation for Enterprise Digital Transformation” author David Bartoletti makes the following statement:

“Cloud is no longer a place to get some cheap servers or storage. It’s not even a single place. Cloud computing is now shorthand for how companies turn amazing ideas into winning software — faster. Nearly 60% of North American enterprises now rely on public cloud platforms, five times the percentage that did just five years ago.”

It has been two years since that Forbes article was written. What’s happened since then?

COVID-19

Businesses have to utilize cloud technology to keep pace with competing organizations. Some form of digital transformation has become a “must-have” for companies worldwide. But is a public cloud the right platform for your digital transformation efforts?

Today, privacy/security concerns take center stage and have businesses large and small thinking seriously about a move to private cloud.

Private cloud architecture outpaces public cloud offerings in:

  • Migration
  • Management
  • Support
  • Cost
  • RTO/RPO
  • Contracts
  • Availability
  • Monitoring
  • Performance

So why do companies still choose public cloud services for their digital transformation efforts? Perhaps it is name recognition. Everyone knows about Amazon, Microsoft, and Google.

But let’s face it. Not everyone TRUSTS Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. That’s why CEOs and CIOs lean more heavily toward private cloud companies that provide a higher level of service, customization, and privacy.

There are other considerations when looking at the quality of your cloud environment. To find the summum bonum of cloud services, take a holistic approach that involves the answering several questions. What is the quality of the connection like? How good is the security of its data centers? How responsive is its level of customer service? How much control will you have over your ICT environment, and how adaptable will it be to the shifting needs of your company? These are important questions to consider.

Once company leaders grasp the concept of digital for operational and market flexibility, they begin to envision the unlimited possibilities of digital transformation.
Leading Digital Transformation

Often lost in the digital transformation conversation is the “how” of leadership throughout the process. While this may seem rudimentary, those business leaders that choose not to see digital transformation as a completely new game are often taken by surprise as the entire effort crashes and burns like the Hindenburg.

The leadership mindset of digital transformation.

Listening to the Technology Experts – But Not Too Much

IT specialists are in the business because they love what technology can do. They see the potential within technology to help you become more competitive, efficient, and cost-effective. They will have deep, valuable insight into the “how” of the project. But sometimes, because the focus of your IT department is on IT, the process can get mired in the weeds of the technology, resulting in the people and processes being left behind. It’s the task of the leadership to ensure that the strategy embraces the input of all stakeholders and ensures that the technology solves people and process challenges – not just IT issues.

 

Holistic Approach

Many CEOs see digital transformation as “something that the CIO and the tech department does.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The IT organization within your company will play a significant role in the deployment of the strategy, but if there isn’t a comprehensive, “all-of-business” approach in the planning stages, the effort will crumble. Why? Because anything less than a holistic approach to digital transformation results in siloed data and unproductive activity. Simply dropping cloud-based applications or infrastructure into the mix without integrating everything around the digital transformation strategy is like trying to run a NASCAR without a steering rack and transmission. Sure, you’ve got lots of power, but you’re not going anywhere fast.

 

Long-Haul – Iterative Process

If your company is going to be flexible and nimble enough to stay ahead in our current global economy, you’re going to have to embrace the fact that the task of digitization and digital optimization is never complete. New technologies are coming on the market every day. Not all new technologies are good, but if you’re not careful, your competitors will leverage a technology you’ve dismissed and pull the rug out from under you. To avoid this catastrophe, it’s important to view digital transformation as an ongoing activity, just like marketing, sales, and production. As they emerge, new digital technologies will allow you to work smarter, serve your customers better, and meet market challenges head-on.

 

Communications

With the USA still feeling the “outsourcing” effects of NAFTA, there is a continuous worry in the minds of employees about losing their jobs to cheaper labor and better technology. Part of your work as a CEO has to include boosting morale by assuring your employees that the digital transformation process is about securing their jobs into the future. It’s not about replacing them or eliminating their positions.

 

Company Culture

The positive potential impact of digital transformation on company culture cannot be understated. Digitization allows for a higher level of transparency, communications, and collaboration. Digital optimization can make everyone’s workday easier.

However, organizational leadership has to communicate and model the benefits, or the new strategy will be misunderstood and may even be resented by the employees.

Digital transformations are slow because it means changing habits and culture. It takes time and a concerted effort. It should be a slow process. People need the time to adjust to new processes and adopt new technologies. The need time to learn how to think and function as a digital business. Begin the journey by creating an operational backbone. Optimize so that you’re doing the same things you’ve always done, but now only better. Then you can build a digital platform. You’ll discover along the way that you will begin to accumulate a portfolio of components. These components will feed innovation and become useful in future digital offerings.

 

Use components to create new digital value propositions.
If you want to succeed, accumulate lots of components and apply plenty of imagination in using them to create new value propositions.

As Jeanne Ross points out in her book, componentization is key to becoming a fully digital company able to offer new digital value propositions to customers.  To illustrate the point, she uses the plotline from the LEGO movie.

In the LEGO movie, a noble construction worker sets out to save the world from a tyrant who intends to glue in place all of LEGO world. Emmet, the construction worker, prevails, of course, because he teams up with bad guys who apply their combined creativity to outsmart the bad guys. The Key to their success is the ability to reconfigure LEGO components into whatever machine they need to overcome each obstacle they meet.

In the same way, digital companies build and adapt using whatever components they have. It all comes down to how creative and innovative they can be in assembling those solutions from parts that already exist. The challenge is to keep track of all the components so you can grab the one you need when you need it. That’s why you need a digital platform.

 

DIGITAL OFFERING BUILT ON A DIGITAL PLATFORM

A good example of how having a digital platform can facilitate responding to a unique situation is the Toyota Hawaii story. Toyota Motors North America responded to a particular challenge in Honolulu —a city full of condos and people but few parking spots. They came up with a digital offering called Hui—a round-trip, station-based car-sharing program that allows customers to reserve a car by the hour, or by the day, through a mobile app that also locks, unlocks, and starts the vehicle.

IN CONCLUSION

Business leaders are looking for ways to get ahead of the situation. Companies are looking at ways of improving what they already do by digitizing their processes.

The messaging around digitizing operations has to be coherent and consistent throughout all layers of the organization.

Why?

Because people don’t like change.

Digitizing, done correctly, creates a company atmosphere of constant and never-ending improvement, and that can be unsettling for some.

Securing an operational backbone this way makes sense and it should be done.

But long-term sustainable success is dependent on developing digital business capabilities where your value proposition provides a new way to solve your customer’s problem.

Make the time now to start learning how to componentize offerings, as Jeanne Ross puts it, and build a digital platform. Designing, building, and using a digital platform requires a whole new way of thinking. Even if you’re an established company, everyone must abandon old habits and, in many ways, adopt the mindset of a start-up. Companies need to get started on their digital journey now because it is going to take a while. If they wait until they have an urgent need to suddenly offer a digital solution, they won’t be able to. It will be too late.

Cloud services provide the base for a Digital Platform
Why is Digital Transformation So Important to Sustained Success? (Part 1)

True Digital Transformation is a process made from two stages, and the second stage builds on the first. The first stage enhances traditional products and services using digital technologies to become operationally excellent. Digitizing operations means a company does better than what it has always done before. This stage creates operational excellence through incorporating digital technologies and is much a cultural-way-of-thinking change as it is a change of technology. The second stage moves beyond traditional products and services and uses digital platforms to innovate and deliver brand new customer value propositions. Companies know they’ve reached this stage when they begin offering value to their customers that they’ve never offered before.

Why is digital transformation so important? And why is it so important for all companies to get started on the journey on the right foot?

These are unprecedented times and businesses need a powerful elixir to get us through the immediate disruptions and also sustain us through the years ahead. That elixir is a digital transformation. Digital technologies are raising the bar for everyone across the board. Jeanne W. Ross’ important book DESIGNED FOR DIGITAL, explains digital technologies as a game-changer because it delivers ubiquitous data, unlimited connectivity, and massive processing power.

Ubiquitous Data

Businesses no longer have to guess what customers want or how they want it. We can now collect the data and see the answer in front of us.

Unlimited Connectivity

Mobile devices give us access to anything digital and anywhere there’s an internet. Responses to inquiries come immediately, and smartphone apps offer proactive insight into customer problems.

Unlimited Processing Power

We expect massive computing power to crunch all that ubiquitous data and arrive at conclusions human beings cannot readily observe.

Jeann W. Ross, the principal research scientist at MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research.
Jeanne W. Ross, the Principal Research Scientist at the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research, paves the way for business leaders who want to retool their organizations for digital success in her book DESIGNED FOR DIGITAL.

Why is digital transformation important? Well, imagine, there you are, with your old company infrastructure, bogged down with the antiquated silos and dysfunctional systems. These things were good enough for yesterday but not good enough for tomorrow. All around you are your competitors and customers swimming in the sea of digital technology. How long will it be before your responses, as fast as they might be, are not fast enough, and your competitors are proactively serving your clients because they have already collected massive amounts of data (compliments of digital technology) and have made sense of it (unlimited processing power in action)?

 

“Not all companies are digital-born, but all must offer customers new digital value propositions, or risk disruption from those that will.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             —   Meg McCarthy, VP, CVS

 

Customers and competitors aside, a successful digital transformation means that your company will learn and progress more quickly than before. Once in the digital environment, thinking begins to change, you discover new possibilities and new ways to bring value to your customers. What is more, you’ll be able to try it immediately. You can afford to experiment because the company will have greater agility. Most importantly, being digital will establish closer connections with your employees, customers, and suppliers.

Like all journeys, digital transformations begin with taking the first few steps. These first steps are a part of digitizing operations. The way a company takes these first few steps is critically important. Keep this in mind: each step forms a building block for the next, and the one after that. If one of your previously laid building blocks has a crack in it or is unstable in any way, the whole thing could collapse, or you’ll get to the half-way point and realize you can’t build any further. The structure won’t hold.

We’ll point out the key benchmarks for the digitizing process a bit later, but now let’s look closer at the current technology environment and what it means to your business.

A PERFECT STORM

Forces of disruption and upheaval have converged on businesses throughout history, but never quite like this. Many companies, with their back pressed against the wall trying to survive, are feeling the tremendous build-up of pressure. It’s like the rise of air pressure just before a tornado strikes.

The pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns have been a crisis for most companies and an opportunity for others. They have also been an added force behind a group of disrupters that began building up steam a decade earlier. This group of disruptors has been collectively referred to as SMACIT – a term that feels appropriately like a slap in the face. SMACIT refers to Social Media – Mobile Devices – Analytics – Cloud – Internet-of-Things. Like many disruptors, this collection of technologies brings both crisis and opportunity.  Margaret Rouse points out in her Techtarget Network article on SMACIT, that these phenomena form the basis for an ecosystem that enables a business to transition from e-business to a digital business. SMACIT is an enabler. It is also the catalyst paving the way for an incredible multitude of things any one of them having the ability to disrupt your business.

From a consumer perspective, we have become so enmeshed with digital technology that we don’t even think about it. It is just something we expect. Amazon Prime subscribers pay their $15 a month and don’t think about it. They enjoy the convenience of ordering online and receiving their shipment the next day. But remember, Amazon didn’t start as a digital company. They started as an online bookseller.

Gone are the days of the stereotypical socially awkward IT professional hunkered silently over his workspace and not talking to anyone outside of IT. Today’s IT professionals must interface with a variety of people across all departments of an organization because information technology and business goals have become so interwoven. Plus, the technology environment has become too complex and sophisticated that IT teams must become more conversant with business outcomes.

Having your employees work from home doesn’t make you a digital company. Digital companies deliver digital offerings — value propositions that could only exist in the digital realm. The book DESIGNED FOR DIGITAL makes the distinction between digitizing operations and becoming a fully fledged digital company. Digitizing is achieving operational excellence. Doing things that you’ve always done, but now you’re doing them better. Becoming digital means offering brand new value propositions to your customers. What problems can you solve for your customers that you never considered before.

“Business executives who think they are leading a digital transformation when they are digitizing may achieve operational excellence on an outdated value proposition. This may elevate competitiveness in the short term, but it’s not likely to lead to digital success. Consider the limitation of being the best taxi company in town when Uber and Lyft arrived on the scene.”

Siloed systems, processes, and data
Traditionally, business leaders created processes, systems, and data in silos.
These silos slow down the coordination with other parts of the business.

THE FINE ART OF DIGITIZING

What was once just a good idea is now a must-have. Properly digitizing your operations, and I stress the word “properly,” is a prerequisite to digital transformation.  It’s a difficult process. It takes time and requires intercommunication between all departments throughout the company. Consequently, business leaders tend to skip steps, look for quick fixes, and make autonomous decisions that cause problems down the road. Unfortunately, this tends to be the rule and not the exception. Without involving people and processes across the entire organization, there is inevitably a costly disconnect and the digital transformation flies off the rails.

A Harvard Business Review article by Thomas H. Davenport and Thomas C. Redman, May 21, 2020, states that digital transformation is not for the faint of heart and that many such efforts fail. Success requires bringing together and coordinating a far greater range of effort than most leaders appreciate. The article, and the book, postulate the transformational journey has to begin with the people in the company.

It’s important to have leaders with good people skills leading technology, data, and processes. For example, in the area of data, you’ll need the ability to rally people at the front lines to adopt new roles as data creators, ensuring the processes are in place to capture data correctly.

People lead the discussion of rethinking the processes from the top down. Get rid of the silos that have built up over the years and nurture horizontal communication focused on serving the customers. The traditional hierarchical thinking of corporations is a real impediment to making any kind of lasting and substantive transformation.

During this “people and process” alignment, trust is developed between teams and communication opens up more between IT, DevOps, and upper management. Not only do internal technology people need to be great communicators, but they also need a keen understanding of how to balance technology and ROI.

Designing and implementing the right operational backbone is hard to accomplish. That’s why most companies don’t have one. Frequently, they become entangled in the complexities of their old legacy systems. Simplify the business and focus on key customer satisfaction points. Another important point to remember is that the operational backbone is a constant work-in-progress because you’ll be tweaking it as you gain more insights from your collected data. Nothing is etched in stone.

IN CONCLUSION (part 1)

SMACIT (see above) contributes to optimizing processes and operations. These digital technologies are essential to becoming a digital company. The goal of becoming digital is the ability to offer digital value propositions to your customers. Organizational change — the “people” part of the transformation, is the biggest challenge. As we close part one of this blog, we want to leave you with several useful questions raised in the book DESIGNED FOR DIGITAL.

“Is your company’s organizational backbone “good enough” to support your digital transformation? If so, are you continuously adopting new digital technologies, as appropriate, to update key systems and processes? If not, what are you going to do about it?”.