Welcome!

Related Topics: @CloudExpo, Java IoT, Linux Containers, @BigDataExpo, SDN Journal, @ThingsExpo

@CloudExpo: Article

Digital Transformation, Innovation, Optimization, and Disruption

Give people the right tools and get out of their way

Imagine for a moment you’re in the woods, trying to climb to the top of a nearby mountain – only you’ve lost your way, and you’re not sure where the mountain is. So you get the bright idea: simply walk uphill until you can’t walk uphill any more. At that point you’ll be at the top of the mountain, right?

The answer, of course, is perhaps, but probably not – and in any case, the strategy of always walking uphill is an unquestionably poor technique for finding your way to the top of a mountain, given the unpredictable nature of the terrain. After all, this strategy will simply take you to the top of a nearby hill. Only if you’re exceptionally lucky will that hill end up being the mountain you’re looking for.

This hill-climbing story illustrates the problem of local optima: any optimization strategy that focuses on improving the current situation may not lead to the best solution. So, how do you find the best solution? Well, it depends. Perhaps you can see the mountain from where you are, but perhaps not. Maybe you simply have to RTFM (read the frickin’ map), assuming you have one, and you can identify your current location. Or perhaps you should set off in a random direction for a random amount of time, see where you end up, and then try going uphill – repeating as often as necessary. Eventually you’re bound to hit upon the mountain, right? Bottom line: there is no straightforward answer.

The reason this Cortex is spending time climbing mountains is because the local optima problem affects most Digital Transformation initiatives, since the majority of such initiatives are centered on some kind of optimization activity: optimize the customer experience, or optimize the integration of Web and mobile, or optimize the organization’s use of social media, etc.

If you set a goal based upon starting where you are today and heading in a direction that will improve the current situation, you will likely reach a local optimum. But it probably won’t be the true optimal strategy, because, of course, some competitor will end up beating you to the top of that mountain – a mountain you may not have even known about until it’s too late.

Nevertheless, managers love optimization strategies, because they lead to positive business outcomes, and positive business outcomes lead to cash bonuses. And after all, labeling such optimizations as Digital Transformations is generally accurate, as you are using digital technologies to change your business somehow. But we’re still missing a big part of the transformation picture: disruption.

Disruptions shake up the status quo in some unpredictable direction, much like the random walk approach to finding the mountain peak. They can help you avoid the problem of local optima, but even so, there’s no telling if they will take you any closer to your goal. The challenge for Digital Transformation initiatives, therefore, is to leverage – or even introduce – disruptions in a way that will actually help you find that highest mountaintop.

But disruptions are inherently unpredictable and risky. External disruptions – sudden changes in the marketplace, geopolitical environment, available technology, etc. can occur at any time, and even internal disruptions, including reorganizations, changing management policies, new management, etc., can lead to unpredictable results. What’s a risk-adverse manager to do?

Intuition tells us that disruptive transformations are potentially much more likely to help us achieve our strategic goals than optimization transformations, even though they appear to be much higher risk. Do we stick to optimizations, comfortable in the business outcomes we can achieve, even though we may miss the mountaintop? Or do we place a bet on a disruptive transformation, even though it feels like a plunge into chaos? Perhaps we have no choice, as an external disruption may force us to take the riskier path. How do we manage our Digital Transformation then?

Enter Complex Systems Theory

Some background: Complex Adaptive Systems are self-organizing systems of systems that exhibit emergent properties, which are properties of the system as a whole that aren’t properties of the component subsystems. The central principle to all of Intellyx’s research is that the enterprise is a complex system consisting of people and technology subsystems, and business agility is an emergent property of the organization as complex system. The challenge of Agile Architecture, therefore, is influencing people and technology in such a way as to achieve business agility, rather than the chaotic behavior that large organizations typically exhibit.

Many natural phenomena can be explained in terms of emergent behavior, from the construction of beehives to the effects of DNA. The analogue in nature we’ll use in this Cortex is the power of natural selection that enables species to adapt to changing environments.

As complex systems consist of component systems and their relationships, we can think of such systems as networks. In the case of evolution, the components are individual creatures in an ecosystem; for us, the components are people and technology systems. Sometimes the connections (or edges, in network-speak) between components are tight, for example, within family groups, or loose, as they might be between different groups. In the case of an enterprise, tight connections between people include hierarchical reporting structures, behaviors that result from formal governance policies, etc., while loose connections would refer to interactions between people in different teams or in different parts of an organization. Similarly, tight connections between technology systems would include traditional integrations between systems, while loose connections indicate interactions between loosely coupled systems that are architected properly for inherent flexibility.

Shifting a system from high connectivity to low connectivity increases evolutionary change. Furthermore, disruptions also lead to increasing rates of evolutionary change, in particular when the system exhibits low connectivity. Such change leads to adaptation to the disruptions in the environment, so combining low connectivity with disruptions leads to periods of rapid innovation and adaptation. However, when a system retains its high connectivity during periods of disruption, that system is less likely to evolve, and thus won’t adapt to the change. Extinction, of course, is the eventual result.

The lessons here for enterprises seeking Digital Transformation are straightforward. In order to foster high levels of innovation that lead to adaptation to both internal and external disruption (in other words, behavior that gets you to the top of the mountain), you must foster an organization with low connectivity and furthermore, give them flexible, loosely coupled technology tools. In such environments, teams have the leeway to self-organize, and their innate creativity will foster innovations that will lead over time to the best solutions. And the role of management in this process? Give people the right tools and get out of their way.

The Adaptive Flexibility Matrix

For our Digital Transformation efforts to be successful at achieving our strategic goals (as opposed to optimizing for short-term business outcomes), we must embrace disruption, loosen the connections between people and take steps to make our technology loosely-coupled and flexible. Such transformation is a tall order to be sure, and many organizations seeking it drop the ball in one way or another, as shown in the chart below.

Adaptive Flexibility in Digital Transformation Initiatives

The chart above maps both technology and people in an organization from less flexible to more flexible. If neither are flexible, of course, then transformation is impossible, and you’re stuck in the lower left corner.

One mistake companies make as they try to get out of this corner is to focus on building or buying more flexible technology, without going through the more difficult cultural and organizational shifts that lead to more flexible people. Such companies move across the bottom of the chart from left to right, and end up with “tone deaf” digital efforts – yes, they may have mobile interfaces and social media, but perhaps their mobile technology isn’t responsive, their social media strategy puts off or angers customers, or they drop the ball on the human side of Digital Transformation in some other way.

Another common mistake is to undergo a digital initiative in the face of inflexible technology: moving from lower left to upper left on the chart. In these organizations the digital team leaves the recalcitrant tech behind, separating the digital efforts from traditional IT – which leads to dangerous pitfalls for any digital effort.

The reason why successful Digital Transformation initiatives are so deceptively difficult is that organizations must change along both axes at once in order to achieve the upper right hand corner, which has all the elements the complex system of the enterprise requires to build innovative, self-organizing teams that can both respond to disruption and leverage it for competitive advantage – in other words, achieve the business agility that drives all true transformation.

The Intellyx Take

If you understand how with the proper initial parameters, complex systems can lead to high levels of adaptive innovation in times of increased disruption, then the argument in this Cortex makes complete sense. However, it is deeply counterintuitive when you place it into the context of traditional management approaches.

Unfortunately, much of the Digital Transformation thought leadership available today comes from management consultants, who spend much of their time advising executives. “Digital maturity requires strong leadership to drive change!” trumpets MIT Sloan Review. “Successful [Digital Transformation] does not happen bottom up. It must be driven from the top!” exclaims Capgemini (exclamation points added, but boldface was all theirs). Such consultants have that perspective, of course, because they have to present a story executives are comfortable with.

In contrast, this Cortex should make traditionally-minded executives (namely, the ones who purchase management consulting) extraordinarily uncomfortable. Stop managing hierarchically. Instead, spin off autonomous, self-organizing teams. Don’t fear disruption. Instead, embrace and drive disruption. Change reporting structures. Move people around. Rethink governance. Revamp HR policies and procedures. Get rid of all the scar tissue in the organization that is getting in the way of innovation. Let people self-organize and let them figure out how to adapt to disruption on their own. The leadership we really need is likely to be quite different than the leadership the consultants are talking about.

To old guard executives, this approach sounds like a recipe for chaos. However, complex systems theory has a whole chapter on chaos as well, and the old guard has it backwards. In fact, chaos describes the status quo at most large enterprises – bureaucracy, empire building, the absence of a single source of truth, inflexible legacy technology, and rigid processes that stifle the best and brightest. Instead, this Agile Architecture approach leads to emergence – business agility in the face of any disruption, self-organization that leads to adaptation and drives innovation. Isn’t that the Digital Transformation you’re really looking for?

Image credit: ThenAndAgain

 

More Stories By Jason Bloomberg

Jason Bloomberg is the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise. As president of Intellyx, Mr. Bloomberg brings his years of thought leadership in the areas of Cloud Computing, Enterprise Architecture, and Service-Oriented Architecture to a global clientele of business executives, architects, software vendors, and Cloud service providers looking to achieve technology-enabled business agility across their organizations and for their customers. His latest book, The Agile Architecture Revolution (John Wiley & Sons, 2013), sets the stage for Mr. Bloomberg’s groundbreaking Agile Architecture vision.

Mr. Bloomberg is perhaps best known for his twelve years at ZapThink, where he created and delivered the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) SOA course and associated credential, certifying over 1,700 professionals worldwide. He is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, the leading SOA advisory and analysis firm, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in 2011. He now runs the successor to the LZA program, the Bloomberg Agile Architecture Course, around the world.

Mr. Bloomberg is a frequent conference speaker and prolific writer. He has published over 500 articles, spoken at over 300 conferences, Webinars, and other events, and has been quoted in the press over 1,400 times as the leading expert on agile approaches to architecture in the enterprise.

Mr. Bloomberg’s previous book, Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (John Wiley & Sons, 2006, coauthored with Ron Schmelzer), is recognized as the leading business book on Service Orientation. He also co-authored the books XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996).

Prior to ZapThink, Mr. Bloomberg built a diverse background in eBusiness technology management and industry analysis, including serving as a senior analyst in IDC’s eBusiness Advisory group, as well as holding eBusiness management positions at USWeb/CKS (later marchFIRST) and WaveBend Solutions (now Hitachi Consulting).

Latest Stories
Cloud analytics is dramatically altering business intelligence. Some businesses will capitalize on these promising new technologies and gain key insights that’ll help them gain competitive advantage. And others won’t. Whether you’re a business leader, an IT manager, or an analyst, we want to help you and the people you need to influence with a free copy of “Cloud Analytics for Dummies,” the essential guide to this explosive new space for business intelligence.
Manufacturers are embracing the Industrial Internet the same way consumers are leveraging Fitbits – to improve overall health and wellness. Both can provide consistent measurement, visibility, and suggest performance improvements customized to help reach goals. Fitbit users can view real-time data and make adjustments to increase their activity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mark Bernardo Professional Services Leader, Americas, at GE Digital, discussed how leveraging the Industrial Internet a...
Ixia (Nasdaq: XXIA) has announced that NoviFlow Inc.has deployed IxNetwork® to validate the company’s designs and accelerate the delivery of its proven, reliable products. Based in Montréal, NoviFlow Inc. supports network carriers, hyperscale data center operators, and enterprises seeking greater network control and flexibility, network scalability, and the capacity to handle extremely large numbers of flows, while maintaining maximum network performance. To meet these requirements, NoviFlow in...
When it comes to cloud computing, the ability to turn massive amounts of compute cores on and off on demand sounds attractive to IT staff, who need to manage peaks and valleys in user activity. With cloud bursting, the majority of the data can stay on premises while tapping into compute from public cloud providers, reducing risk and minimizing need to move large files. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Scott Jeschonek, Director of Product Management at Avere Systems, discussed the IT and busin...
There will be new vendors providing applications, middleware, and connected devices to support the thriving IoT ecosystem. This essentially means that electronic device manufacturers will also be in the software business. Many will be new to building embedded software or robust software. This creates an increased importance on software quality, particularly within the Industrial Internet of Things where business-critical applications are becoming dependent on products controlled by software. Qua...
In addition to all the benefits, IoT is also bringing new kind of customer experience challenges - cars that unlock themselves, thermostats turning houses into saunas and baby video monitors broadcasting over the internet. This list can only increase because while IoT services should be intuitive and simple to use, the delivery ecosystem is a myriad of potential problems as IoT explodes complexity. So finding a performance issue is like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.
"We host and fully manage cloud data services, whether we store, the data, move the data, or run analytics on the data," stated Kamal Shannak, Senior Development Manager, Cloud Data Services, IBM, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
With the proliferation of both SQL and NoSQL databases, organizations can now target specific fit-for-purpose database tools for their different application needs regarding scalability, ease of use, ACID support, etc. Platform as a Service offerings make this even easier now, enabling developers to roll out their own database infrastructure in minutes with minimal management overhead. However, this same amount of flexibility also comes with the challenges of picking the right tool, on the right ...
DevOps at Cloud Expo – being held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA – announces that its Call for Papers is open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the world's largest enterprises – and delivering real results. Am...
"This week we're really focusing on scalability, asset preservation and how do you back up to the cloud and in the cloud with object storage, which is really a new way of attacking dealing with your file, your blocked data, where you put it and how you access it," stated Jeff Greenwald, Senior Director of Market Development at HGST, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
The 19th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Digital Transformation, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportuni...
Large scale deployments present unique planning challenges, system commissioning hurdles between IT and OT and demand careful system hand-off orchestration. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Smith, Senior Director and a founding member of Incenergy, will discuss some of the key tactics to ensure delivery success based on his experience of the last two years deploying Industrial IoT systems across four continents.
“We're a global managed hosting provider. Our core customer set is a U.S.-based customer that is looking to go global,” explained Adam Rogers, Managing Director at ANEXIA, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
The Internet of Things will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, demonstrated how to move beyond today's coding paradigm and shared the must-have mindsets for removing complexity from the develo...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MangoApps will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MangoApps provides modern company intranets and team collaboration software, allowing workers to stay connected and productive from anywhere in the world and from any device.