Welcome!

Related Topics: @CloudExpo, Java IoT, Linux Containers, @DXWorldExpo, 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 a leading IT industry analyst, Forbes contributor, keynote speaker, and globally recognized expert on multiple disruptive trends in enterprise technology and digital transformation. He is ranked #5 on Onalytica’s list of top Digital Transformation influencers for 2018 and #15 on Jax’s list of top DevOps influencers for 2017, the only person to appear on both lists.

As founder and president of Agile Digital Transformation analyst firm Intellyx, he advises, writes, and speaks on a diverse set of topics, including digital transformation, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, devops, big data/analytics, cybersecurity, blockchain/bitcoin/cryptocurrency, no-code/low-code platforms and tools, organizational transformation, internet of things, enterprise architecture, SD-WAN/SDX, mainframes, hybrid IT, and legacy transformation, among other topics.

Mr. Bloomberg’s articles in Forbes are often viewed by more than 100,000 readers. During his career, he has published over 1,200 articles (over 200 for Forbes alone), spoken at over 400 conferences and webinars, and he has been quoted in the press and blogosphere over 2,000 times.

Mr. Bloomberg is the author or coauthor of four books: The Agile Architecture Revolution (Wiley, 2013), Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (Wiley, 2006), XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996). His next book, Agile Digital Transformation, is due within the next year.

At SOA-focused industry analyst firm ZapThink from 2001 to 2013, Mr. Bloomberg created and delivered the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) course and associated credential, certifying over 1,700 professionals worldwide. He is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in 2011.

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), and several software and web development positions.

Latest Stories
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, James Henry, Co-CEO/CTO of Calgary Scientific Inc., introduced you to the challenges, solutions and benefits of training AI systems to solve visual problems with an emphasis on improving AIs with continuous training in the field. He explored applications in several industries and discussed technologies that allow the deployment of advanced visualization solutions to the cloud.
Charles Araujo is an industry analyst, internationally recognized authority on the Digital Enterprise and author of The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know About IT is About to Change. As Principal Analyst with Intellyx, he writes, speaks and advises organizations on how to navigate through this time of disruption. He is also the founder of The Institute for Digital Transformation and a sought after keynote speaker. He has been a regular contributor to both InformationWeek and CIO Insight...
For better or worse, DevOps has gone mainstream. All doubt was removed when IBM and HP threw up their respective DevOps microsites. Where are we on the hype cycle? It's hard to say for sure but there's a feeling we're heading for the "Peak of Inflated Expectations." What does this mean for the enterprise? Should they avoid DevOps? Definitely not. Should they be cautious though? Absolutely. The truth is that DevOps and the enterprise are at best strange bedfellows. The movement has its roots in t...
DXWorldEXPO LLC, the producer of the world's most influential technology conferences and trade shows has announced the 22nd International CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO "Early Bird Registration" is now open. Register for Full Conference "Gold Pass" ▸ Here (Expo Hall ▸ Here)
Your homes and cars can be automated and self-serviced. Why can't your storage? From simply asking questions to analyze and troubleshoot your infrastructure, to provisioning storage with snapshots, recovery and replication, your wildest sci-fi dream has come true. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 20th Cloud Expo, Dan Florea, Director of Product Management at Tintri, provided a ChatOps demo where you can talk to your storage and manage it from anywhere, through Slack and similar services with...
Join IBM November 1 at 21st Cloud Expo at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, and learn how IBM Watson can bring cognitive services and AI to intelligent, unmanned systems. Cognitive analysis impacts today’s systems with unparalleled ability that were previously available only to manned, back-end operations. Thanks to cloud processing, IBM Watson can bring cognitive services and AI to intelligent, unmanned systems. Imagine a robot vacuum that becomes your personal assistant tha...
Containers are rapidly finding their way into enterprise data centers, but change is difficult. How do enterprises transform their architecture with technologies like containers without losing the reliable components of their current solutions? In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 21st Cloud Expo, Tony Campbell, Director, Educational Services at CoreOS, will explore the challenges organizations are facing today as they move to containers and go over how Kubernetes applications can deploy with lega...
In their session at @DevOpsSummit at 21st Cloud Expo, Michael Berman, VP Engineering at TidalScale, and Ivo Jimenez, Engineer at TidalScale, will describe how automating tests in TidalScale is easy thanks to WaveRunner. They will show how they use WaveRunner, Jenkins, and Docker to have agile delivery of TidalScale. Michael Berman is VP Engineering at TidalScale. TidalScale is developing a scale up compute and resource architecture for customers to perform big data exploration and real time anal...
"MobiDev is a software development company and we do complex, custom software development for everybody from entrepreneurs to large enterprises," explained Alan Winters, U.S. Head of Business Development at MobiDev, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
I think DevOps is now a rambunctious teenager - it's starting to get a mind of its own, wanting to get its own things but it still needs some adult supervision," explained Thomas Hooker, VP of marketing at CollabNet, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"With Digital Experience Monitoring what used to be a simple visit to a web page has exploded into app on phones, data from social media feeds, competitive benchmarking - these are all components that are only available because of some type of digital asset," explained Leo Vasiliou, Director of Web Performance Engineering at Catchpoint Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
The “Digital Era” is forcing us to engage with new methods to build, operate and maintain applications. This transformation also implies an evolution to more and more intelligent applications to better engage with the customers, while creating significant market differentiators. In both cases, the cloud has become a key enabler to embrace this digital revolution. So, moving to the cloud is no longer the question; the new questions are HOW and WHEN. To make this equation even more complex, most ...
Recently, WebRTC has a lot of eyes from market. The use cases of WebRTC are expanding - video chat, online education, online health care etc. Not only for human-to-human communication, but also IoT use cases such as machine to human use cases can be seen recently. One of the typical use-case is remote camera monitoring. With WebRTC, people can have interoperability and flexibility for deploying monitoring service. However, the benefit of WebRTC for IoT is not only its convenience and interopera...
Learn how to solve the problem of keeping files in sync between multiple Docker containers. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Aaron Brongersma, Senior Infrastructure Engineer at Modulus, discussed using rsync, GlusterFS, EBS and Bit Torrent Sync. He broke down the tools that are needed to help create a seamless user experience. In the end, can we have an environment where we can easily move Docker containers, servers, and volumes without impacting our applications? He shared his results so yo...
Creating replica copies to tolerate a certain number of failures is easy, but very expensive at cloud-scale. Conventional RAID has lower overhead, but it is limited in the number of failures it can tolerate. And the management is like herding cats (overseeing capacity, rebuilds, migrations, and degraded performance). In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Scott Cleland, Senior Director of Product Marketing for the HGST Cloud Infrastructure Business Unit, discussed how a new approach is neces...