A New Age of Digital Exploration

The first question you may have here is what do I mean by “digital exploration”? Is exploration being disrupted by digital, or does digital require exploration? The answer is yes to both. Although the focus of this piece is on the latter, my thinking about it was triggered by the first. In 2013, my son, Jeremy, was named one of National Geographic’s “Emerging Explorers of The Year”. This was not for grinding trudges dragging dugout canoes through tropical areas, although that was to follow, but for his work in data visualization – translating unimaginable blurs of information into something we can see, understand, and feel—data made human through visualizations that blend research, art, software, science, and design.

img_2788aAs a result of this, and meeting another National Geographic explorer, Steve Boyes, Jeremy became one of the four leaders of the Okavango 2014 expedition (that’s him on the left) – the first ever live-data expedition  across Botswana’s amazing Okavango Delta. Like the expeditions of old, they were pushing into the unknown, in search of measurements but, unlike previous expeditions, they used a set of open-source tools to develop a system that puts every piece of data collected onto the web, in near real-time, for anyone in the world to use and share. This data included wildlife sightings, water quality measurements, and the four leaders’ exact GPS location, heart rate, and energy consumption.

As I reflected on this expedition, and how it was positively disrupting exploration, I went back to thinking about how our use of technology has evolved and continues to evolve. I started to question how I have been describing this evolution. I have described, as depicted in the image below, three stages of evolution: the automation stage, which I characterized as the appliance era; the information stage, characterized as the rewiring era; and the transformation stage, characterized as the rebuilding era.

Slide1

I have always felt uncomfortable with the term transformation – a much over-used and abused word. When the initial version of this image appeared in The Information Paradox, almost two decades ago, it was being used to describe the implementation of ERP, CRM, SCM etc. While these were certainly complicated endeavours, and often required significant organizational change (a requirement usually recognized too late and poorly managed), they were primarily about integrating information, and making it more accurate, accessible and timely. There were  proven practices available to do this, although, they were all too often not adopted, or adopted too late. They did not essentially change what organizations did – they just did it differently and, hopefully, better. It certainly involved major organizational change, but was hardly transformational.

Since that time, there has certainly been real transformation in a number of industries, including entertainment, media, communications, retail and consumer goods, financial services, automotive, as well as around the edges of others, but we are now seeing this happening, or at least the potential for it to happen, across all industries. Indeed, across all organizations, public or private, large or small. This is taking us into unknown territory – moving beyond a complicated world to a complex one. One in which :

  • Technology itself, how technology is delivered, how it used, and by whom are changing at an ever-increasing pace;
  • Everything and everyone will be connected, anywhere, any time;
  • Technology is increasingly embedded in everything we do, and in ourselves;
  • Everything is becoming “smart’ – phones, cars, houses, buildings, cities, etc.;
  • Robots, cognitive computing and machine learning play an increasing role;
  • We are becoming increasingly embedded in everything technology does;
  • Data is available about everything;
  • Analytics are available to anyone; and
  • Everything is available as a service.

This increasingly complex world is moving us to  the next stage of evolution in our use of IT – exploration, as illustrated in the images below.

Slide1This first figure adds the exploration stage to my original three. This is a somewhat different and more fluid stage, as what emerges from the exploration stage could become a combination of automation, information, and transformation type uses of IT. In the next image I take a degree of licence in  integrating the four stages with the concepts of David Snowden’s Cynefin Framework – an analytical, decision-making framework based on understanding the nature of the systems you are working with – simple/ordered, complicated, complex or chaotic, and selecting the appropriate approach and practices to manage them.

Slide2The first three of the Cynefin system types: simple/ordered; complicated; and complex are  mapped to the four stages. Automation, and some basic examples of the information stage map to simple/ordered. Some of the more integrated information and simple transformation map to complicated. Broader transformation and exploration map to complex. The mapping again draws on David Snowden’s work in positing that best practices are appropriate for the simple/ordered systems, proven practices can be selected based on analysis and/or expert opinion for complicated systems, and new/novel practices emerge during the exploratory era.

Slide3While, as proven and best practices emerge, the nature of systems may change, i.e. they may become a combination of simple/ordered, complicated and complex, this last figure shows that when we attempt to apply best practices to a complex system, the result is the fourth Cynefin system type – chaotic. In today’s complex digital world, while proven practices are emerging, most of what we are doing is still very much exploratory in nature.

 

 
As organizations move into the digital world, they will still have simple/ordered systems, although most of these may be XaaS in the Cloud, and complicated systems, some/all of which may also be in the Cloud, but an increasing amount of what they do will be in the complex space. In this space, it will not just be just practices around delivery of products that will be emerging, but also new models of how work is organized, managed, lead and governed. It is, or should be becoming clear that our traditional industrial-age, top-down hierarchical control-oriented approach to leadership and management is simply not cutting it, and certainly won’t do so in a digital world. The engagement level of employees with their organizations is abysmal – ranging between ~13-30% (and its not much better for managers). This is sometimes attributed to generational differences, particularly the rise of the “millennials”, and is certainly not helped by the rising disparity between C-Suite pay and that of the median worker. However, I don’t believe that the aspirations of millennials are any different than mine were when I started work over 50 years ago.

What has changed is the global and social context within which we live and work. We are more globally aware and socially connected, and have 24/7 access to pretty much unlimited knowledge, information and expertise. We are exposed every day to how other organizations are already embracing technologies, including social, mobile and analytics, enabling greater engagement and two-way communication with and between employees, and orchestrating self-managing teams who can work collaboratively in a much more agile and responsive way with limited but relevant and appropriate oversight. Organizations who are “democratizing” their approach to leadership and governance – letting their people use their brains again.

We know what the future of work could be, but don’t see that anywhere close to being universally realized. The challenge ahead is to break out of the straightjacket of more than a century of hierarchical, siloed industrial age mindsets at work which are controlling, mistake-averse and “know it all”. To evolve them into mindsets that are enabling, learning and willing to try new things and fail. To move to a more agile and inclusive approach to governance, leadership and management. A value-focused, data and analytics driven, agile, sense and respond approach that transcends functional and organisational boundaries, and engages employees, customers and other key stakeholders – locating accountability and decision-making at the most appropriate level (based on the principle of subsidiarity), while supporting decisions with broader and more knowledgeable input.

All this is will require a fundamental rethinking of how digital businesses are governed and managed, and the capabilities that are required to ensure and assure that the use of technology contributes to creating and sustaining business and societal value in the digital world Replacing current top-down, hierarchical and siloed processes with leadership across and beyond the C-suite with leadership capabilities recognized, nurtured, and empowered throughout organizations. It will all be part of a new era of digital exploration and transformation.

Does this mean that we have to throw out everything that has come before? No – but we do have to question everything? We do have to look at everything with the understanding of “what could be”, not “what has been”. We have to be careful here not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” – this must all be done without losing sight of the fundamentals of governance as described in Back to the Basics – The Four “Ares” and A Value-Driven Framework for Change.

2012 – A Perfect Storm in IT!

One consequence of a 3 month hiatus, forced initially by surgery and concluded more voluntarily with much needed relaxation in Hawaii, is that I have had time to actually read and digest much of the material that, all too often, I only have time to quickly scan – and then rarely get back to. Amongst all this material was a considerable amount of prognostication on 2012 trends. In many ways, little of this was new, but collectively, it does amount to a “perfect storm” that challenges the way we as individuals, societies, and enterprises – small and large, public and private, look at, use and manage technology, including both the demand and supply side and, probably most importantly, where they intersect. In this post, I will briefly discuss the elements of this “perfect storm”, add the one element that I find to be conspicuously missing from the dialogue, and discuss the implications of both.

  1. The “cloud” – the dream of the “information utility” has been around for decades, and now, with the “cloud”, while there are still significant governance, security and privacy issues to work through (some real, some “noise”),  this is now closer to being a reality.
  2. The data explosion, “big data” – I read recently that 90% of the data in the world today was created in the last 2 years – this exponential growth of data is creating both enormous challenges, and great opportunities – on the technology side, developments include the rise of Hadoop, and recent announcements of Dynamo DB from Amazon, and Big Data Appliance from  Oracle, as well as the growing need for new data visualization and “data scientist” skills.
  3. Analytics, particularly real-time analytics – some of the technologies mentioned above, and indeed those below, are fundamentally changing the analytics landscape. Huge amounts of data – structured or unstructured, can now be analyzed quickly, and data can increasingly be captured and analyzed in real time. The challenge here is to resist the temptation  to succumb to analysis paralysis – to know what information is both relevant and  important, what questions to ask, and to think ahead to what actions might need be taken as a result of based on the answers to these questions.
  4. Mobility – services can now be accessed, data captured, information found, and transactions performed from almost anywhere – other work locations, coffee shops, restaurants and bars, at home, in other countries, in taxis, trains or buses, on airplanes or even on a cruise ship – limitations of distance and time have been virtually eliminated. The challenge here, apart from the security and privacy issues that are common to most of these points,  is to be able to find the “off” button in an increasingly, always on, 24/7 world. On an individual basis we need to maintain a work-life balance, and from a business perspective, “burn out” seriously erodes the effectiveness and value of  their most critical resource – people.
  5. Consumerization, including BYOD and “app”s – while it could be argued that these 3 could each merit their own category, I have chosen to “lump” them together as, collectively, they represent a further significant shift from the traditional “technology push” world, with the IT function in a control mode as the gatekeeper, to the “user tool pull” world with IT, potentially – if they get it right, in a facilitation role as a service broker.
  6. Social Media – this is, to some extent, simply one “flavour” of the previous 2 elements, but a very significant one, with potentially huge implications. While much of the attention to date has been on controlling social media, enterprises are increasingly using it as a communication channel, and beyond that, to tap into it to find out what their customers, and employees are thinking. Here, one challenge/opportunity that I see how we can use social media to improve performance  by tapping into the collective knowledge within organizations – “crowd sourcing” input into decision-making and, as a result, making better-informed decisions, and having employees feel more connected with, and empowered by their organizations.

In all the discussion around the elements of this “perfect storm”, much if not most of the focus had been on the IT function needing to respond more quickly to deliver and/or support capabilities in these areas. There has been much less discussion of how the use of these technologies will be used to lead to positive outcomes – creating and/or sustaining  individual, societal and enterprise value – or of the changes that will be needed in the behaviour of individuals, societies and enterprises if that value is to be realized. If we as individuals and societies are not to become “the tools of our tools”, and enterprises are not to continue the increasingly expensive and value-destructive litany of IT failures, we need to shift our focus from the technology to how we manage and use the capabilities that the technologies provide to increase the value of our lives, our societies and our enterprises.

I don’t make these comments as a later day “luddite”,  rather my focus on value is driven by many decades of frustration at our being nowhere near to realizing the individual, societal and business value that intelligent and appropriate use of technology can create. We will not close that gap until we – as individuals, or leaders in society or business, take “ownership” of how we  use technology, based on the outcomes that are important to us, and the value that we seek to create and sustain! In the enterprise world, this has fundamental implications for the roles and accountabilities of business executives and line of business managers, and for the role of the IT function, as discussed in 2 earlier posts, The Future of IT, and Value from IT – There is a Better Way!

In closing, in the context of individual and societal value, 2 areas that I have long had an interest in, and that I will be watching closely this year are healthcare and education. While we shouldn’t expect seismic shifts in either to happen quickly – it’s just not the nature of the beasts, the ground is starting to move. In healthcare, much of this is driven by the funding crunch, with increase focus on eHealth, based largely on “meaningful use” of EHRs, as well as an increasing number of apps such as Phillips Vital Signs Camera for the iPad. In education, with some exceptions, it is still somewhat more of a grass roots movement, although Apple’s recent iBooks 2 and iTunesU announcements, and organizations such as Curriki may well be  changing this. What I believe we will see here, over time, is an evolution beyond eHealth and eLearning to iHealth, and iLearning, with individuals taking increasing “ownership” of their own health and education.

 

 

The Traveler Returns

To quote Mark Twain, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated!” Understandable, however, as it has indeed been quite some time since my last post. This is largely because I have been traveling extensively – a mix of business and  personal time – including Toronto, Asia, Alaska, Vancouver, the UK and Greece. Part of the personal time included a 23 day cruise from Beijing to Vancouver. A quick scan of emails on my return – once I eliminated the 90% related to the (aptly named) Cloud –  had me yet again shaking my head and wondering whether I had not been on a cruise ship at all – rather traveling in Dr Who’s police box time machine – backwards! Here are just a couple of examples:

  • In his May 21st blog, Project Managers Need to Engage IT At the Right Time, commenting on a project predictability seminar, Jim Vaughan says “It was noted that problems with requirements management are rarely with the IT organization and process. This caught me by surprise at first because I usually thought of IT, myself included, as the source of the problem.To get to the right requirements you need the right people to define those requirements. These are not the IT people. If we let the IT people define the requirements we will likely get into trouble. That is why people will blame IT for failed projects. The correct people to define the requirements are the business people and end users.” As this is what I have done for more than 45 years – and what I assumed was well understood, if not common practice – I was amazed that Jim should be surprised by this.
  • In a May 24th Computerworld article by Julia King, These CIOs go way beyond IT-business alignment, she discusses “an admittedly unscientific short list of pioneers in IT-business convergence including  The Progressive Corp., Southwest Airlines Co. and The Procter & Gamble Co.” as well as Vanguard Group and Zappos.com where “business and IT are virtually indistinguishable” and “IT doesn’t just support the business; it enables and continually transforms the business, often creating new revenue and profit streams.” I think that this is great – but why, when we have been talking about this for decades, are there still only a small group of pioneers doing this?

On a more positive note, I attended the CICA conference in Toronto at the end of March, where I gave a Val IT™ workshop, and was pleased to have some people talk to me about Val IT before they even knew who I was, and also to discover that an increasing number of organizations, including the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, are using it, or planning to do so.

In May, I presented at the first annual CMC BC Consulting Conference in Vancouver – how could I resist speaking at a conference with the theme “Charting a course to value”. Among the other topics, there was much discussion about social media and networking and I was pleased to see a tweet sent from Chris Burdge of bWEST who was attending my presentation saying that he was finding it “surprisingly fascinating”. He has subsequently invited me to participate on a panel at a  SocialMediaCamp he’s organizing for October. My son, Jer (blprnt), is quite active in the social media scene, and has a digital art practice in which (I quote) he “explores the many-folded boundaries between science and art”. He and I have been spending quite a bit of time lately discussing the intersection of governance and social media/networking – not just the current preoccupation with how to control social media/networking but, beyond that, how it could be used to improve governance, specifically the quality of decision-making, by tapping into a much broader experience/knowledge base. I may need to spend more time with him before October.

After Vancouver, I headed off to Greece to speak at the Thessaloniki Business Conference. There was an impressive line up of speakers, all of whom had a strong focus on value.  Many of the messages resonated with me, including:

  • Professor Leslie de Chernatony, Professor of Brand Marketing Universita della Svizzera italiana and Aston Business School, who spoke about “Growing out of a recession through more effective brand strategies” stressed that that companies needed to focus on value – not price, to move beyond product quality to outcome quality, and to “watch how you invest”.
  • Howard Stevens, CEO of The HR Chally Group, talked about “Unlocking the Science of Sales Development” and reinforced the value and outcome quality messages saying that there is only a 2-3% difference in product quality between the serious players, all products can be replicated, and what really differentiates the players is the “customer experience”. He also discussed the importance of business analytics and contended that we have information management (IM) backwards – we start with the company executives when we should be starting with the customer.
  • Harold Stolovitch of HSA Learning and Performance Solutions spoke on “Maximizing Workplace Performance in Tough Economic Times” and reiterated the importance of really “walking the talk” when it comes to treating people as “your most important asset” and said that study after study shows that the most important performance blocks are failing to set expectations and failing to provide feedback.
  • Jeremy Hope, Director of the Beyond Budgeting Round Table talked about “How to save 20%-30% on costs, by managing operational bureaucracy and the introduction of modern tools for the running of the Finance Department”, claiming that replacing the annual budget with rolling plans and forecasts could save 90% of time currently spent on the budget process. This is certainly in line with my thinking as expressed in The Budgeting Circus.
  • Dr David Hillson, Director at Risk Doctor & Partners, covered the topic of “Managing risk in innovation projects”. In defining risk as “uncertainty that matters”, he suggested that risks present opportunities as well as threats, with both needing to be managed proactively, and made the case that Risk Management addresses both threats & opportunities in a single integrated process.

I spoke on the role of IT in the economic crisis, and the challenge of maximising the value from IT. I made the case that, while Nicholas Carr might say that “IT [as a commodity] doesn’t matter”, how we manage the change that IT both shapes and enables determines the success or even survival of our enterprises, and business leaders must own and be accountable for this –  it is far too important to be abdicated to the IT function.

En route to and from the Greek conference, I read Joel Kurtzman’s book, Common Purpose. The need for leadership came across in most of the above presentations, and Joel provides a very insightful critique of today’s leaders, and the need for them to move beyond the traditional “command and control” model to establishing a  “common purpose” and creating a “feeling of ‘we’ among the members of their group, team or organization”. I will review this book in greater detail in a later post.

On the subject of books, I am also reading Susan Cramm’s latest book, 8 Things We Hate about IT – as always, Susan is “right on the money” and, again, I will shortly post a review. Also, I  have received a copy of Stephen Jenner’s latest book, Transforming Government and Public Services: Realising Benefits through Project Portfolio Management, which I hope to be able to get to soon and – yes – will again be posting a review.

Hopefully, it will not be 3 months before my next post, but, as I will be slowing down somewhat through the summer – if it ever comes, it may be a while before I get back to being as prolific as I have been in the past.