The ‘real’ digital revolution
As I scan the various feeds I receive on the latest tech trends and innovations, what strikes me is the sheer scale, breadth and ingenuity of invention being driven by SMEs and startups. Is the real digital revolution happening at this level and can larger, more traditional organisations ever hope to be on the same page?
Is it really just a question of legacy? The fact that many of the companies really achieving step changes at an application level have started from a greenfield in terms of technology, data and (critically) processes, means they can truly push what is capable without posing a challenge to any perceived existing corporate way of doing something. More than this, when it comes to it, will corporate inertia simply temper or ‘soften’ the impact of any innovation that comes from within? Yet a significant amount of press coverage is focused on how FTSE 100 companies are embracing digital transformation. What concerns me is that this is digital transformation as pitched (or more specifically, delivered) by other large organisations without the capacity to truly deliver the step change that digital promises.
Perhaps the best examples of where digital transformation has been achieved is in organisations that have realised that trying to layer this type of change on top of their existing infrastructure (and thus governance and processes that control development on this infrastructure) severely limits what is possible – essentially resulting in a digital 0.5. The approach that seems to be working best is to create a new environment where innovation can thrive, based on a ring-fenced environment with new infrastructure resulting in new ways of working, new governance and new processes, with a remit to act and behave as a start-up. This would not be totally unfettered development; there is always the need to align to brand messaging and broad customer commitments; but how you do that should not be what governs the development or ideation process.
The success of this in-house start-up then potentially becomes the future of the business, migrating existing applications and data away from legacy onto systems and infrastructure proven as part of the start-up’s success. With this migration comes a change in corporate processes to ensure an enterprise-wide change in how products and services are taken to market ……… and then you start to have real digital transformation; driven initially from genuine innovation and then permeated throughout the rest of the business. And it has to be enterprise wide; hence the need for the migration from legacy; whilst there may be isolated elements of the business that can remain digitally distinct – most of the business is in some part impacting the delivery of customer-facing services and needs to embrace the new ways of working.