A Bottoms Up Approach to Digital Transformation

Every organization today has strategies in place for managing toward DX. They differ and are implemented w/ varying intensity, but any business leader at the helm of their organization’s digital transformation must consider two core metrics for any hope of achieving their end goal:

  • Productivity of the assets: how do leaders raise the return on the organization’s assets—the purchased tools and solutions in use across the company? And,
  • Productivity of the people: how do leaders drive bigger revenues through the contributions of individual employees?

By focusing on these metrics, leaders are honing in on the foundation of their organization, taking a bottoms-up approach to its digital transformation. This is a very real, effective strategy for organizations looking to make measurable progress on their DX journeys.
If this bottoms-up approach resonates, take a hard look at the Nitro Productivity Suite. Not only does this solution drive bottoms-up DX by tackling the paper problem—enabling every user across the organization to stop printing with PDF productivity tools and unlimited eSignatures—its Analytics platform provides rich insights into printing activity, feature usage, and user adoption, so you can take stock of the current situation, establish a plan of action to drive certain digital behaviors, and actually measure progress toward end goals. In essence, it enables you to optimize both the productivity of the people, and the productivity of the assets.

TrackVia’s Low-code Platform is the Secret Sauce of Digital Transformation

Businesses striving towards digital transformation need to get their applications, infrastructure and cloud initiatives synchronized in order to be successful. TrackVia’s low-code application development platform brings order to the chaos of developing cloud-enabled applications, while also adding in critical mobile device support.

NaaP (Network as a Platform) is the Latest Acronym to Spell Growth

For the enterprise and service provider crowd, that means riverbed is looking to bring the agility of the cloud to existing infrastructure, by adding a new abstraction layer, which automates and simplifies thorny tasks, such as provisioning, scaling, and overall services management.

IBM goes outside the company for a new chief digital officer

Bob Lord, the former AOL president whose ascent to AOL CEO was derailed by the sale to Verizon, is returning to his Razorfish digital roots and taking the reins of digital at IBM.
In an indication of the time we are in, the news was first broken on Twitter, by IBM’s David Kenny:
Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 10.59.59 AM
Arik Hesseldahl reports,

In a statement circulated to IBM employees, the company said Lord will “accelerate and scale all aspects of IBM’s digital presence, operations and ecosystem,” and will run its its digital platform, digital sales and marketing and its developer ecosystem.

Chief Digital Officers are often called in to create a digital transformation, not just running digital operations. I guess it’s clear that IBM needs such a transformation, in order to get more agile in just about the most rapidly shifting market in the world: enterprise technologies.
I’m going to have to try to connect with Lord, and see what his charter actually is.

originally posted on medium.com/@stoweboyd

Zappos sees more staff departures, but is Holacracy to blame?

More departures at Zappos leads commentators to question if Holacracy is the culprit. Recall that Tony Hsieh offered employees a big payout if they decided to quit during the transition to Holacracy. But that’s not the only transition going on there. Zappos has been involved in a major web transition, moving onto parent Amazon’s back-end technology platform:

David Gelles, The Zappos Exodus Continues After a Radical Management Experiment
The latest departures came from a group of employees who were helping Zappos migrate to Super Cloud, a back-end infrastructure run by Amazon. The arduous, years-long effort to move Zappos to Amazon’s servers has effectively frozen the company’s website, and employees working on the project were offered more time before taking the buyout.
Mr. [Arun] Rajan [Zappo’s Chief Operating Officer] said that the migration to Super Cloud, which he had hoped to complete last year, was still ongoing. Meanwhile, 38 percent of those working on the Super Cloud transition took the buyout offer.

My bet is that a lot of these departures are folks that have burned out on the apparently difficult transition to Super Cloud, and the bail-out money simply makes leaving more attractive.

Bud Caddell of Nobl offers some light on what’s going on at Zappos, because he was asked by Zappos folks (*not* Tony Hsieh, specifically) to give an hour-long ‘Teal Talk’, referring to Frederick Laloux’s Teal organization concept. Afterward, Caddell remained in contact with some of the Zappos folks. This is causing me to rethink my initial read of the situation: Super Cloud might be the proximate cause of these new defections, but if Caddell is right, Holacracy is the real friction underlying the turmoil.

Bud Caddell, Teal Fail
For a long time now, I’ve felt like the little boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” but others are finally realizing that, while Holacracy and Reinventing Organizations are compelling ideas, they are patently unsafe for existing businesses to adopt.
In fact, since meeting with Zappos, I’ve met with two other firms that have adopted Holacracy and are now struggling with the reality of its complication, rigidity, and lack of clear return on investment. Both had already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in coaching and implementation services, and because of that investment, were afraid to dismantle or even question the rules of what they had purchased.
Cutting-edge management fads are causing great companies to bleed out. The distance between the theoretical conversation and the reality of work is just too far. The average employee is already overworked and undertrained; asking them to learn the management equivalent of Dungeons and Dragons on top of their workload is foolish, if not inhumane.
It’s not “ambitious” to issue an ultimatum. It’s not “brave” to put the livelihood of your people in jeopardy by introducing change that’s not justified or informed by your market or customer. All of us should be committed to human agency, to reintroducing choice back into the workplace experience, but those introductions have to be both safe for the business, and designed for the literacy and context of the workers themselves.

The Inevitable ‘Digital Transformation’ Backlash

Nearly 58% of respondents to this year’s study thought suppliers were creating too much hype around ‘digitisation’ and ‘digital transformation’.Digital Transformation has memed its way into the bloodstream of modern business discourse, but is increasingly viewed as an effort by vendors to refactor their flagging relevance. Stuart Lauchlan reports on recent feedback from users to SAP. They aren’t buying the hype:

Over-hyped and under-led – SAP users rebel over digital transformation
An unambiguous shot across the bows from Philip Adams, Chairman of the UK and Ireland SAP User Group (UKISUG), in Birmingham today upon the release of a survey of user attitudes.
These surveys have become a regular feature of the opening keynote sessions at UKISUG conferences with SAP executives often not typically briefed on their results until the morning of release. (This year they got a few days notice.)
This year’s theme was digital transformation, with the uncomfortable conclusion for SAP – and a lot of other providers, you know who you are! – that users are fed up of the hype cycles around new technologies and just want some sensible, solid, down-to-earth guidance.
Nearly 58% of respondents to this year’s study thought suppliers were creating too much hype around ‘digitisation’ and ‘digital transformation’.
It also seems that users are increasingly conscious and dismissive of vendors attempts at refactoring their product offerings, a phenomenon most recently seen perhaps in the attempts at ‘cloud washing’ across the industry.
This long-standing and downright Orwellian – “We have always been at war with Eurasia” – practice means that 80% of respondents are now sufficiently cynical as to assume that digitilisation is just a repackaging exercise by legacy vendors in search of relevance.

This is exactly why Larry Hawes will be making the ‘business of digital transformation’ a key part of his — and Gigaom’s — research agenda in 2016. More to follow.

Jeff Bezos Says He Wouldn’t Work at That Company Either

I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company. – Jeff Bezos

This weekend, the NY Times published a long piece that described an Orwellian Amazon, where employees rat each other out for apparent infractions of corporate norms of conduct, and where a relentless obsession with operational progress and expansion supposedly trumps other principles and culminates in ‘purposeful Darwinism’, where those that can’t keep up the pace — or who are saddled with illness, child-rearing, or other personal demands on their time — are quickly edged out.
I’ve written about Jeff Bezos’ aspirations for Amazon (see What do Amazon and Netflix have in common?, and Amazon’s “two pizza” teams keep it fast and loose) and in particular the Amazon leadership principles that I believe make sense across the board today, and not just at Amazon. For example, one principle is Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit:

Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

The bland desire for consensus has become part of business conventional wisdom, but is not linked to high performance. I buy Bezos’ vision for the aggressive mindset often called ‘strong opinions, weakly held’, which means that we should advance our perspective forcefully, looking for the best solution to problems, and to avoid compromise for the sake of consensus. But when new information is presented — data, mind you, not just more opinions — we should reconsider our premises, and change our minds when warranted.
However, these and others of the principles underlying Amazon’s culture are at variance with much of the shallow business culture that animates most businesses, and which forms the training grounds for most workers. This principle — which requires active argumentation to get to better solutions — can be a painful and trying experience for those not grounded in the practice of impersonal, data-centered argument.
And, at the same time, there is nothing built into the application of the philosophy at Amazon that rules out politics, backbiting, striving for power and money, and all the other ills of the rat race. Even the highest ideals can be appropriated by the unscrupulous, and a company the size of Amazon with ambitions to match will certainly attract more than its fair share of jungle fighters willing to take scalps on their war path. A great deal of boundary behavior is likely with so much at stake, I bet.
Bezos responded to the article uncharacteristically, sending out a memo to the company, suggesting that employees read it, and countering it’s conclusions by saying this:

The article goes further than reporting isolated anecdotes. It claims that our intentional approach is to create a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard. Again, I don’t recognize this Amazon and I very much hope you don’t, either. More broadly, I don’t think any company adopting the approach portrayed could survive, much less thrive, in today’s highly competitive tech hiring market. The people we hire here are the best of the best. You are recruited every day by other world-class companies, and you can work anywhere you want.
I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company.

Amazon isn’t a single, homogenous company. It’s thousands of variants of the core Amazon, each one different in small or large ways, based on the experiences, backgrounds, and aspirations of those working there. There is no doubt that Bezos’ Amazon and the Amazon of a fulfilment clerk in a shipping center are vastly different, but even the experiences of two similar white collar workers in different marketing teams of different product groups could be totally unlike.
Still, there is a foundational tension at the base of Amazon culture. It’s inescapable. It must be there, like a spring at the heart of a watch.
Amazon exists in a greater society, and the workers work there but live here. But the operational principles of Amazon — like Netflix, Apple, and the other world-beating, high performing giants of our century — are starkly at variance with the business and social tenets of the larger society. That’s part of — and maybe most of — the reason that these companies are disruptive, and are defining the new world we are careening into. That process is not likely to be without disruption of our society. On the contrary, it is inevitable that the deep cultural change necessary for digital transformation of business will change us all, even if we aren’t working at one of those companies. It is coming to change us all, and then everything else.

What we can learn from a conference changing its name: a lot

The rise of digital transformation, and the decline of social business and enterprise 2.0

I am honored to be in the speaker’s roster for the upcoming Enterprise Digital Summit, scheduled for 21-22 October 2015 in London. My keynote is safely entitled Building Blocks of the Organization in the Digital Age, which gives me a great deal of leeway to talk about the future of the organization. But I am not going to dig into my talk, here. I have months to do that. (Although let me say that I will have to explode the premise of the title — that organizations can be ‘designed’ and ‘built’ like buildings or machines — and offer up more biological or sociological metaphors, instead.) Instead, I’d rather discuss the recent name change of the conference itself, and what that says about shifts in the global discourse around new ways of work.
The newly dubbed Enterprise Digital Summit was formerly known as the Enterprise 2.0 Summit. As the conference producer, Bjoern Negelmann, recently wrote,

We have been thinking about the scope of the Enterprise 2.0 Summit for quite some time. For a while now our beloved expert community has been telling us that “Social” has moved on, the “Enterprise 2.0” term is “dead” and that our conference heading doesn’t match the general “zeitgeist” of the current business landscape. We have argued against change, both because of the name recognition our event has in the community and because not every organisation is at the leading edge of change. However, in today’s disruptive business climate, every organisation’s business model is under threat and we are no different. It’s time to re-adjust. It’s time to change our name!
The question is where are we heading to? What is the best way of explaining the projects and programs of today and tomorrow?

Negelmann goes on to make a concise and partly convincing case that the rise in interest around digital transformation of the business is sucking all the oxygen out of the room, and subordinating activities that formerly might have been called enterprise 2.0 (when focused on technology first, and culture/organization/people second) or social business (when vice-versa). His colleague David Terrar added this,

During 2014 we started to shift our terminology again to digital disruption and digital transformation. The topic we are discussing is about much more than the tools and technology that organisations use to collaborate more effectively, to empower employees, to innovate and to connect with their customers, partners, employees and stakeholders in new and better ways.
It is about those things, but it is also about rethinking the world of work, adopting emergent strategy, and recognising the management shift required, along with new business models, that we must use to react and compete in the 21st century.

In a recent survey, 98% reported they are undergoing digital transformation, while only 25% could say they had a clear understanding of what that means. It’s clear we are grappling with the digital imperative, like it or not.
I define digital transformation this way:

A new operating model of business based on continuous innovation through the application of digital technologies and the restructuring of operations around customer experience to better engage with customers, the company ecosystem, and the greater marketplace.

This is both a customer-centric and technology centric perspective, and one in which workers and their work are subsumed in the efforts for innovation and operational effectiveness. In essence, the last decade of initiatives that were called social business or enterprise 2.0 (or, generically, social collaboration) are decreasing as a priority, or being completely dropped from the future agenda. Why? Why is it that digital transformation seems to be picking up where social business and enterprise 2.0 left off?
A few observations might make this clear.
First, social business is a web 2.0 era trend. The architecture of ‘social collaboration/enterprise 2.0’ tools is principally for office-bound knowledge workers with desktop computers, and based on fairly dated architectural motifs. Part of this new digital transformation is reaching all workers — on the manufacturing floor, building houses in the field, or in retail outlets — not just office workers, not just employees, not just knowledge workers.
Second, We’re now in a ‘mobile 1st, cloud 1st, people 1st’ era. Mobility is causing us to rethink nearly everything about work and business, which is invalidating many of the premises of social collaboration. We are truly working everywhere with everyone.
Third, the promise of higher productivity hasn’t materialized. I written a great deal about the failure of social collaboration, so I won’t elaborate here, except to assert that the productivity gains from this generation of social collaboration tools have been less than anticipated, to be generous.
I believe that the hard part of moving to a new way of work is not selecting tools to communicate with team members, or making old web 2.0 solutions work in a mobile world. On the contrary, the real barriers to a new way of work are cultural barriers. Or turned around, to get to a new way of work — one that is based on increased agility, resilience, and autonomy — requires a deepening of culture. And it may be that deep culture is what social business was always intended to mean, or at least what I thought it should mean.
The Boston Consulting Group makes a case for two chapters in digital transformation, where the first chapter is dedicated to operational turnaround based on the adoption of new technologies and practices.
bcg chapter 2
The second chapter is where the proof of the transformation lies, and it requires a transition to what the authors call adaptive innovation. That second chapter requires deepening culture, so that the organization is oriented toward new ways of working that align with both of — at the same time — the requirements of the new business model and the aspirations and motivations of the new workforce, those who are living on the other side of the transformation’s technological and sociological changes.
In a second post in this series of posts, I will explore the sense of urgency needed for deep cultural change to happen, and why the lack of a true sense of urgency can block deep change. Suffice it to say that adaptive innovation requires deep cultural change, and a sense of urgency to make those changes.
So, in the final analysis, as we entered chapter two in the realm of social business/enterprise 2.0, we hit the downward arc. Of course, there is a great deal of innovation in the broader area of work tech and the future of work, and we are entering chapter 1 of the digital transformation story. In that chapter, social business and enterprise 2.0 become historical antecedents. But the need for deep cultural change — yet again — will play the pivotal role in the coming second chapter of digital transformation.
That’s probably what I will talk about in October at the newly dubbed Enterprise Digital Summit event in London.

IBM is a sponsor of the Enterprise Digital Summit event.

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