This Digital Transformation is Not the One You’re Looking For

I was sorting through some browser tabs that had been open for a couple of weeks on my laptop and rediscovered a press release that had caught my attention earlier. After rereading it, I realized that I had left the release up in my browser because it could be the poster child for the inane manner in which technology vendors and IT consulting firms are talking about and selling what they very much want to be the next big thing – Digital Transformation.
CA Technologies’ press release was a horrific example right from the start. It’s title, “CA Technologies Study Reveals Widespread Adoption of Digital Transformation”, nearly made me spit coffee all over my laptop. Really? Is Digital Transformation (DT) something that can be adopted? Hardly. After all, DT is not a discrete technology. Rather, it’s a never-ending journey that organizations undertake to better the efficiency and effectiveness of their operations.
DT involves making changes to business objectives, strategies, models, cultures, processes and so many other elements. Many of those changes can be supported by the deployment and adoption of enabling technologies, but DT isn’t about the technology itself. It’s a mindset, a way of thinking and acting as an organization that spans across all of its planning and execution.
In that regard, DT is very much like the discipline known as Knowledge Management (KM) that was similarly a darling of technology vendors and their consulting partners nearly 20 years ago. Most large enterprises at least considered implementing KM practices and technologies. In fact, many did, although the majority of those ‘efforts’ failed to survive an initial pilot program. In the end, only a few big companies, the ones that treated KM as something more than a technology set to be adopted, whole-heartedly embraced the discipline and successfully wove it into nearly every aspect of their businesses.
We’ve seen the same phenomenon play out with Social Business. McKinsey & Company has been tracking the deployment and impact of social constructs, behaviors and tools in a cohort of roughly 1,500 enterprises for nearly 10 years now. Earlier this month, in a teaser to its complete report of annual survey results, McKinsey published these related and telling findings:

“…35 percent of the companies had adopted social technologies in response to their adoption by competitors. Copycat behavior was also responsible for their diffusion within organizations, though at a slightly lower rate: 25 percent of all employee usage. Roughly a fifth of the companies we studied will account for an estimated 50 percent of all social-technology usage in 2015.”

Most organizations and individuals tried to ‘adopt’ social technologies because they felt competitive pressure to do so (thanks, in part, to vendors and consultants), not because they had investigated and understood how ‘being social’ at work could change how well their organization actually performed relative to both its current state and its competitors. On the other hand, a minority of organizations (20% in McKinsey’s survey) have made the dedicated, all-in commitment needed to succeed with Social Business.
Today, we are beginning this cycle all over again, this time under the moniker of Digital Transformation. Consider these findings from CA’s study:

“Digital Transformation is being driven as a coordinated strategy across a majority of organizations (55 percent)…  As a result, 45 percent of respondents have already seen measurable increases in customer retention and acquisition from their digital transformation initiatives and 44 percent have seen an overall increase in revenue.”

In other words, if you aren’t “adopting” DT already, you’re toast. At least that’s what CA and other technology vendors and consultants want you to believe in a fresh state of panic. Hence these findings from CA’s study:

Digital Disrupters have two times higher revenue growth than mainstream organizations. They report two and a half times higher profit growth than the mainstream organizations.”

That may be accurate, but surely those “Digital Disrupters” did not achieve the reported results merely by adopting technology, whether it be from CA or another vendor. They’re the ones who have taken a comprehensive view of DT and, as CA itself puts it, have “…many projects underway in multiple areas of the company, including customer services, sales and marketing, and product/service development.” It’s not a coincidence that CA was only able to include 14% of the organizations surveyed in the group it labeled “Digital Disrupters”. That matches up pretty well with McKinsey’s finding of just 20% of organizations surveyed making more than a token effort at becoming a social business.
All of this is to say beware of vendors and consultants selling technology as the cornerstone of DT initiatives. Yes, technology is an invaluable piece of the puzzle, but it’s not the only or most important one. DT can’t simply be adopted; every aspect of it must be considered and actively embraced by the entire organization.

New workflow software aims to empower younger, quieter employees

It’s nearly impossible to overstate the degree to which work has been changed by the world we live in today. From the fundamental changes of Internet and email to the more recent additions like cloud computing and Slack, we just don’t work like we used to–we work a whole lot faster and a whole lot harder. And, as a result, workflow tends to get a whole lot messier.

One of the newest tools in the workflow management game is Scalus, a Google Ventures-backed startup that’s looking further change the way we work. While Scalus is far from the first workflow management solution, its approach to common problems in the workflow pipeline is a little different.

Built on the back of BackOps, a solution that Scalus founder and CEO Kristen Koh Goldstein developed for back office management, Scalus focuses on repeatable tasks and turning conversations into actionable items. Though Goldstein and her team didn’t necessarily set out to build Scalus, as their own operations tasks grew more complex and increasingly difficult to manage, they found that the existing project management solutions weren’t quite working.

“There are a lot of collaboration or project management systems that come out of the design or marketing agency world,” says Goldstein. “They’re very gant-charty and assume that a project is super complex and deep and don’t really think about how to break up those projects into modular components that repeat. And operations is really about perfecting a workflow and repeating the heck out of it, so trying to repurpose these application coming out of what I call the ‘Don-Draper World’ was really hard.”

Applications like BaseCamp and Asana are crazy powerful and widely-used project management systems, but ones that are purpose-built for the design and engineering worlds. They’re also typically built under the assumption that everyone on the team is a willing self-advocate–someone who doesn’t have trouble speaking up and making themselves a part of the conversation.

But in Goldstein’s experience, not all employees are equally willing to speak up. She noticed that junior members–often Millennials–felt as though they didn’t have permission to make their voices heard, particularly when they were looking to change things or keep a more senior team member accountable for work that was getting stuck and creating a bottleneck. Goldstein’s BackOps crew needed a way to harness voices that weren’t getting heard and to bring together a distributed workforce. And so, they built their own scalable solution, and Scalus was born.

“What we needed that the other applications couldn’t do for us was to bring in the collaboration of the shy members of the team because they just didn’t want to look like they were bragging or blaming other people,” says Goldstein. “So that was a big problem. We needed to bring workflow automation into the picture so that the shier people who wanted to ask permission rather than forgiveness knew what to do next.”

So Scalus was built to be a kind of equalizing collaboration software that makes contributing and accountability more simple. But what does it do, exactly? Put simply, it makes items that are broadcast throughout workflow networks trackable, actionable and repeatable. Under the big umbrella of “operations,” Scalus brings together sales, accounting, customer management and HR ops and integrates with other vital office tools like Slack and Salesforce.

For example, when someone in a Slack channel tags Scalus with a to-do item, Scalus turns that item into an actionable, trackable task. Because everyone in a department is privy to the tasks at hand, workflow is made more transparent, and accountability comes from everyone. Also, chat and email integrate with Scalus to create activity audit trails, meaning that tracking the progress of a task goes beyond the Scalus platform.

“There’s a tool or a mechanism for them to communicate in the way that they want to communicate and that makes a lot of these companies a heck of a lot more efficient because they have transparency,” says Goldstein. “And the immediacy of that transparency that Scalus enables feels a lot more comfortable.”

Scalus is available for everyone beginning today. With $10 million in investment capital from Google Ventures, Sherpa Ventures and others, though, Scalus’ work is just beginning. Goldstein’s mission isn’t just to change operations software. Instead, she’s looking to change the way that we work, and the way that young people in particular fit inside of a larger working ecosystem.

“I want to make sure that the really smart, hardworking younger employees or the less experienced employees of these companies that have a lot to add don’t always have to worry that they don’t have permission to speak up,” Goldstein explains. “We’ve created a mechanism to capture their brilliance in a way that doesn’t offend anybody. And I want to go down being remembered as the person who did that.”

For now, Scalus will be laser-focused on carving themselves a place in the world of workflow management systems, which will likely mean deeper integration, bigger partners, and a larger user base. When it comes down to it, though, for Goldstein, Scalus is more than just trackable project management — it’s a way to empower employees to work and communicate ways that feel comfortable and natural.

“There are a lot of people who are better at standing up for themselves compared to others, and we want to create a tool where that doesn’t cloud the truth of what’s going on because we’re just listening to the squeakiest wheel. We want to hear all of the wheels.”

South Carolina tells Uber to shut down in the state

On Thursday, South Carolina’s Public Service Commission (PSC) issued an order for Uber to cease operations. The state governing body warned the company to stop its service immediately and not to resume until all its driver partners have proper certification. In the directive, the PSC said, “Consumers benefit from, and deserve choices in, the marketplace. However, those choices must be consistent with state law intended to protect the public.”It’s not the only local government that feels that way. State governor Nikki Haley, however, didn’t feel the same. She sent a letter to the PSC Friday expressing disapproval at the decision.

Chef brings on agile guru as VP of engineering

Chef, the company that provides commercial support for the open-source Chef configuration management and deployment tool, on Wednesday said noted agile development bigwig Jez Humble has joined the company as VP of engineering. Humble is the co-author of the book Continuous Delivery, which advocates for a kind of development process in which software can be rapidly deployed to production at any given moment. Since Chef promotes the devops school that aims to bring developers and operations staff together, this hire makes sense. Humble’s development skills and notoriety in the agile community could help bridge that gap. Humble was previously a principal at the agile consulting firm ThoughtWorks.

The organizational challenge of disruptive technologies

As firms grapple with implementing the mobile, cloud, and big data technologies that are transforming their businesses, getting the organizational process and procedures right for managing those implementations is often the greatest challenge.

Computerworld this week covers an IBM survey on the mobile strategies of 600 enterprises, finding in effect that only half of the companies surveyed currently have an effective mobile strategy. No more than 50% of the participants reported that their mobile strategy is aligned with the overall business strategy, that the organization has a clear funding mechanism for mobile initiatives, that there is executive-level oversight for mobile initiatives, or that there is an established governance structure for mobile initiatives. Although only 20% of the firms believe they have a superior or leading mobile strategy today, 44% anticipate pulling ahead of their peers in the next three years.

Among the other tidbits: The subset of those firms reporting the best and most pervasive use and management of mobile technology reports both greater plans to increase mobile funding next year and a greater mobile strategy role for the chief marketing executive. Overall, the CIO is seen to have the most influence, as would be expected, with the CFO number two when it comes to funding, the line of business number two for generating ideas and setting or managing priorities, and the chief technology officer number two in providing governance.

The role of governance is critical in a firm’s ability to manage rapid innovation. One banking industry participant is quoted as stating, “Our governance structure—which includes representatives from finance, risk, operations, customer service, product and application development, project management, technology, marketing and strategy—has been immensely effective in terms of increasing the precision and speed with which we deploy mobile solutions.”

And banks shall lead them

Banking has always been an early adopter of new technology. Bank of America offered a glimpse of how it is juggling the innovation of technology with the requirements of the bank, as reported by American Banker. Hari Gopalkrishnan, the bank’s eCommerce, architecture and segments technology executive described an application process whereby the bank’s best programmers are first brought together to create functional code. The bank’s compliance officers follow immediately thereafter, to assure that requisite encryption, opt in/out, geo caching and other standards are incorporated into the application.

Bank of America took first place honors for user experience, accessibility, and alerting platforms in Javelin Strategy & Research’s annual mobile banking survey, as also reported this week by American Banker. As evidence of the rapid adoption of mobile bankers, the survey found 45% of consumers had used mobile banking in the past 90 days, up from 26% in 2012.

As seen in the IBM survey, executives in other industries are expecting mobile’s importance to grow as rapidly—but they don’t believe their companies are organizationally ready to handle it.

To scale web services, devops devotees should consider economics

For most people scaling out a web service is a matter of thinking about hardware and software. But the recent Surge conference taught me that most devops folk need to look down to the physical infrastructure as well as the economic tradeoffs of building a service.

Traversing the Valley

The Valley dismisses corporate America when it comes to technological innovation. Likewise, corporate America knows little about tech companies’ world class operations. Technology strategist Vinnie Mirchandani argues that both sides should wake up to the consumerization of enterprise tech and the enterprising of consumer tech.

What cloud boils down to for the enterprise

As I find myself honored with the opportunity to contribute regularly to GigaOM’s cloud coverage, I find myself thinking a lot about what I’ve learned in those five years. So, for my first post, I thought I’d walk through my most important observations to date.

Adobe Creative Suite 5 Details Revealed

I was only just talking about how long its been since Adobe (s adbe) released a new major update to its flagship Creative Suite product with an imaging professional friend, and now there’s a sign that we won’t have to wait much longer for said update to arrive. AppleInsider got an exclusive look at some of the new features coming up in various CS5 programs, some of which look mighty appealing to my hobbyist eye.

Photoshop CS5 will finally become 64-bit, for starters, something which Photoshop CS4 for Windows could claim nearly two years ago in 2008. The new 64-bit Photoshop CS5 has be completely rewritten in Apple’s (s aapl) Cocoa development framework, after Apple’s decision to scrap a 64-bit version of Carbon blocked the simultaneous release of a 64-bit Photoshop CS4 for Mac. But that’s not all. Many other new goodies are also forthcoming. Read More about Adobe Creative Suite 5 Details Revealed

Fat Spaniel: Solar Software Gets Smarter

fatspanielIn news highlighting that solar software is getting smarter, solar software startup Fat Spaniel Technologies is moving beyond just monitoring solar projects. The San Jose, Calif.-based solar software company plans to announce on Tuesday that it has developed a set of software called Lifecycle Management solutions that also interpret data from its customers’ projects, anticipating and solving problems to help make the most of those solar assets. The company says that some of its software can reduce total maintenance costs by up to 30 percent.
The first two of these products, Solar Plant Vision and Solar Operations Services, are geared toward operating and maintaining solar projects. Aside from helping keep solar plants at their most productive and cost-effective, maintenance is crucial to make sure that these projects retain their value as assets, said Tom Tansy, vice president of marketing at the company. This is especially important considering that most solar projects change ownership after about 5-7 years because of the way they are financed, and keeping track of those assets, including their service and performance histories, is important.
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