Agile Computing Authors: William Schmarzo, Liz McMillan, Carmen Gonzalez, Jim Kaskade, Lori MacVittie

Blog Feed Post

Digital Transformation, Innovation, Optimization, and Disruption: Spin the Dial

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.

Flexibility chart

Adaptive Flexibility in Digital Transformation Initiatives (click for larger version)

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

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Jason Bloomberg

Jason Bloomberg is the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise. As president of Intellyx, Mr. Bloomberg brings his years of thought leadership in the areas of Cloud Computing, Enterprise Architecture, and Service-Oriented Architecture to a global clientele of business executives, architects, software vendors, and Cloud service providers looking to achieve technology-enabled business agility across their organizations and for their customers. His latest book, The Agile Architecture Revolution (John Wiley & Sons, 2013), sets the stage for Mr. Bloomberg’s groundbreaking Agile Architecture vision.

Mr. Bloomberg is perhaps best known for his twelve years at ZapThink, where he created and delivered the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) SOA course and associated credential, certifying over 1,700 professionals worldwide. He is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, the leading SOA advisory and analysis firm, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in 2011. He now runs the successor to the LZA program, the Bloomberg Agile Architecture Course, around the world.

Mr. Bloomberg is a frequent conference speaker and prolific writer. He has published over 500 articles, spoken at over 300 conferences, Webinars, and other events, and has been quoted in the press over 1,400 times as the leading expert on agile approaches to architecture in the enterprise.

Mr. Bloomberg’s previous book, Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (John Wiley & Sons, 2006, coauthored with Ron Schmelzer), is recognized as the leading business book on Service Orientation. He also co-authored the books XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996).

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).

@ThingsExpo Stories
Intelligent machines are here. Robots, self-driving cars, drones, bots and many IoT devices are becoming smarter with Machine Learning. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Sudha Jamthe, CEO of IoTDisruptions.com, will discuss the next wave of business disruption at the junction of IoT and AI, impacting many industries and set to change our lives, work and world as we know it.
In today's uber-connected, consumer-centric, cloud-enabled, insights-driven, multi-device, global world, the focus of solutions has shifted from the product that is sold to the person who is buying the product or service. Enterprises have rebranded their business around the consumers of their products. The buyer is the person and the focus is not on the offering. The person is connected through multiple devices, wearables, at home, on the road, and in multiple locations, sometimes simultaneously...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Transparent Cloud Computing (T-Cloud) Consortium will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. The Transparent Cloud Computing Consortium (T-Cloud Consortium) will conduct research activities into changes in the computing model as a result of collaboration between "device" and "cloud" and the creation of new value and markets through organic data proces...
Everyone knows that truly innovative companies learn as they go along, pushing boundaries in response to market changes and demands. What's more of a mystery is how to balance innovation on a fresh platform built from scratch with the legacy tech stack, product suite and customers that continue to serve as the business' foundation. In his General Session at 19th Cloud Expo, Michael Chambliss, Head of Engineering at ReadyTalk, will discuss why and how ReadyTalk diverted from healthy revenue an...
SYS-CON Media announced today that @WebRTCSummit Blog, the largest WebRTC resource in the world, has been launched. @WebRTCSummit Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. @WebRTCSummit Blog can be bookmarked ▸ Here @WebRTCSummit conference site can be bookmarked ▸ Here
Established in 1998, Calsoft is a leading software product engineering Services Company specializing in Storage, Networking, Virtualization and Cloud business verticals. Calsoft provides End-to-End Product Development, Quality Assurance Sustenance, Solution Engineering and Professional Services expertise to assist customers in achieving their product development and business goals. The company's deep domain knowledge of Storage, Virtualization, Networking and Cloud verticals helps in delivering ...
The Internet of Things (IoT), in all its myriad manifestations, has great potential. Much of that potential comes from the evolving data management and analytic (DMA) technologies and processes that allow us to gain insight from all of the IoT data that can be generated and gathered. This potential may never be met as those data sets are tied to specific industry verticals and single markets, with no clear way to use IoT data and sensor analytics to fulfill the hype being given the IoT today.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Hitrons Solutions will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Hitrons Solutions Inc. is distributor in the North American market for unique products and services of small and medium-size businesses, including cloud services and solutions, SEO marketing platforms, and mobile applications.
OnProcess Technology has announced it will be a featured speaker at @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1 - 3, 2016, in Santa Clara, California. Dan Gettens, OnProcess’ Chief Analytics Officer, will discuss how Internet of Things (IoT) data can be leveraged to predict product failures, improve uptime and slash costly inventory stock. @ThingsExpo is an annual gathering of IoT and cloud developers, practitioners and thought-leaders who exchange ideas and insights on topics ranging from Big Data in...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Enzu will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Enzu’s mission is to be the leading provider of enterprise cloud solutions worldwide. Enzu enables online businesses to use its IT infrastructure to their competitive advantage. By offering a suite of proven hosting and management services, Enzu wants companies to focus on the core of their online busine...
The explosion of new web/cloud/IoT-based applications and the data they generate are transforming our world right before our eyes. In this rush to adopt these new technologies, organizations are often ignoring fundamental questions concerning who owns the data and failing to ask for permission to conduct invasive surveillance of their customers. Organizations that are not transparent about how their systems gather data telemetry without offering shared data ownership risk product rejection, regu...
The Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF), sponsor of the IoTivity open source project, and AllSeen Alliance, which provides the AllJoyn® open source IoT framework, today announced that the two organizations’ boards have approved a merger under the OCF name and bylaws. This merger will advance interoperability between connected devices from both groups, enabling the full operating potential of IoT and representing a significant step towards a connected ecosystem.
November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Penta Security is a leading vendor for data security solutions, including its encryption solution, D’Amo. By using FPE technology, D’Amo allows for the implementation of encryption technology to sensitive data fields without modification to schema in the database environment. With businesses having their data become increasingly more complicated in their mission-critical applications (such as ERP, CRM, HRM), continued ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Embotics, the cloud automation company, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Embotics is the cloud automation company for IT organizations and service providers that need to improve provisioning or enable self-service capabilities. With a relentless focus on delivering a premier user experience and unmatched customer support, Embotics is the fas...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloudbric, a leading website security provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Cloudbric is an elite full service website protection solution specifically designed for IT novices, entrepreneurs, and small and medium businesses. First launched in 2015, Cloudbric is based on the enterprise level Web Application Firewall by Penta Security Sys...
Smart Cities are here to stay, but for their promise to be delivered, the data they produce must not be put in new siloes. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mathias Herberts, Co-founder and CTO of Cityzen Data, will deep dive into best practices that will ensure a successful smart city journey.
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, a director and senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, will discuss the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
SYS-CON Events announced today that MathFreeOn will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MathFreeOn is Software as a Service (SaaS) used in Engineering and Math education. Write scripts and solve math problems online. MathFreeOn provides online courses for beginners or amateurs who have difficulties in writing scripts. In accordance with various mathematical topics, there are more tha...
Successful digital transformation requires new organizational competencies and capabilities. Research tells us that the biggest impediment to successful transformation is human; consequently, the biggest enabler is a properly skilled and empowered workforce. In the digital age, new individual and collective competencies are required. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bob Newhouse, CEO and founder of Agilitiv, will draw together recent research and lessons learned from emerging and established ...
In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, will discuss how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team a...