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Pierre Viljoen

Unlocking Business Value in Your Digital Transformation
Pierre Viljoen Head of Enterprise Technology & Governance at Enterprise Studio | September 1, 2020
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Co-author: Andy Czuchry Jr , Adam Frary

In the digital enterprise, where tooling is still king, and the chasm of disparity between the language, metrics, goals, and work processes of business and IT is seen as the last frontier, unlocking business value remains a challenge for all of us. Left unaddressed, the challenge will drive the wedge between business and IT even deeper, inhibiting the organization’s ability to succeed.

Consider the tooling paradigm.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Man is a tool-making animal.” Thomas Carlyle expanded on that observation by stating, “Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing. With tools he is all.”

Throughout human history, humankind has had an undying urge to make tools: tools for building, tools for surviving, and tools for making everyday life easier. One could even argue that tool making is a primal urge and a reason for our evolution. Essentially our strategic capability as a species. That said, I cannot help but think of the adage that a fool with a tool is still a fool.

Is technology a tool for business and IT, or is there a nuance?

Thinking broadly about the tools of the IT trade, technology has the uncanny ability to either enhance or insulate our experiences and understanding of the whole. Consider the difference between driving a 1908 Model T Ford at 40 mph on a gravel road and a self-driving 2020 Tesla at 40 mph on the same road. Although the Tesla enhances the driver’s experience, the driver is insulated from potential danger or the competence needed to traverse the terrain. Without the physical context of driving both vehicles, the difference is almost of no consequence.

Car illustration

Conversely, using a powerful electron microscope to evaluate a new virus that is 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair gives a researcher a powerful new virtual and visual experience that directly unlocks new knowledge and value. In these two cases, the value is inherently present but not equally obvious. Herein lies the subtle nuance of unlocking value.

Vast and complex sets of technology are tasked with enhancing execution and simplifying complexity. This can obscure value creation and realization.

We are drowning in disparate technologies, some of which go deep in specialized capabilities and others that provide intelligence to simplify and make sense of inherent complexities in the digital enterprise. What’s mostly missing is the organization’s understanding of value, where it is created, where it stalls, and how it maps to actual customer needs and experience. We need to avoid insulating this value when deploying technology, as valuable insights will be lost.

Since driving value generation is the goal, surely the business and IT need to align on a common language and a definition of goals and the associated value they want to see. A paradoxical shift needs to occur to reduce the emphasis on technical function and enhance the focus on value, while still retaining deep technical power. Smarter use of technology can help the business and IT have a more direct connection to each other and to the actual value when alignment happens more naturally, and the organization learns and adapts quicker. This is where BizOps provides enormous value.

Tools always lead you down the wrong path unless you focus attention on value and behavior.

We are confronted daily with various problems and business pressures. We tend to dive straight into the deep end sometimes, too eager to solve problems that confront us. Often, we don’t take time to genuinely understand the problem or grasp value from its resolution.

I am reminded of my first job; my manager tested my skills and knowledge by asking me to fix an issue affecting dozens of Microsoft Windows workstations. After contemplating the most logical causes, I rummaged through tech-ed articles at the speed of light and concluded, with my untested wisdom at the age of 19, that the best option was to make a backup of the user preferences and data, re-image the desktops and start from a clean slate. In doing so, I would resolve all issues in one go. My thinking: I will solve the problem quickly and thoroughly impress my boss with my swift and sensible approach.

“Excellent, but incorrect,” exclaimed my boss, Benjamin Meirzadeh.

These words still haunt me and guide my thinking today. In resolving the issue, I never took the time to understand the actual cause of the problem; instead, I focused my energy on circumventing the problem with fancy scripts and automated provisioning. To my mind, I delivered a repeatable resolution, at speed and scale, which undoubtedly would reduce IT desktop issues and costs in the long run. What I failed to comprehend was the opportunity to gain knowledge and understanding about the real issue plaguing our environment, a dreaded Excel macro virus. All I did was slap a smart Band-Aid on a hemorrhaging wound.

In the end, value is about getting out more than you put in. We need to ensure we have a context for wisdom when making decisions around value and digital transformation. Wisdom is derived from knowledge and experience fueled by data and information. No one part can be left out.

Business value cognition and realization principles have not evolved at the same rapid pace as our need to tool.

Collectively, digital enterprises have amassed layers of tools supporting vast territories of technologies. We see this in many accounts with partially or poorly orchestrated DevOps. To support them, we have competing technical vendor platforms and myriads of tools, many of which create a haze that obscures understanding of the value an enterprise gains or loses. I am dumbstruck that we have come this far without realizing that a digital transformation is not a nice-to-have but a necessity.

On the surface, customer centricity, customer satisfaction and service simplicity are the order of the day. Below the surface, enterprises are grappling with the complexity of transforming people, process, technology and culture whilst trying to serve everything above the surface without skipping a beat. We reassure ourselves daily that we are working towards the same common goals, tooling the organization in the best possible way to unlock tangible value. IT is still seen as always being a day too late, a dollar too expensive, and too inwardly focused whilst the business is seen as unwilling to change, unrealistic in expectations, and impatient for results.

When (not if) disruption happens, pressure is applied tenfold and matters become fluid…

We are mostly caught off guard when disruption occurs. Whether it is unforeseen competition, a changing business climate, or another catalyst such as COVID-19, we try to peer through the haze of our technology and data to understand the impact of the catalyst better.

To prevent being caught off guard, organizations are driven to transform fast and effectively with efficiency and synergy. Under this pressure, organizations quickly turn to re-prioritizing tasks or initiatives, rethinking their importance based on cost. Seldom do we have a context for sequencing just-in-time value realization.

Today, change is the only constant, and the struggle with legacy systems, processes, and thinking is real. Our world has become smaller, despite our having more access to more information services and products that bring value. As an industry, we are targeting value messaging to the point that we have blurred the boundaries between personal experience and corporate experience, affecting our perception of the real-world scenarios we face.

It's time to reconsider what we need technology to do in relation to business value. Whether we are creating, preserving, measuring or reporting technology, we need it to forcefully, clearly, and consistently enforce value realization—across all job functions, all types of tasks, and all stakeholders along the value stream.

It is imperative that we measure the value against operational and financial data points and give due consideration to the customer perspective and potential insulated value. Technology should aggregate value and create proximity between stakeholders.

Is it a pure case of in with the new and out with the old?

We should not just throw out old tooling. Out tooling expectations need to evolve. The concept of a hammer has been around for millions of years. Even though we can still use a rock as a hammer. Our tooling expectations of the hammer are more than the usage paradigm. In the same manner, our tooling expectations need to evolve and link to business value. For example:

  • What is the monetary value of better test coverage in QA? What effect do we want to achieve? What problem are we trying to address? Would the solution make our CX any better, and what does that translate to in market adoption?
  • What is the business value of a better API management solution or a new feature? Will either of these drive an increase in productivity, security improvements, or faster entry into new markets?
  • How can business stakeholders be included in value decisions regarding technology? Why is this relevant for them, and what could we gain by fostering this involvement?

The shift in thinking about value needs to be a top-down agenda item. The relationship between business and IT needs to change, allowing IT to become a force multiplier transplanted into business thinking. Rethinking what we expect of our tools will help address the chasm of disparity between business and IT. Next-generation tools that are properly orchestrated to educate and influence behavior will be a force multiplier.

The relationship between business and IT needs to change, allowing IT to become a force multiplier transplanted into business thinking. Rethinking what we expect will help address the chasm of disparity between business and IT.

Value is in the eye of the beholder

As we make this transition, we can expect a painful debate. What one group believes, thinks or perceives as value might not be what other stakeholders—or customers—want. To be proficient at offering great services to internal and external stakeholders, you need to have a value-centric connection with all involved parties.

Enhancing value is not simply about automated intelligence or better dashboarding. It is about organizational behavior and our ability to utilize experience and data analytics to drive real-time actionable insight that fosters the business-IT bond.

We are entering an era in which technology will run business processes, allowing us to bridge the gap in understanding ourselves and our needs, and more importantly, our needed value from usage, much more than in the past. We need to be reprogrammed so that we can embrace a constantly changing environment, one where we are perpetually uncomfortable. Feedback loops will educate us on value and control the chaos: How did we do? What worked? Where did we gain or lose value? Where did value stall, and why? This cannot happen without empowerment and leadership courage.

It really boils down to the kind of value we are looking for in a relationship between business and IT. Are we looking for a short-term quick fix or a meaningful long-term relationship? If we are looking to drive a relationship built on value, then both parties being 100% committed to integrating IT seamlessly into business is key. Silo behavior will cause downstream destruction of the best-laid plans.

So where do we go from here?

Aligning teams around a common purpose with smart, value-centric use of technology will reap the benefits of increasing trust, collaboration, and team learning, enabling us to realize optimum value for customers. Our ability to map an entire value stream from start to post-delivery is key to unlocking insulated value. We need to understand and capture sensible data points along our journey and ensure we can mine the data and derive actionable insight whilst separating the signal from the ambient noise.

Generating organizational wisdom to drive decision making will not be easy. Despite advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and data modeling techniques, utilizing intrinsic human judgment within our organizations will remain key. Learning and adapting starts with the business and IT being well informed on value. We will need to harness the knowledge and generate sensible wisdom underpinned by realized value. We will also need to measure more frequently and consistently through a lens of value realization. Constantly taking the pulse of all stakeholders and understanding where we are in our journey will allow us to focus on mapping the right value and sequencing the appropriate activity.

When we model value, it’s important to understand that it is not enough to focus purely on digitization or customer service and engagement, but rather on the whole created by the sum of the parts as we do with well-orchestrated DevOps and BizOps. We need to foster co-creation of value with all stakeholders. We need to ensure we remove bias in our data points and our processes. We need to ensure we have a context for wisdom when making decisions around value.

At the end of it all, unlocking business value is all about getting out more than you put in.

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