Building bridges between IT and the business

Organisations need to be able to develop a Digital Transformation Strategy and build bridges in several areas, which are related with information, data, processes, technologies, human aspects and much more.

A digital transformation strategy starts with answering essential questions such as the what, why, how and who. A digital transformation strategy builds bridges between current state and desired long-term plan.

And as digital transformation by definition is holistic and requires integration and collaboration, a digital transformation strategy looks at all building blocks and the bridges to connect them, as well as barriers and new bridges to overcome them. Imagine how much bridging of processes, people, information sources and existing silos and gaps that requires.

To successfully navigate digital transformation and protect against digital disruption, all organizations need to developed three core capabilities says Professor Michael Wade: hyperawareness, informed decision making and fast execution.

Building bridges for actionable intelligence

Information is ubiquitous and at the center of digital transformation. Data volumes, formats and sources keep growing exponentially. The question for leading companies has become: how do we turn all this data into actionable intelligence in a meaningful, prioritized and profitable way, leading to new opportunities.

Information management requires a holistic and integrated approach. From digitizing and capturing paper-based information to enhancing processes, empowering knowledge workers, better serving customers and getting the right information and intelligence when, where and how they are needed requires several steps and integrations.

Last but not least, it requires data/content analytics and (thus) artificial intelligence to move from information to knowledge and intelligence that is actionable.

Building human bridges in a digital transformation strategy

There are  bridges to be built from a human perspective. Customer-centricity, customer-facing processes and the end-to-end customer experience are key in DX strategies. We need more and stronger bridges with customers in ways which require more depth and breadth (and personalization) than ever.

A digital transformation strategy requires bridges between leaders and ‘their people’, among others those who are closest to the customers and often feel forgotten and unheard, bridges between various functions and, increasingly, between business execs and leaders from several companies who are building the ecosystems of value which are needed in an economy where new business models and revenue streams de-facto increasingly dictate both the business and technology agenda. The customer in the broadest sense (external and internal such as employees, don’t forget change management) is the driver behind many bridges to build and instrumental in effectively building them.

Bridges to build new ecosystems

The strength of ecosystems and communities of innovation, collaboration and also outsourcing partnerships, defines the strength of the businesses which are part of them in a culture of co-opetition and co-creation.

Finding new revenue streams together by connecting systems of value and building bridges is key here as well, and is enabled by a technological reality that increasingly revolves around data, actionable intelligence, software and connectivity. This dimension will increase even more with the interconnection of everything and more actionable intelligence opportunities, what the Internet of Things or IoT is really about.

It’s clear that collaboration and co-creation go beyond the enterprise and existing ecosystems and move towards building new networks and ecosystems where data and actionable intelligence are leveraged for future growth and entirely new business models.

The reason we mention it is because co-opetition is also de facto what we see happening in several markets where so-called incumbents and so-called disruptive companies understand that it’s better to collaborate in competing for specific markets than to go in from purely competitive approaches.

Building bridges between technologies

Another area is building of bridges between the capabilities of existing and ’emerging’ technologies and the potential they offer for the most innovative, who will win in the end.

While many companies already struggle with several of the previously mentioned bridges, this is where the real value can be created in an enterprise-wide and longer term digital transformation strategy (digital transformation needs a longer term view and strategy). We live in an age where over the past decades new technologies have emerged (some more recently) and gradually became core components of the ways we do business and the ways we live.

The thing is that we often tend to approach all these technologies from a somewhat siloed perspective. It suffices to look at the traditional third platform depiction. We do know that they are interconnected and strengthen each other, not for the sake of the technologies themselves but because in that Nexus of Forces they are inherently dependent of each other and simply overlap if you go deeper.

Bridging technologies and innovation

When you look at these various technologies it’s easy to forget how they are really part of one single, more holistic, perspective, which is defined by the end goals why we ‘invented’ them and why we use them.

In order to reap the benefits and potential it’s not enough to understand what you can with these technologies. It’s at least as important to understand how, in the end, they all matter in a context of your digital transformation strategy, actionable intelligence and opportunities. Most people realize that this end-to-end view matters to come up with innovative business approaches or novel ways to solve challenges of whatever nature.

At the same time we’re also forced to understand them individually. You really need to know what the Internet of Things is and can do, beyond what you believe it is and how important it will be. So, that is what we try to achieve. However, you should never forget that it’s important to build bridges between your understanding and the goals you want to achieve on one hand and the bridges to build between all the technologies that fit in your individual business context.

To do so, you need to grasp what role they play in the bigger picture of digital transformation, while identifying the glue that connects them and that in the end enables you to make a solid difference with your strategy. And that’s one of the areas where actionable intelligence (what data should become), speed/agility (what the cloud offers), hyper-connectivity and along with it more data (what the Internet of Things, mobility and so on offer), and the intersection of people, purpose, innovation, optimization, information, processes, value and business models come into play.

At the core of any digital transformation strategy: building bridges with the future

All the mentioned bridges need to be built. Because here is a reality: some forward-thinking companies have done amazing things using the Industrial Internet of Things and Big Data Analytics. They hook up with others with whom they can create new ecosystems of value. Others are doing or will do equally amazing things in other areas.

Time frames greater than 10 years may be needed in a digital environment. Those that in the end will make the difference, will not be the technology innovators. It will be organizations that come up with entirely new ways of innovation and value creation by truly understanding how they can leverage the intelligence that is created in often seemingly unrelated areas by those first movers and, possibly by adding additional capabilities, and who can build bridges between sources and resources in ways we only start understanding today. And to do so, a holistic mindset, common sense, some distance and a profound understanding of how everything can be connected in the scope of a unique purpose are needed.

The question that arises is where do you start? T

The answer: by understanding all the components, technologies and others we mentioned and building bridges on the essential levels where they aren’t constructed yet but where they should be in order to get that agile and holistic innovation and optimization capacity that stretches far beyond the hype of the day and is designed with a longer term strategy in mind.

How do you get to that strategy?

By building bridges. By bringing people together that don’t get lost in the noise of the day but are able to see and…to build bridges. Between what you need to do now and what you will need to do next with the meaning, context, hyper-connectedness and purpose of it all in mind – certainly also on the longer term. Yet, that starts in the here and now and the basic operations, processes and models to improve and overhaul with an immediate business case, a medium term one and a bigger roadmap in mind.

Bridging intent and achievement: where do you want your digital transformation strategy to take you?

Digital transformation is not a thing, it’s partially a journey and partially a goal, but most of all it requires a clear roadmap and strategy with ample room for adjustment in an adaptive way.

The challenge for many executives is to know where they want to head, what they need to get there and how to be sure they successfully did get there with the necessary (intermediate) controls in place.

You can look at planning mapping and prioritizing for the future from two angles.

On one hand we see that often digital transformation is seen as a set of projects, actions and exercises to do or a more enterprise-wide goal to achieve. If you look at it this way, inevitably you need to ask why do I want to transform anything whatsoever, what is that whatsoever and how am I going to get there as mentioned. Essential project management questions and forecasting methods are just a must, even if we tend to forget them and lose ourselves in the technological or organizational questions without the end in mind.

On the other hand we see that digital transformation is often approached as an ongoing journey that is more about a continuous business transformation strategy in the scope of technological and societal change. This is obviously a journey that never ends. It’s the development of a capacity to act, react and ideally pro-act as societal changes and technological evolutions continue to take place, accelerate and evolve.

It’s not because you have digitally transformed in the now, that there won’t be new occasions, challenges and chances, brought upon us by new technologies. The Internet of Things is just one example here as, in all honesty, we are still at the start. And there will be more changes and evolutions, far more.

The latter view explains why it’s so important to have a reactive (or agile), informed and highly ‘change-aware’ capacity. Digital transformation also means achieving this omni-informed capacity to act when action is needed or desirable.

Regardless of how you look at it, there is always one crucial challenge that comes back as just mentioned. However, it’s bigger in less project-based exercises. We hear this time and time again, whether we speak with experts in a specific domain all too often there is a lack of attention for the essential questions that also apply in digital transformation or any technological or other project or process.

What do you want to achieve, why do you want that, how do you get there, who do you need, is there a clear and calculated case that supports your intent and how are you going to gauge whether you achieved or not?

Bridging risk and certainty

While these questions seem obvious, there are numerous reasons why they are often overlooked and we don’t bridge the what, why and how or the intent and achievement.

One of many reasons is that often we are partially and in a sense by definition operating in relatively uncharted territory and aren’t sure if we have all the building blocks. That’s why it’s important to conduct VoC exercises and strategic sessions with various people. It’s also why it’s important to continue to learn, have a culture of evolution awareness and prioritize. Last but not least, it’s why we need a roadmap with the necessary space for failure and balanced risk.

Depending on the scope and breadth/depth of the digital transformation strategy, chart the unknowns. What we often see in practice is that the mentioned challenge is not always a matter of uncertainty regarding outcomes but also a matter of uncertainty regarding the “how”: the uncertainty regarding what the outcome will look like (as we do speak about change and this something new) is then strengthened by uncertainties whether all the (right) building blocks are foreseen and/or in place to get there.

This uncertainty of missing building blocks or having the wrong ones is often what makes organizations uncertain as they fear failure in regards with the proper mapping of the needed building blocks (projects, people, processes, information sources, change management initiatives, built-in checks and so forth).

Your digital transformation strategy and asking the right questions

The main question is: do you build all these bridges and define the goals, set out the strategy and journey, map the required building blocks and barriers, and look at your digital transformation strategy and roadmap in a smart way creating the right conditions to get you going?

Unfortunately this is still rarely the case and many don’t have a clear goal and overview of building blocks, barriers and bridges to build yet.

Knowledge was a 20th century differentiator. In the 21st Century, knowledge about the past is ubiquitous (Google knows it all), and the future is largely unknowable. Thus the ability to be agile – to sense, decide, and act quickly – will replace strategy as the key driver of organizational success in the future.

The traditional role of strategy is dead, but that does not mean that planning is also obsolete. A set of rolling short-term operational plans can be even worse than locking into a long-term objective. Plans are needed, but they must be constantly assessed and adapted along with changes in the environment. In some cases, they need to be discarded.

The key elements for success today are not plans and aspirations, but agility and capabilities. Capabilities (or access to capabilities) are required to compete effectively in a given position, and agility is required to make shifts in that position in response to a changing environment.

Here are two things you can already start doing as of right now:

  1. get any ‘digital’ expertise and culture out of its  isolation and let it penetrate the rest of your organization,
  2. look at where the leaks in your business are and where it’s clear that you’ll need to remove or bridge legacy and necessity, among others in the technologies that are crucial to scale and move faster and better once your strategy is in place.

Some digital transformation strategic steps to take into account  that can be put in the context of the previously mentioned three core capabilities are :

  • Identify market, evolutions, pain points.
  • Assess/benchmark where you are.
  • Analyze/prioritize significant evolutions.
  • Map current status with major evolutions and opportunities.
  • Assess skillset, culture and readiness.
  • Focus on core intangible assets: customers, data.
  • Base strategy on where you are and go.
    Include external and internal help.
  • Develop a roadmap to get where you need.
  • Design for innovation, optimization, agility and scale.
  • Optimize information and data maturity.
  • Connect technologies and data (sources) in function of strategy.
  • Get clear leadership buy-in.
  • Gap bridges with customers and stakeholders.
  • Set goals, KPIs and controls.
  • Build for ecosystems and platforms.
  • Focus on long term with intermediate goals.
  • Start where it makes sense (calculated).
  • Learn, measure, re-assess, scale, innovate.