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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Choose staff wisely when planning a digital transformation 06-13

Plenty of large businesses are, justifiably, embracing innovation of all kinds. But, cautions HPE's Craig Partridge, consider whether IT staff from old-school backgrounds (and their "think conservatively" cultural values) are the right people for a successful digital transition.

Every business wants to enhance what it does to make its products more valuable to customers (and thus more profitable to the company) and work more efficiently (that is, save money). So just about every enterprise organization is motivated to augment or create a digital strategy.

It’s one thing for a business to say, “Let’s exploit new technologies to gain competitive advantage.” Reaching that goal—or at least avoiding being left behind—takes a strategic plan, a dose of shiny new technology, and most important, attention to the human beings who create and implement the plan

In a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Discover presentation, “Thriving in the Age of Digital Disruption,” HPE’s Craig Partridge, worldwide director of data center platforms consulting, shared real-life lessons of digital transformation based on customer use cases and successful projects. In the one-hour, high-speed session, Partridge detailed a blueprint highlighting the elements needed for success.

And regardless of the many technologies and business processes that may be involved, there’s one key lesson to take away from the exercise: Choose the right people for the job, and value your staff for their diverse abilities. Doing so creates tension, Partridge said. But that isn’t a bad thing.

Digital disruption is about data

Disruption might take the form of a car manufacturer that wants to build out a connected car. It may be a bank aiming to give customers a good mobile digital experience. Perhaps it’s a sports stadium that recognizes that attending a game now includes mobility and Wi-Fi, not just a hot dog. Or the Rio airport, which during the Olympics had to digitize its services to accommodate an extra 2 million passengers.

Most of these projects are powered by emerging technologies like the Internet of Things, cloud, machine learning, and data analytics.

Technologically speaking, the “edge” is about data: how you collect it, how you analyze it, and how you use it for competitive advantage. Each of us generates a huge amount of unstructured data, especially with our mobile devices. Nowadays, the "machine edge" (smart sensors and machine-to-machine communication) is adding even more data. “Going forward, I see people combining those two data sets to create a good experience,” Partridge said.

In the past, cloud computing discussions have focused on core-out issues: What should IT move out of the data center? Today, the conversation is about what data to bring in and how best to do so. That encourages a different viewpoint. “Hybrid IT is what powers that new experience at the edge,” Partridge said. And IT has to change the operating model to work in that new way.  

As organizations put together software-defined agendas to accelerate how and where they deliver services, the first step is recognizing that not every traditional business application needs to be changed or disrupted. Some big transactional systems don't need to be mobile. Other systems need to be bulldozed and replaced.

The drive to improve digital experiences is also forcing organizations to work with partners in the value chain (especially with API-based tools). It means adopting concepts like continuous integration and the DevOps agenda, cloud management tool sets, and open cloud stacks, all with quick feedback and quick iteration. This kind of thinking does not come naturally to many large IT shops.
Yet “new” often translates into “We haven’t figured this out yet.” (If it were otherwise, it wouldn’t be much of a disruption, right?) HPE has created blueprints for the business process to help organizations succeed—after all, you’d rather learn from others’ mistakes than your own, right?

Foster the people

“The No. 1 reason projects succeed or fail is people,” said Partridge, echoing sentiments long understood by developers and IT professionals, if not their managers. People processes, politics, and governance have a huge effect on project outcomes, even when you don’t think you are dealing with a so-called peopleware problem.

“Brokering the supply chain sounds like a technical issue,” Partridge noted. “What people miss is that it requires an organization shift.” A business’s CIO now has to place demand appropriately across the supply chain, which sometimes is in other parts of the organization.

Less obvious to many enterprise development teams are cultural issues. They spent years creating an organization based on repeatable processes and infrastructure, such as reliability, approval-based plans, and a waterfall development model that’s measured in months.

That predictability and resilience are strengths. “These are big deals to IT,” Partridge said. “We can’t lose that DNA. These systems of record need to maintain that integrity.”

But the new systems that are part of the digital disruption move a lot faster. Innovation-optimized projects emphasize flexibility, working on small teams that are business-centric and close to the customer, with short-term goals and a willingness to embrace uncertainty. “That technical documentation is six months old, so it’s out of date,” one DevOps consultant said to me during the conference, just in passing.

The development process for imagining disruption requires a different mind-set. Central IT pros can generally learn new tech, but learning new values and mind-sets can be much more challenging. “We can be retrained, but we have habits ingrained from years of work,” Partridge said.
For example, when the automobile manufacturer launched its digital transformation project, it initially staffed the team from its central IT department, whose "cadence didn't lend itself to rapid iterative development,” Partridge said.

The company ended up starting over with a new IT group that operated in parallel with the existing central IT team. Although that might seem like a recipe for bickering and dysfunction, Partridge characterized the relationship as one of “creative tension,” because the friction led both teams to come up with ideas that helped one another. 

Digital transformation: Lessons for leaders

  • “New” often translates into “We haven’t figured this out yet.”
  • No matter how brilliant the idea is, success depends on putting the right personnel in place and supporting them properly. 
  • Value existing systems, and recognize what doesn’t benefit from changing. 

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