Business devours technology in an effort to get ahead in an unwinnable arms race. Often the technology is designed to support the status quo, which is a problem because almost by definition an arms race can only be won by leapfrogging the competition and even then the gains will only be temporary. So it is with the digital disruption and that’s what fascinates me about it.
To break down the messages that I am hearing, we live in fast changing times motivated by new digital products and their adjacencies entering the market almost daily. Virtually all of your competition is adopting new technology and the only prudent thing is to adopt the same technologies. But the real question is what are we going to do with this stuff?
But too often we only consider what the new technology is good for after we buy it and have our first disappointments along with the inevitable buyers’ remorse. That’s the heart and soul of the hype cycle and most often it’s the way new technology enters business. True, an early purchase is necessary for early adopters often figure out the best use of a new technology only once they buy it and play with it and their success is essential to driving early majority adopters to make the same purchases. Are you an early adopter? Of course eventually the technology commoditizes and virtually everyone buys the new thing.
The digital disruption might be different in two important ways. First everything is changing at once and, second, without a clear understanding of the need and utility of new innovations it could be a long time before some of them are adopted.
Back in the good old days, the fact of computers was revolutionary enough to disrupt large sections of life and business. But for a very long time a computer was simply a storage and retrieval device. Records that were once paper based became mere components of databases. We got over the concern of losing data and at the same time, moved out huge numbers of file cabinets and their contents. Good.
Today, though, computers have become small and powerful enough to do much more than record retention and systems of record are rapidly giving way to systems of engagement and, now, to systems of intelligence. This is where we are and it’s why we need to pull up for a moment and reconnoiter and figure out where we’re going.
Systems of intelligence pose the real and intriguing possibility that they can participate in business processes with, or in place of, humans. The natural concern as I, and many others, have documented is the loss of jobs if and when this catches on.
However, I think the real opportunity for intelligent systems won’t be in enabling business processes to go human-less; the real opportunity is for these systems to begin doing jobs that have gone unfilled and that’s what business agility is all about.
Forrester analyst, Craig Le Clair says there are ten dimensions to business agility and from what I can see they all need support from systems of intelligence. Some have that support today while others need it and, most importantly, they all need to interact system-to-system, intelligence-to-intelligence. According to Le Clair’s 2015 article in Forbes,
“Two are market dimensions: market responsiveness and channel integration. Three are organizational: knowledge dissemination, digital psychology, and change management. Five are process-focused: business intelligence, infrastructure elasticity, process architecture, software innovation, and sourcing/supply chain.
I can honestly say that I don’t understand all of these dimensions and few of us do at the moment. But it’s duck soup to see that systems of intelligence will be required to sit on top of all of it, with the possible exception of BI. Little of this makes sense if you’re still living off a business model that touts sustainable differentiation.
In the agile era just ramping up, companies seek temporary advantage, race to exploit it, and move on when the vein has been mined out. Agile businesses need to be concerned with issues of governance, knowledge dissemination, infrastructure elasticity and all the rest. That’s why my point is that the digital disruption might be real but it is also a harbinger of a new agile business model. The two go hand in hand.
So before you run out and buy the next new digital thing because everyone else is, consider your business model and whether you need to refactor it. Chances are that when you do enter the technology market you’ll make better purchase decisions and you won’t wallow in the hype cycle. That will be a good test of how agile you really are.