Strategic CIO // Digital Business
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8/19/2014
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5 Ways To Beat The Digital Disruption Curse

Companies like Atari and Pan Am featured in the movie Blade Runner were considered cursed, but today's companies face a very real curse -- their own digital inertia.

I love the movie Blade Runner. When I think about companies getting digitally disrupted these days, I'm reminded of that alleged curse put on companies featured in the dystopian sci-fi classic.

Like many Hollywood movies, Blade Runner had a fair bit of product placement. Companies like Pan Am, Bell Telephone, and Atari Computers were all used in the film. Not that it paid off for them.

In the years after the movie was released in 1982, sci-fi geeks noticed that companies appearing in it were failing faster than an out-of-warranty replicant (genetically engineered organic robot). There was talk of a curse. Because Blade Runner had sort of flunked at the box office, so too would all the businesses associated with it.

But it was nonsense. It wasn't the movie's fault. Rather, the companies were victims of plain old inertia -- not responding fast enough to business forces around them.

[The IoT doesn't mean much if it's not disrupting traditional business models. Read Forget 'Things' – It's The Internet Of Business Models.]

Today's businesses face a far more real digital curse -- and like with Blade Runner's protagonist, Deckard (played by Harrison Ford), it'll take some guts and guile to survive. Here are five suggestions:

#1 Challenge everything -- In Blade Runner, replicants had no distinguishing features to set them apart from humans, so agents had to use psychological tests to identify them. Similarly in IT, you have to dig beneath the surface. Don't assume that because you understand the technology you know the most powerful application in a business context.

Too often I've seen organizations charge down one mobile app development path thinking that's the road to nirvana without seeing more beneficial applications. Remember, you work for a business, not IT. If that happens to be transportation and logistics, then the development of a truck-sensor monitoring app might only be a winner when it's fully integrated with a vehicle maintenance management system. Similarly in health care, a mobile claims processing app rolled out with a BYOD program will die in your enterprise app store if mobile case workers can't securely and seamlessly connect back to head office systems.

#2 Skill Up -- We're all reading about the skills shortages in areas like data analytics and cloud computing, but to me that doesn't paint the full picture. Sure, data wizards and cloud geeks might be as rare as hen's teeth, but before scouring the job boards, look at where your existing talent pools can be reshaped to support a digital business.

One trap is only drawing on talent that's used to supporting enterprise IT applications and back-office systems. This is wrong. Today, thanks largely to Internet connectivity and M2M intelligence you're just as likely to find someone in industrial engineering with strong IT skills such as TCP/IP networking or RESTful API development.

Rather than just focusing on collaboration efforts across IT (a la DevOps), look for opportunities to unify digital teams across lines-of-business. One manufacturer I know did this by forming a cross-business DevOps style team tasked with integrating proprietary plant equipment with ERP for more seamless stock replenishment. In this case, IT teams provided expertise in security and standards, while engineers guided app development and analytics -- a perfect digital business combo.

#3 Stop Tinkering --Digital experimentation can be a waste of time. Competitors are eating your digital lunch while you're testing digital use cases on physically constrained IT infrastructure or manually spinning up release environments. Savvy companies understand that testing and releasing software updates continuously must happen as close as possible to the point of engagement with customers.

Take for instance Tesla cars, which after receiving numerous requests from customers to add automatic-like brake creep to the Model S, delivered the feature via a software update.

#4 Look Sideways -- Replicants in Blade Runner were strong and agile -- just like your digital competitors. While businesses have competed on incremental product improvements, digital companies are lurking in business model blind spots. Your digital competitors use mobile apps to improve customer experience for your traditional products, but they also understand how application software and APIs can create additional revenue in adjacent markets.

Take for example LED light bulbs. Some companies are now developing APIs for sensor controlled bulbs, allowing developer communities to build new services -- like an automated mood app to change light intensity and color according to sounds and music, or accentuate high-margin products in stores during peak buying times.

#5 Become Obsessive -- Like replicants, businesses will be "retired" early if they underestimate the importance of a superior digital customer experience. That's why even big brands with years of stable operations are developing new digital services that reshape their business.

For instance, British Airways is trialing digital "happiness blankets" to determine the "meditative state" of fliers and change colors according to mood. The airline can then analyze data to evaluate their in-flight services, including meal times and entertainment options. Sounds sci-fi crazy? Perhaps, but maybe it's an indication of what's needed to compete in a world owned by the customer.

Companies in every industry will need to quickly develop mobile capabilities that enable omni-channel business and give customers something new and valuable. Now is the time to disrupt or fall prey to a very real digital curse.

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Peter Waterhouse is a senior technical marketing advisor for CA Technologies' strategic alliance, service providers, cloud, and industry solutions businesses. View Full Bio
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PeteJW
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PeteJW,
User Rank: Strategist
9/17/2014 | 5:54:17 AM
Re: Keep tinkering
Yep, well put Shane. Maybe tinkering wasn't the best word to use. Today it's all about experimentation, failing fast and moving on. 
PeteJW
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PeteJW,
User Rank: Strategist
9/17/2014 | 5:51:39 AM
Re: Pan Am in science fiction
Funny! It'll be interesting to see who's game enough to take on the 'Blade runner curse' in the sequel
PeteJW
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PeteJW,
User Rank: Strategist
9/17/2014 | 5:47:11 AM
Re: 1982?!?
Hi Susan - sorry for making you feel old. I feel exactly the same way and still can't believe it was 1982 when the movie first hit the screen. I still think it's the best sci-fi film ever made - grimy, edgy and dystopian - maybe a little like IT

To answer your question, I don't see any one particular vertical being ahead of the curve. What I do see is lot's more orgs coming to terms with the need for experimatation, learning from failure and transforming the IT workforce.
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
8/31/2014 | 2:18:32 PM
Re: #2 is concerning
The average age of an IT guy in the industry is around 47 years. IT jobs are pressurizing and more work means less efficiency. Most companies follow the rule of repairing and replacing employees through their Human Resources management, but even after all the tries they end up losing employees, some of which migrate to other companies and some who near the extinction of their technical career.
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
8/31/2014 | 2:15:48 PM
Nice comparison with movies
The author clearly understands what the business management staff needs and how they should handle it.

#4 is pretty detailed. Indeed a business management staff has to look around and do some digging, as long as that is legal. Since the pushing forward of the business depends upon the management and not the IT, competitor regulation should be checked periodically to ensure that user/customer satisfaction is guaranteed and if not guaranteed, then the team has to make sure that the other companies aren't doing anything better.
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
8/31/2014 | 12:09:37 PM
Re: 1982?!?
SusanN,

I shared your sense of Surprise as well[I thought it was the Wesley Snipes version which came out a decade back & Had to go back and research this Movie).

Very fair and Valid points regarding Cross-Functional teams.

I never cease to be amazed by the level of Knowledge and expertise available in most Companies but it gets lost because its Siloed.

The folks in IT/DevOps need to put their egos aside and consult with whoever there is in the Organization who can delivers the Good stuff so that the Organization benefits enormously in the Long-run.

Regards

Ashish.
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
8/31/2014 | 12:02:33 PM
Re: #2 is concerning
Sachin,

You raised a Valuable point and in most cases Companies will go for Second Option as it saves them costs Directly and immediately.

But what happens in the Long-Run?

The Same Sole Employee gets over-burdened with responsibility,Takes breaks ,falls sick ,may get demotivated,etc.

Which means you will be stuck with Higher Costs(hiring and Training a Replacement or a Temp) over the Long-run.

Contrast that with what happens when you have a team of 5 such (maybe less qualified employees);A Situation will rarely arise where all 5 of them will leave Jobs together (as long as you have a fully professional Company).

Its definitely the right way of looking at things from a Long-term sustainability point of view.

Who knows,you could even Grow one of those employees to take on Higher level of Responsibility in the future?

EXCELLENT POINT!





Regards

Ashish.
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
8/23/2014 | 2:47:39 PM
#2 is concerning
Do you think companies look for a generic skillset or a specific skillset? Most companies would want an all round employee who is a jack of all trades, master of none, but in the long run, does it really prove to be profitable? employing 5 employees with an average of $100,000 salary is much more while an experienced person (one that may or may not have many degrees in education) can do all that work for $300,000?
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
8/23/2014 | 2:43:55 PM
#3 is true for a small company
I think that while small companies like Tesla only deliver after there are enough requests for the upgrade, larger companies cannot afford this kind of a thing because too many requests can make the consumer lose interest on the company, just like Samsung is losing smartphones sales. Larger companies therefore pay millions of dollars to a wide range of logistics and market experts in every field.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
8/21/2014 | 6:16:09 PM
1982?!?
@Peter: once i sufficiently recovered from the shock of realizing that Bladerunner came out 32 years ago (1982? Really?) I was able to absorb your very valid points. Especially this: look for opportunities to unify digital teams across lines-of-business.

From where I sit, the days of IT and devops being the only resources of digital creativity in the enterprise are long over, and the quicker organizaitons realize this, the better off they will be. The average business-side employee is more tech-savvy than ever, particularly in certain industries.

Do you see any particular industry sectors being ahead of the curve in terms of creating cross-functional teams to advance the organization's digital development?

Your point about mobile apps is also a good one: All too often there's still a mobile ghetto mentality where organizations fail to fully integrate mobility into the work stream.

Oh, and thanks for making me feel really reall old...

:)
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