3 Great Ways to Sabotage Your Digital Transformation

Hint: They all have to do with how you treat your developers.

Christopher O'Malley, CEO of Compuware

October 26, 2018

4 Min Read
Image: Shutterstock

Digital transformation is all the rage, and with good reason. Markets are rapidly being disrupted by digital value propositions that change the rules of competition. So, if you don’t leverage customer-obsessed, data-driven insights to deliver differentiated value, you’ll probably lose out to competitors who can.

Most of the hype around digital transformation, however, focuses on business models and technologies. On the business side, pundits clamor for design thinking and putting smartphone apps at the center of the universe. On the technology side, the clamor is for artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the cloud.

These are largely reasonable assertions. Unfortunately, they leave out the key ingredient for successful digital transformation: motivated, well-resourced developers.

In fact, if you want to ensure your company’s digital transformation efforts fail, your best bet is to underestimate the importance of the people who write your code, while you excitedly busy yourself re-thinking your business model and chasing the latest shiny tech object.

Here are three particularly awesome ways to sabotage your digital transformation:

Sabotage strategy #1: View experimentation with DevOps tools as an annoying child’s play.

Developers live in a software-defined world. Because of this, they experiment, fall in love, and fall in hate with software tools like no other class of employee.

Sure, sales and marketing people sometimes find a productivity tool or SaaS application that they believe helps them do their jobs better. But they’re nothing like developers, who are always looking for better ways of doing things —and they are typically active in online communities where discussions about tools are as common as discussion about politics or sports elsewhere.

Development tools are also a hotbed of innovation as code artisans are under so much pressure to deliver more functionality in less time while also embracing DevOps, continuous delivery, containerization, microservices, and more.

So, one great way to undermine your digital transformation is to suppress your developers’ choice and force them to toil with outdated development, testing, and build/deploy tools. By doing so, you’ll send a clear message to them that your company is not in fact a forward-looking enterprise seeking to achieve digital transformation, but is instead just another Old School corporate entity where creativity is considered a source of risk and cost, rather than a competitive advantage.

Sabotage strategy #2: Ignore culture

The freedom to experiment with and adopt into personal tools-of-choice is just one element of a broader, transformation-friendly development culture. Developers also have to feel like they are highly valued contributors to the business, rather than commodified functionaries who can easily be replaced.

One way to send this message obviously is by compensating developers appropriately and rewarding them when they do something that really moves the needle on customer engagement or value-chain efficiency.

Equally important, though, is ensuring that your developers are closely engaged with the rest of the business. If you’re having them work in total isolation from the rest of your staff, you can be sure that they will not have any sense of their real stake in your company’s digital transformation.

If, on the other hand, your developers are materially engaged with your living, breathing business — and if you facilitate concrete connections between their daily work and the outcomes for the business — you can build a culture that motivates and inspires your digital artisans to do their best work as a matter of mission, not just compensation.

Simple, no-cost example: When we close a big deal, we ring a bell that invites everyone — not just the sales team — to celebrate. That way, developers and salespeople become collegial partners in our success, rather than two separate tribes vying for credit and resources.

Sabotage strategy #3: Compartmentalize innovation

This may be the best way to ensure that you company’s efforts and digital transformation will fail, no matter how much you invest in them.

The key here is to focus all your resources and energies on just one or two areas, say, machine learning and big data. Then, to support that allocation, you actually disinvest in the “boring” stuff like mainframe application maintenance and data governance.

This is a super-effective way to sabotage digital transformation, because your business is only as agile and innovative as the least agile and innovative link in your digital value chain. By allowing your mainframe to languish in its own silo of waterfalled, two-code-drops-a-year obsolescence, you can guarantee that you’ll never be able to update your back-end systems of record as nimbly as required to support your new digital business imperatives.

Of course, if you want to succeed, you can take a much different approach. You can value your mainframe developers just as you do your data science SMEs. And you can ensure that they’re all part of a single team with a shared mission: to relentlessly optimize your company’s digital value chain in response to the ever-evolving demands of your customers.

The choice is yours. You can sabotage your digital transformation by encouraging pockets of developer apathy and mediocrity. Or you can succeed by diligently promoting developer motivation and excellence. Either way, it will be people, not just business strategies or technology, that help determine your outcome over the long term.  

About the Author(s)

Christopher O'Malley

CEO of Compuware

Christopher O'Malley is CEO of Compuware. He has nearly 30 years of IT experience, with past positions including CEO of VelociData, CEO of Nimsoft, EVP of CA's Cloud Products & Solutions and EVP/GM of CA's Mainframe business unit, where he led the successful transformation of that division.

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