This week I’ve been struggling to focus but still moved a few things forwards. I also kept bumping up against some bizarre (non) efforts at “digital transformation”, courtesy of Standard Life (abrdn), Costco and the UK Government.
This week’s highlights included:
Adapting David Clark and Sophie Marshall’s “Simple Stack” diagram for the purposes of my team at risual. I hope to republish soon in blog format as it’s licenced under Creative Commons.
Joining the Environmental Sustainability group at risual.
Despairing over school communications:
Only a school could communicate like this: message sent to parents' email (using @IRISParentMail) with a .DOCX (Microsoft Word) attachment which, assuming you have the necessary software to read it, is a letter informing that the school will be posting an FAQ on its website ????
Realising that digital transformation hasn’t reached Costco UK yet – and no membership card means no entry and no shopping:
Almost all transactions I make these days use a digital wallet (one exception is the local market). Unfortunately, I just went to @CostcoUK and only had my phone with me ????. No membership card ? and no ID to get a replacement card means no shopping ?? #DigitalTransformation
Looking ahead to the (long) weekend, I have no races to take the eldest teenager to and the weather ins’t looking wonderful. So, just the usual Youth Cycle Coaching on Saturday and, hopefully, some relaxing and pottering at “geek stuff” in the Man Cave…
This week in photos
No Insta’ from me yet this week (maybe there will be over the long weekend) so here’s a Line of Duty meme instead:
This has been a short week (with only 3 days at work) but I’m pretty pleased with what I achieved in that time:
Publishing the Architecture Toolbox I’ve been working on for a few months. That sounds a bit grand for what’s really just a library of re-usable artefacts but, hey! I finally realised that I can’t do everything (perfection is the enemy of good) so it’s time to let it fly and let others contribute…
Starting to get under the covers of a new engagement with a local authority client where we’re carrying out some digital service design. It’s fascinating for me to learn from my colleague Richard Quayle (@RichardSQuayle) around concepts like the locus of control, the negatives of a command and control structure (cf. Edward Deming’s approach), failure demand – and much more as we jointly deliver this Business Consulting engagement.
A very insightful chat with a client where we’re looking to engage around an Architecture service. It was refreshing to hear that they find TOGAF too conceptual and want to take a more pragmatic approach around EA on a Page (which I referenced in my post on developing IT architecture skills).
I’ve struggled with procrastination/distraction this week too. The challenges of back to back online meetings are obvious but it seems meetings spaced out through the day can be equally problematic. The challenge is that they leave no time to really get into flow before the next meeting is due.
Outside work, the UK’s easing of “lockdown” restrictions saw the return to Caveman Conditioning – training outdoors again instead of over Zoom!
I also completed some online learning around First Aid Essentials in Sport. This is a requirement for my certification as a British Cycling coach but I’ve struggled to complete an approved course during “lockdown”.
A look ahead to the weekend
This weekend will see me:
Meeting up with another family for a country walk (something we’ve not been able to do for a while!).
Returning to Youth Training at my local cycle club (the first time we’ve been able to run a session since I became a coach).
Resuming Cyclist’s Dad/Directeur Sportif duties as my eldest son returns to racing.
In addition to celebrating the 49th anniversary of my arrival on this planet, next week will be mostly spent at home including some time doing geeky hobby stuff in the Man Cave. There will also be the final assessment for my First Aid Essentials in Sport certification (which will be interesting over a Zoom call, to which I’ve been asked to bring a pillow and a bandage!).
For the last few
years, every IT organisation has been talking about “digital”.
Digital this, digital that. “Digital transformation” has become a
buzzword (OK, two words), just like “Cloud” in 2010 or “Big
Data” a few years later.
But what do we mean
when we talk about digital transformation? It certainly caused a stir in my
recent team meeting.
To answer that, let’s look at three forms of transformation – Cloud, Business and Digital – and how they build on each other:
Cloud transformation is about tools and technology. It’s often IT-led (though it should involve business stakeholders too) and so it’s the domain where us techies are most happy. Often, it involves creating new platforms, using cloud services – Azure, Amazon Web Services, Office 365, G-Suite, Dynamics 365, Salesforce. But cloud transformation is just an enabler. In order to deliver value, business transformation is required.
Business transformation is about re-engineering internal processes to better serve the needs of the business and improve the way in which services are delivered. It’s about driving efficiencies and delivering better outcomes, but still focused on the way that a business (or other organisation) operates. Business transformation should be business-led but will often (but not always) demand new platforms and services from IT – which leads back to cloud transformation.
Digital transformation relates to the external interface with clients/customers/citizens/students. This is the domain of disruptive innovation. Evolve or become extinct. It’s often spoken about in terms of channel shifting – getting people to use digital services in place of older, more laborious alternatives but, ideally, its complementary, rather than replacing existing methods (because otherwise we run the risk of digital exclusion). Importantly though, it’s no good having digital transformation without business transformation and, like business transformation, digital transformation should be business-led.
Let’s take an example of digital transformation: when my bins were missed from a council waste collection, I logged a call via my local council’s website, which created an incident in a case management system and within an hour or so the bin lorry was back in my street because the driver had been alerted to the missed collection on his in-cab display. The service was excellent (OK, there was a mistake but it was quickly dealt with), the resolution was effective, and it was enabled using digital technologies.
But here’s another example. When I was held up in the neighbouring county by some defective temporary traffic lights at some roadworks, the local authority‘s out of hours phone service wanted me to channel shift to the website (not appropriate when driving a car). It also couldn’t cope with my problem – the out of hours phone service ended up at a random mobile voice mailbox. In the end, I called the Police on 101 (non-emergency) when really some basic business processes needed to be fixed. That shouldn’t necessarily require a technical solution but digital transformation of external services does rely on effective internal processes. Otherwise, what you have created is a shiny new approach on the outside, with the same clunky processes internally.
Hopefully this post
has helped to describe the differences between cloud, business and digital
transformation. But also consider this… digital transformation relies on
business transformation – but not all business transformation needs new IT… the
important thing is to identify the challenges being faced, the opportunities to
innovate, and only then consider the platforms that are needed in order to move
Milton Keynes – Rochdale – London – Leicester. Not quite New York – London – Paris but those are the towns and cities on my itinerary this week.
Every now and again, I find myself counting down the days to the weekend. This week has been different. It was manic, squeezing work in around lots of other activities but it was mostly enjoyable too.
The week at work
My work week started off with an opportunity to input to a report that I find quite exciting. I can’t say too much at the moment (though it should be released within the next couple of weeks and I’ll be shouting about it then) but it’s one of those activities that makes me think “I’d like to do more of this” (I already get referred to as the extra member of the risual marketing team, which I think they mean as a good thing!).
Bills have to be paid though (i.e. I need to keep my utilisation up!), so I’ve also had some consulting in the mix, writing a strategy for a customer who needs to modernise their datacentre.
Then, back to work on Thursday, squeezing in a full day’s work before heading to the National Space Centre in Leicester in the afternoon for the UK MVP Community Connection. I’m not an MVP anymore (I haven’t been since 2011) but I am a member of the MVP Reconnect Programme, which means I still get invited to some of the events – and the two I’ve been to so far have been really worthwhile. One of my favourite sessions at the last event was Tony Wells from Resource IT (the guys who create the Microsoft Abbreviation Dictionary) talking about storytelling. This time we had a 3-hour workshop with an opportunity to put some of the techniques into practice.
The evening started with drinks in the space tower, then an IMAX film before dinner (and a quiz) in the Space Centre, surrounded by the exhibits. We returned the next day for a Microsoft business update, talks on ethics and diversity, on extending our audience reach and on mixed reality.
Unfortunately, my Friday afternoon was hijacked by other work… and the work week also spilt over into the weekend – something I generally try to avoid and which took the shine off things somewhat…
I’ve had a full-on week with family too: my eldest son is one of six from Milton Keynes who have been selected to attend the Kandersteg International Scout Centre (KISC) in 2019 and, together with ten more who are off to the World Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, we have a lot of fund-raising to do (about £45,000 in total). That meant selling raffle tickets in the shopping centre for the opportunity to win a car on Monday evening, and a meeting on Tuesday evening to talk about fundraising ideas…
Meeting parents and young people to kick off our fundraising plans to send 10 young people from @MKscouting to World Scout Jamboree and 6 to the Kandersteg International Scout Centre in 2019. We need to raise about £45,000 so if anyone has ideas, I’d love to hear them!
So, that’s out every evening, and a long day every day this week… by Friday I was ready to collapse in a heap.
No cyclocross this weekend (well, there was, but it clashed with football), so I was on a different sort of Dad duty, running the line and trying not to anger parents from the other team with my ropey knowledge of the offside rule…
It’s also December now, so my family have declared that Christmas celebrations can begin. Right from the moment I returned home on Friday evening I was accused of not being Christmassy enough and I was forced to listen to “Christmas Music” on the drive to my son’s football match (the compromise was that it could be my Christmas playlist).
Even I was amused to be followed in my car by a certain jolly chap:
Look who followed me in my car today! It seems Father Christmas has traded his sleigh for a convertible Morris Minor? pic.twitter.com/2c74NeZCNH
My part in decorating the house consists of getting everything down from the loft, putting up the tree and lights, and then finding myself somewhere to hide for a couple of hours until it all looks lovely and sparkly. Unfortunately, the hiding time was actually spent polishing a presentation for Monday and fighting with Concur to complete my expenses… not exactly what I had in mind…
I forgot to add this tale to last week’s week note but I was travelling back home from Stafford recently when I noticed a re-branded Virgin Pendolino at the platform. My train wasn’t due for another 10 minutes so I didn’t check out where this one was going, so I was a little surprised to pass it again as I arrived in Milton Keynes two hours later, after I’d gone the long way (via Birmingham) and changed trains…
Credit is due to the social media team handling the @PremierInn account for Whitbread, they quickly confirmed that it is a J not an I (though I had worked it out).
@HolidayInn were equally on the ball when I complained about a lack of power sockets (and traffic noise insulation) at their Leicester City Centre hotel. Thankfully they replies were limited to Twitter and email – not midnight calls as my colleague Gavin Morrisson found when he tweeted about another Holiday Inn!
Last time I complained on Twitter about sockets at a HI, they tracked me down and the hotel manager called my room at midnight asking what the problem was. I was not amused.
I follow some very smart people on Twitter. Sometimes they tweet and blog stuff that’s way over my head. Often I agree with them. Occasionally I don’t.
Last night, I spotted a tweet from Matt Ballantine (@ballantine70) that I felt compelled to rebel against. I’m late to the party (the tweet is nearly a week old – which is an age in the Twittersphere) but this is what Matt had to say, together with my response:
20 years of locking down corporate PCs have left the workforce without the heuristic skills necessary to safely navigate the internet…
I’ve long held the view that locking down PCs is missing the point. Even when BYOD was “a thing” (around 2010), I was writing that we needed to stop worrying about devices and operating systems and to start looking at data and applications. Now that’s becoming mainstream thinking – mobile device management (MDM) is finally being replaced with mobile application management (MAM) – and organisations are finally realising that laptops and “hybrid” devices are also mobile devices (it’s not just about tablets and phones).
The age of lockdown is also starting to wane. Yes, organisations will still have corporate builds and still control what employees can do with the tech running on their networks but to get back to Matt’s statement – I simply don’t buy that the lockdown is causing people to have an inability to navigate the Internet safely.
A general lack of digital skills
You see, I’ll suggest that the reason “the workforce [do not have] the heuristic skills necessary to safely navigate the Internet” is a general lack of digital skills. We (in general) have not evolved our technical skills for the use of “office productivity” tools since the mid-1990s. When I was at Uni’, I used MS-DOS 6.0 and WordPerfect 5.1. By my final year, I had progressed to Windows 3.11 for Workgroups and Word for Windows 2.0. And the way most people use a word processor they might as well still be on that platform. In general, people don’t use the features and functionality in our bloated Office products. They just type words, put blank lines in for spacing, pick some fonts manually (ever heard of styles?) and save. I could use similar examples for presentations in PowerPoint or for spreadsheets in Excel. The introduction of the ribbon in Microsoft Office circa 2007 was said to be an attempt to surface the features people use the most (but features couldn’t be removed entirely because telemetry told Microsoft that everyone uses some of the features, just not all of us, all of the time).
At his Middle School (then aged around 9-11), my son was commended for his tech skills because he was able to offer classroom IT support to the teachers. That’s not because he’s a tech genius but because the staff at the school didn’t know how to use Windows+P to connect to an external screen. To be fair to his teachers that’s not unique to them – it’s the same in most offices too. Similarly for booking calendar appointments for meetings (a black art to some) or not sending email attachments to share documents. The list goes on.
We teach our children to be safe on the Internet but many adults struggle too. “Would you like to see the dancing pigs?” Oh, go on then – click anything to make the box go away. Followed by “Oops, why is my browser opening all of these windows showing sites with pictures of scantily-clad ladies?”. This is not a new phenomenon either.
I’m in danger here of going off on a bit of a rant, so I’ll stop for a moment and focus on what many of us talk a lot about today – digital transformation – or rather how the digital skills gap is hindering our ability to transform.
Consultants like me work with organisations to help them adopt new technologies in order to address business issues, embrace change and, ideally, adapt their business to innovate – perhaps even disruptively. At least, that’s the idea – far too many organisations seem to want to “run an Office 365 project” rather than to “deliver a flexible workstyle facilitated by modern end-user computing services delivered using a software as a service model”. If they can’t see past the tech, it’s unlikely they will deliver true digital transformation.
Even if their business processes evolve, do the staff have the skills to embrace the change? Do we have one generation (mine) still stuck in 1995, whilst the millennials want to do everything with apps on their phones (incidentally, I think a lot of the stuff written about millennials is rubbish too – but that’s something for another post)? As Lewis Richards (@stroker) notes below, being digital is a mindset.
81-year-old woman makes iPhone app after only starting to use computers at 60 https://t.co/wvKTPULFfD being digital is a mindset #ln
Many of us understand change management from a technology or service standpoint – but what about people change management? This is where models like the ADKAR model (from Prosci) can help*
ADKAR stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement – as illustrated below:
It’s about taking people on a journey and helping to manage organisational/people change:
We build awareness with communications, model offices, etc. to help people become aware that a change is on the horizon. People are naturally resistant to change, so we need to make them aware of it, take away the initial shock and let them get their heads around what’s happening.
After we’ve made people aware of change and helped them to understand why it’s happening, we turn our attention to helping people to embrace the potential. Initially, this is about desire – selling the benefits of the change so that people are asking “when can I have this?”.
Knowledge is developed through training. That might not be classroom-based – it could take many forms – but fundamentally it needs to address the skills that people need to adapt to the change – avoiding the digital skills gap I mentioned above that’s be brought on through years of introducing new systems and expecting people to just “get on with it”.
Once equipped with desire and knowledge, people gain the ability to function in the new way.
Finally, business changes need to change to take advantage of new capabilities. Critically, the new methods and processes need to be reinforced to ensure that organisations don’t fall back into their old ways of working.
Using this model (or something similar), we can equip people to adapt to change and even embrace it. And with suitably skilled people on board, digital transformation has a much better chance of success.
People’s apparent inability to use technology well is not down to the way that corporates have traditionally managed devices. It’s down to a general lack of education and training around digital skills. As we navigate the current wave of digital transformation we have an opportunity to redress that balance. And if we don’t, then we won’t see the benefits and we’ll fail to transform.
*This is not an advert for ADKAR – that’s just the model that I’m familiar with. Other change management methodologies are available. Your mileage may vary. etc. etc.
In my work, I regularly find myself discussing transformation with customers who are thinking of moving some or all of their IT services to “the cloud”. Previously, I’ve talked about a project where a phased approach was taken because of a hard deadline that was driving the whole programme:
Lift and shift to infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS).
Look for service enhancements (transform) – for example re-architect using platform-as-a-service (PaaS).
Iterate/align with sector-wide strategy for the vertical market.
The trouble with this approach is that, once phase 1 is over, the impetus to execute on later phases is less apparent. Organisations change, people move on, priorities shift. And that’s one reason why I now firmly believe that transformation has to happen throughout the project, in parallel with any migration to the cloud – not at the end.
In the podcast, Matt and Chris reinforced my view that just moving to the cloud is unlikely to save costs (independently of course – they’re probably not at all bothered about whether I agree or not!). Even if on the surface it appears that there are some savings, the costs may just have been moved elsewhere. Of course, there may be other advantages – like a better service, improved resilience, or other benefits (like reduced technical debt) – but just moving to IaaS is unlikely to be significantly less expensive.
Sure, we can move commodity services (email, etc.) to services like Office 365 but there’s limited advantage to be gained from just moving file servers, web servers, application servers, database servers, etc. from one datacentre to another (virtual) datacentre!
Instead, take the time to think about what applications need; how they could work differently; what would be the impact of using platform services; making use of a microservices-based approach*; could you even go further and re-architect to use so-called “serverless” computing* (e.g. Azure Functions or AWS Lambda)
But perhaps the most important point: digital transformation is not just about the IT – we need to re-design the business processes too if we’re really going to make a difference!
* I plan to explore these concepts in more detail in future blog posts.