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2019 - the Phil version

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright December 24, 2019
Phil's review of 2019 includes customer success, digital teamwork, the rise of business systems, serverless computing. best-of-breed versus suite, and how to change the enterprise


Several fascinating trends have either taken shape this year or continued to consolidate. There's been a lot of progress in defining how companies work with customers, how teams collaborate, and how technology supports people do to their best work. Yet in other ways, it's felt like a year of treading water, of figuring out the next steps. Maybe that sets the scene for a bigger leap forward in 2020. So with a view to far more fireworks in the year to come, here are my top 10 themes of 2019.

(1) Customer experience, success or outcomes?

Technology can only be a servant, and the first priority is to know what matters to your business and its customers, then apply technology in the service of making that happen.

Why? While some vendors are just catching up with the importance of customer experience — most notably in SAP's acquisition of Qualtrics — others are recognizing that there's much more to it than how people feel about their encounter with a vendor. In a digitally connected world, the XaaS Effect forces vendors not only to engage with customers but also to respond intelligently to their needs. There is a lot of work still to be done on mapping those needs and tracking how well vendors are helping to achieve them.

(2) Digital teamwork meets talent

The work that's being done across companies is much more project-based. You're trying to pull together the right people for a particular project, it's not as functionally driven as it was 10-15 years ago. So people are already working outside of traditional hierarchies, and they've been doing that for a while. Now you need to get a better handle on the skills to put together those project teams, whether inside or outside of the company. (Quoting Aneel Bhusri, CEO Workday)

Why? Effective digital teamwork is key to the successful operation of highly responsive, frictionless enterprise. This requires a fully functional collaborative canvas that connects content, messaging, workflow and applications across the enterprise — along with the ability to discover and nurture the skills people are able to bring to their teams. While you need the right mix of tools in place, culture and mindset are just as important.

(3) Or is it digital busywork?

It's actually a relatively new problem, where we have all these different apps and ecosystems, and we need to work seamlessly across them. And none of us, no company, no end user, is truly in control of their environment anymore. (Quoting Drew Houston, CEO Dropbox)

Why? The proliferation of digital teamwork tools is supposed to help us get more work done, but too often it feels like they're just making things worse. This is a big challenge that collaboration and work management vendors know they have to solve, but no one has all the answers yet.

(4) Business systems, a new take on IT

A new breed of IT specialists is growing whose role is to manage applications for the business. This is not shadow IT — they typically still report into the IT function. But they're embedded in the business functions, and tasked with helping them adapt technology to achieve their goals.

Why? One response to the growing proliferation of best-of-breed SaaS applications at many fast-growing companies is a new approach to IT. These business systems specialists are evolving their own disciplines for managing IT and they are already more prevalent than many CIOs realize.

(5) Going serverless, adopting microservices

The cloud-native tribe ... build on whatever technology comes to hand — open source and cloud infrastructure, connected services. For them, competitive advantage doesn't come from owning the stack, it comes from being free to select the best available resources for the moment.

Why? Enterprise applications used to be built on monolithic technology stacks, but today they want to be as open and as adaptable as possible. That's leading towards more use of microservices architectures, serverless resources and API-centric connection, with shared onotologies not far behind.

(6) Best-of-breed versus suite

While there's a lot of attention being paid to the rapid growth and high ambition of the likes of Slack, Box, Dropbox and others, the mainstream business market still leans towards vendors that can offer an integrated suite.

Why? Some people are convinced we'll soon access all our applications through a conversational layer like Slack or Alexa. Others believe the conversations need to be anchored within core applications. There's still a big market for vendors that can serve both of these demands in a single proposition.

(7) What's holding back the CFO?

What I realized is to change out your financial system is really an intrusive process and requires a bunch of work. It's like when the dentist says you need a root canal. You're like, 'OK, I'll get the root canal, but it doesn't hurt right now. Until it really hurts, I'm going to wait and kick the can.' (Quoting FinancialForce CEO Tod Nielsen)

Why? It's not that finance leaders don't want to move to the cloud or play a more strategic role in the business. It's just that they don't want to rock the boat. Cloud financials vendors are having to be more and more creative in making the migration both non-disruptive and compelling.

(8) Robots need humans, and vice-versa

While automation is great, you need to be smart about what you automate. To my mind, RPA too often turns into unthinking automation of your existing processes without first taking the opportunity to reimagine them.

Why? The notion that AI will augment rather than replace what humans can do has been in the ascendant this year, thank goodness. People, not machines, are at the heart of business operations. And humans will always be smarter than AI because our highly refined ability to adapt to new patterns — a sentiment I expressed in a piece first published in February 2018, which has remained one of the most visited throughout this year. 

(9) How to change the enterprise

[Precision manufacturer Doncasters Group] estimates that moving order acceptance off paper into an all-digital process has eliminated 46 miles of paper-passing and 10,000 manual signatures each year. The process is now up to 75% faster, saving more than 750 hours of administration and management time.

Why? At diginomica, we love hearing and telling real-world stories of how people are using technology to change the enterprise. I learned something new from each of these.

(10) And finally, some words from our sponsors

Looking to the future, change means that we are never ‘done’. It is a constant. Businesses will always evolve.

Why? It's becoming a bit of a tradition for me to finish my annual look back with a short sample of the most popular posts contributed during the year by our partners. We publish their content separately from, but alongside, our own independent content.

Happy holidays to all and very best wishes for a happy, prosperous and exciting New Year!

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