It's been a frenetic year full of distractions, but what have we actually achieved? In some ways it feels like the industry has been marking time while digesting everything that generative AI brings to the table — or perhaps that's just me. And yet, behind all the hype, the themes I've outlined within Frictionless Enterprise continue to strengthen. There's been a convergence around platform thinking and the need to join up processes and data across the enterprise — even if the shape of that platform remains a moot point. Meanwhile, how we all co-ordinate our work remains crucial to the success of our increasingly automated and digitally connected organizations.
At the end of the day, unless you're running a prison, you should be striving to be a high-trust environment.
Why? As the year began, many companies were still hauling employees back into the office after the work-from-home explosion during the pandemic — a response that reminded Phil Libin of the eighteenth-century concept of the panopticon, a prison in which a single guard has direct oversight of every inmate. Since then, attention has moved on to generative AI, but the trend towards hybrid and remote work continues. Libin's advice on how to manage remote work remains highly relevant.
We want to do this with care. We want to understand the bounds of the system. But we also know that the only way to learn is to get it out there.
Why? Did I mention generative AI? There seems to have been little else to write about during the year, but the potential pitfalls outlined in this article are still a live concern — and other risks have come to light during the year. Yes, this is at least as big a technology wave as the advent of the Internet, but just like the early days of that wave, most of us are destined to waste a lot of money and effort doing it wrong for the first few years. First mission — get your data platform in order.
Everyone's looking out and saying, 'Hey, I currently have a complicated architecture with a lot of different companies. Are there a few strategic partners I can bet on? But I want a much more deeply integrated and much more strategic partnership with that company.
Why? While its generative AI announcements grabbed the headlines, the bigger story at Adobe Summit was its strategy to join up data, connect processes, enable teamwork and improve engagement across its platform, chiming perfectly with my Frictionless Enterprise theme.
This is not a systems change. This is a change in how we run our business. And so it has started with understanding our data.
Why? Back in the real world, Anna Manz, CFO at London Stock Exchange Group, gets to the heart of the matter — digital transformation isn't about the tech, it's about the outcomes. Interestingly, even before implementing any new technology at LSEG, the preparatory work of defining KPIs and how they deliver value had already led to changes in behavior that was driving revenue acceleration and cost savings. Kudos to Oracle for giving over the spotlight in this tech CEO keynote to customers to tell their stories.
[M]ainstream enterprise cultures and patterns of work are still largely oriented around paper-based processes. Organizations may be losing millions of dollars through time lost emailing files around, searching for information and switching between tasks, but these processes and workarounds are at least familiar to their people. Adopting a truly collaborative mindset requires an investment of effort and change management that many aren't ready for.
Why? This is me, back on my hobby-horse of digital teamwork and the Collaborative Canvas and its potential impact on enterprise culture, processes and structure. Many organizations still find it hard to leave behind legacy documents and their paper-based mindset.
Rather than it just being that one design team within organizations, we want that design team to work together with all the people who are in the enterprise.
Why? Canva's astonishing ten-year journey to over $1.5 billion annualized revenue has been founded on this mission to democratize design — a mission belatedly espoused by design giant Adobe with its Adobe Express product, and now supercharged with the aid of generative AI. This trend towards opening up access to capabilities that were previously the domain of specialist enterprise functions is one of the facets of Frictionless Enterprise, turning those centers of specialist expertise into advisors and facilitators to the rest of the organization. The phenomenon isn't limited to design — we see the same trend in IT and in financial planning and analysis, among others.
We've gone from having to restrict some of our front-end changes to align with release cycles to actually now being able to deploy the same-day changes to our back-end ERP as we do to the front-end, and it's all aligned, which is the place that we were aiming for.
Why? Mark Elliott, Chief Architect at online fashion retailer Boohoo Group, sums up the business adaptability that comes from building your own fully composable ERP back-end according to MACH principles — Microservices-based, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS and Headless. We're still in the very early days of this trend towards what I call Tierless Architecture, but as the expertise evolves and new toolkits emerge, I believe this approach will gradually become mainstream over the next few years.
We can actually guide users to where they need to go to those tools, where they need to go to a policy, or they need to go to a catalog, or they need to go on an internal thing.
Why? Despite all the automation that technology has already brought to enterprise processes, there's still a helluva lot of white space around those established applications, which opens up opportunity for startups like Levelpath. It turns out that automating those processes was just the start — now it's time to map and refactor all that automation to make it easier to find and use.
One of our design principles was to have an integrated end-to-end and well-governed system ... The more that Workday deliver, and the more that we can take advantage of them, the more that we'll look to do that.
Why? The platform message came across strongly this year, both from vendors and from customers like Coventry Building Society. The scale of this project — two years of preparation to implement a completely new finance system that lays the foundation for future evolution — underlines how much effort has to go into such a move. But it's becoming more and more urgent to join up processes and data in a way that's both change-ready and AI-ready. We heard a similar platform message from NetSuite, while Unit4 unveiled new support packages to help customers complete their cloud migration.
I think probably the biggest message out of this data is that it is okay to be different. It is absolutely okay to be part of a team that might be not like you.
Why? We'll end on another teamwork note, because let's face it, if we want to make the world a better place, then we all have to get along while each being the best that we each can be. The people dimension forms the next chapter in my ongoing series on Frictionless Enterprise — look out for it in the New Year. In many ways it's the most important. Technology is just a means to an end. It's people who set the goals and work together to make them happen.