Today's connected digital technologies make it possible to radically rearchitect enterprise processes to remove all of the speed bumps and friction of the pre-digital world. As I wrote last week:
Frictionless enterprise is structured around dynamic processes that connect digitally networked content, resources and participants, often criss-crossing organizational boundaries.
So what's the starting point for transforming an existing enterprise, or for a newcomer to disrupt an established industry? There are three core ingredients that come to the fore again and again in frictionless processes. They conveniently all begin with the same letter so we can call them the 3 C's of frictionless processes: convergence, collaboration, context.
Look for places where you can see these characteristics emerging as a result of people adopting new technologies, or find opportunities to apply them in process innovation that creates new business value.
We often hear people talking about convergence when they reflect on the impact of connected digital technologies. When engaged in digital transformation projects, they talk about convergence of business and IT, or in Internet of Things conversations they may talk about convergence of operational technology (OT) with information technology (IT).
We shouldn't be surprised to find that when improving the connections between people working in different roles, the demarcation lines will start to blur. But this goes against the grain of the way the enterprise has traditionally been organized.
In the old, pre-digital world, the enterprise was divided up into functional departments because this was the only way to get things done at the time. Without today's digital connectivity, processes had to follow a predefined, sequential path, otherwise things would go astray or get stuck. Today, those departmental boundaries have become an obstacle to efficient working.
Finbarr Joy, CTO at William Hill, recently described the effect of the betting company's digital transformation on the way IT works with the rest of the organization:
There’s an awful lot of literature out there about IT alignment, IT alignment with the business. For me it's increasingly about convergence. What you used to call the IT department practically doesn't exist. Those product teams are made up of people that you formerly called IT people, who you formerly called commercial product people, but they happen to be in the same team. We are increasingly seeing that that distinction is just going away quite frankly. The whole notion of an IT department that sits and waits for a request from the business is completely gone.
It's the mantra of frictionless enterprise to break down barriers. Digital technologies allow us to transcend the functional compartmentalization of the traditional enterprise in order to find breathtaking new efficiency and speed of reaction. A lot of people will be unhappy about this because it disrupts settled patterns of working and long-established hierarchies. But if it's explained well and implemented properly, a larger number will be excited about the opportunity to work smarter and achieve better results.
There are many layers to peel away within the traditional enterprise before full convergence can be achieved. For example, the entire enterprise applications stack as we know it is built to serve organizations in which there are separate teams in HR, finance, IT, sales, and so on, each of whom has their own dedicated application stack. But as these roles converge and people in sales or operations increasingly do a little bit of HR and finance and IT during their working day, it makes little sense to have to move between discrete applications to get your job done. So the way functional automation is delivered will likely change — we'll see a lot more convergence in the technology platforms and in the user experience.
The corollary of convergence is collaboration — if you bring people together from different functional teams then you must equip them to collaborate effectively. In a connected digital world, that means giving them online collaboration tools such as file sharing, video conferencing and messaging platforms — as well as creating opportunities to work more collaboratively within existing applications, for example sharing and commenting on analytics or having a messaging stream around an order in progress or a disputed invoice.
But it goes beyond giving them the tools. As I recently wrote in a longer discussion of the role of collaboration as the secret of success in digital transformation, this kind of cross-functional collaboration is an unfamiliar experience for many people and they often lack the skills or find themselves disoriented by new patterns of reporting and accountability. This requires careful change management.
Collaboration therefore typically comes as a secondary characteristic rather than the enabling factor in frictionless processes. But it's a crucial part of the mindset and one of the most fundamental to long-term success of frictionless enterprise.
Of all the three C's, context is the one that has the most far-reaching impact. In many ways it is the foundation element that enables the rest. For the first time in history, today's technologies can automatically connect to and assemble all relevant context at every stage of a process.
In the old world, context had to be carried around and was usually out-of-date. Enterprise processes are architected around the notion of static documents that each record a separate transaction and hold all of the known context relating to that transaction. Today, we can strip out all of the static cruft because the context is always available.
If I fire up an app on my smartphone, it already knows who I am because I signed in with my own passcode (or better still, my fingerprint). Thanks to geolocation, it knows where I am (and what time it is), and if there are sensors in the environment around me, it can connect to them and gather that data too. If I'm there to inspect a physical asset, I can take a photo or video instead of having to describe it. So long as there's wifi or a data signal, I'm connected to the enterprise's cloud computing systems, which can deliver the necessary real-time information from elsewhere. All of this happens without me having to fill in or find a document.
Because connected digital technologies deliver this pervasive context, it shortcuts many of the laborious processes that used to slow down the traditional enterprise. People can have self-service access on their smartphones and instantly complete transactions that used to require huge administrative paper trails. They can see all the information they need to take a decision on the spot. If they need advice, they can use collaboration tools to call on an expert right there, and if needed they can instantly share the context with that person.
All of this allows us to strip out reams of redundant duplication and reiteration and simply get things done. For many operations, the smartphone notifications pane becomes the only user interface we need — it's redundant even to go into separate applications because we can simply respond to a notification with an approve or a deny.
Of the three C's, this is the one that requires the most infrastructure investment, whether in implementing big data platforms that can handle the collection and analysis of new data sources, or in opening out existing data stores so that they are able to deliver the data they hold to where it's needed. Corporate politics may also come into play here as there needs to be a clear business case to overcome resistance to sharing certain sets of data that have traditionally been the fiefdom of a specific department.
In my next piece, I'll go on to discuss examples of both new and established businesses that are real-world exemplars of these principles of frictionless enterprise.
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