Do we really want disruptors? Maybe not as much as is claimed.

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy March 16, 2016
Disruption isn't working out the way some thought it might. Lofty in ambition yet very hard to execute against, what's the problem?

idea killer
The other day I saw an amusing organization chart graphic. I say amusing because I can think of many places where there is some variation on this theme. Check the graphic which I posted on Facebook with the caption: "Hands up everyone who knows this org chart?" Plenty 'liked it' and looking down the list of names, I found myself quietly muttering 'yep' to those brave enough to put their heads above the parapet. Many of them behave in ways that could be classed as disruptive. And yet the paradox is that we see numerous stories with themes that go something like 'disrupt or be disrupted' or 'X-vendor is disrupting Y market with Z solution.' Is that really what's happening?

The notion of disruption is nothing new in management and technology circles. Most recently, it has taken on special meaning in a number of markets as new entrants seemingly emerge from nowhere creating havoc for incumbents. The obvious example is Uber but there are many others. In technology, the idea of ditching data centers and running enterprise solutions as services can be regarded in the same manner, in large part because SaaS removes the need for costly IT infrastructure and the supporting mechanisms. Yet if recent surveys are to be believed, we are still at the early innings of seeing a transformation over to SaaS, despite being 10 years or more into this movement.

But then as I watched the reactions come through, Bob Warfield pointed me to a story he wrote in 2010 that starts with:

Heard about an executive recently departing a large Enterprise Software Company, “He was disruptive.”

I don’t know the man, but couldn’t help but wonder. “He was disruptive,” has been the epitaph for many a career.

But why are they disruptive? It isn’t just for the sheer cussedness of being disruptive. Not at an executive level. They were not aligned with the organization for some reason they believed in. And is the disruptor the only one to blame?

Bosses in large organizations don’t want good people. They want people who eliminate worries.

I have a lot of time for Warfield because he has not only successfully built and sold enterprise scale businesses, he brings a sense of wisdom to the table which is sorely needed at times. As I thought about this, I couldn't help but wonder why there is such a disconnect between what many companies say and what actually happens.

I recall for example our meeting the other month with Safra Catz, co-CEO Oracle. She made the point that the company has been on a 10 year journey that, among other things, required fundamentally new ways of working. Even today, those changes continue as the company adjusts its selling model for cloud solutions. None of that happens in a vacuum but in the context of well established policies and behaviors. I can only imagine the angst among sales reps as they hear about how they are being removed from the sales loop in a number of cases.

Over at SAP, Jonathan Becher, who leads the company's digital solutions unit, recently told me how his unit is succeeding in selling on an inbound basis only. No sales rep calls. It's small scale right now so the impact is minimal but I wonder what happens if Becher's unit achieves breakout enterprise level scale?

At IBM, the company is not short of troubles but I know that it is running as fast as it can to build new business units. Those units are being operated as greenfield, almost startup flavored with an outcomes based model that is as far removed from IBM's time and materials model as you'll ever see. That offers genuine hope for success, even as other parts of the business suffer.

But then I peer over to the world of service providers and Phil Fersht's damning report about willingness to get off legacy engagement models. Check this graphic to see what I mean:

Confusion as a Service` via HfS

Despite his despondency, Fersht says:

I’ve been amazed at the sheer number of Robotic Process Automation pilots and deployments that have sprung up over the past 18 months. Our forthcoming F&A-as-a-Service blueprint report will reveal just how widespread this is. Providers like HP, Accenture, TCS and IBM have been particularly active here.

In addition, there is a lot of enthusiasm for Digital initiatives – Genpact’s Lean Digital initiative is being talked about by several clients, and I have been highly impressed with Cognizant’s approach to “Being Digital” – they really get that this is a business model transformation, not just another app-dev play with Digital sugar-frosting.  And I like the approach to As-a-Service which Wipro’s new CEO, Abid Neemuchwala, is driving.  Plus, there is some pretty cool stuff being cooked up from Accenture’s operations group with its innovation networks and rethinking how they deliver their services.

I guess then that there is hope, yet in many companies, I see an inability to instantiate the kinds of change needed to bring them into the 21st century. Policies and practices that are rooted in the 20th century no longer play well in what Rob Enslin describes as the 'live business.'  I can only imagine the frustration among leaders who know that change is imperative yet are blocked by organization layers that seem hell bent on preserving the status quo.

As the spring conference season starts to unfold, questions around the willingness to change, the capacity to execute against a change management plan and the reality of how this is working out will be close to the top of my agenda. To that extent, I am particularly looking forward to sharing a platform with Fersht and others at HfS's upcoming Vision 2020 event, alongside listening to Fersht's session at Infosys Confluence 2016.

Image credit - Top story image via Facebook, main story image HfS Confusion-as-a Service report, featured image: Stop Doing What Doesn't work on a cork notice board © thinglass via fotolia

Disclosure - SAP, Oracle and Infosys are premier partners at time of writing

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