Welcome to the Real (IT) World!

Back-Office Applications versus Digital Collaboration

You will have noticed by now that I have retracted from the rather useless BPM versus ACM discussion. One reason is that as I predicted many years ago, the approach used in ACM has been assimilated by the big BPM vendors. Not necessarily in true function but for certain in their marketing approach and material. Additionally I find that the people responsible for process management in most businesses are just thinking of processes in terms of controlling work and not in terms of empowering people to achieve process goals, which is a rather short-sighted approach.

As pointed out so many times that I truly feel like a broken record, it is not the predefined process that insures outcome but a well-defined goal that people pursue. I yet have to see goals being implemented in process management that are no more than milestone definitions.

At our ISIS Papyrus Open House we had great discussions at the management circle on this subject. It became quite clear that large organizations are simply not capable in their current structure and culture to take a different view of processes. Unless the large consulting companies will start to recommend to them to do this differently they will continue to work the outdated way. Unfortunately both the consulting companies and the BPM vendors would have to speak up against their own business to make that happen. So it won’t. It therefore also makes not much sense to try and sell such an approach to large businesses. I have to admit that despite my opposing stance to the purely sales-driven concept, what can be sold are pre-packaged applications that some call ‚Smart Process Apps’ as they bypass some of the immense effort imposed by a BPM bureaucracy. But those apps are back-office focused and lack the crucial ability for goal-driven, digital collaboration with customers and partners. These apps represent additional silos and typically struggle with the dynamics of integrating with content and communications abilities as that would break their rigid processes.

The 'Digital' Collaboration Contract

The ‘Digital’ Collaboration Contract

In the meantime outside the business and IT illusions of the large enterprises the world has changed and continues to change. The change imposed by those forces won’t be subtle nor elegant as promised by the consulting firms. It will be brutal and disruptive as the businesses that can’t adjust will disappear one way or the other. While the principles of Uber or Airbnb in a much broader range of new markets can’t be generalized they show that the infrastructure for a different kind of business-to-employee-to-customer relationship does already exist. It is utterly unused by the large corporations who fail to see the writing on the wall.

Karl Marx had proposed that the world would be divided into people who owned the means of production – the idle rich shareholders – and people who worked for them. Those large businesses still operate that way. Following the Industrial Revolution, having a good job meant it was unionized and secure, with company benefits, such as health-care insurance, vacations and retirement pensions. Both governments and unions are still doing their part to reduce the agility of businesses with labour laws that are supposed to protect employees from being laid off. In effect, those laws are stopping companies from hiring more people. Automation and outsourcing are the consequences with the disappearance of job security.

Ronald Coase, the British economist and 1991 Nobel Prize recipient in economics published in 1937 ‘The Nature of the Firm.‘ He proposed that a firm should be able to find the cheapest, most productive goods and services by contracting them out in an efficient, open marketplace. The realities of employment complexities however caused the creation of ever larger companies that were supposed to dominate and control their market space at all costs. All that growth generally leads to organizations becoming bureaucratic, with a focus on planning, efficiency and costs, destroying the ability to quickly embrace new ideas and technologies when market conditions change.

Advances in information and communication technologies are having a huge impact but not the one we would initially expect. Economies of scale and network effects are leading to organizational consolidation and a winner-take-all world where still only the largest survive. Fragmentation and consolidation will co-exist with each other to a greater or lesser extent across different companies and ecosystems. Apple has found the ideal combination of continuous customer-focused creativity and its amazing ability to manage a huge world-wide supply chain.

How is that possible? It won’t happen by hiring a consulting firm or implementing BPM. Just as language shapes our brain’s ability to think, the use of information technology shapes our behavior as customers and the ability of businesses as suppliers. The most valuable and fastest growing companies are those that use technology to satisfy their customers needs in new and visionary ways. It used to be heresy and unimaginable to IT architects that customers would be allowed to directly access a banking system. Today it is the gold standard by which a bank’s customer service is judged.

It is further no longer possible to ignore that the four layers of customer interaction, business interaction and content, compliance and policy rules, and data transactions have to converge. Back-Office Applications will continue to enforce a customer disconnect. Mobile and browser front-ends must connect to a homogeneous digital collaboration infrastructure that does not restrict but empowers company staff to service in a flexible but still compliant manner.

But clearly it will not be open and unmanaged interaction like on Facebook. Those interactions will have to be private and secure and driven through the goal definitions of a customer service contract. It is the applications that enable this kind of digital collaboration with customers that will make or break a business these days regardless of its size. Digital Collaboration provides the only true real-time ability of a business to interact with its customers and not an illusionary real-time view of old Big-Data analytics and predictions. What nonsense!

It is the executive who decides how technology will reshape the way a business works and he needs to fulfill his vision in a much shorter time than typical software development projects, regardless if in-house or outsourced can deliver.

Expertise and Experience in Process Management

Giving up Stability for Agility

I have often discussions with experts in all walks of life and business. Experts come in many flavors, with many titles, certificates, and acronyms to their name. They usually come with a lack of experience too. In my diction expertise and experience are not the same. In process management experts sell methodology and practice. A boilerplate template and the necessary bureaucracy which most certainly won’t increase agility.

Yes, we do need people who are very knowledgable about one thing. For pure research it does make sense to have theoretical scientists who study to expand the theory. I proud myself to be a generalist and to know a lot about a lot. I learn from expert knowledge but always apply it in the real world. I learned a lot more from failure. Because I do large changes in small steps, most failures are small too and corrections are easy and affordable. The lessons are however ‚priceless‘.

Over the years I came to the conclusion that nothing stands for itself. In Quantum physics all theories have to stand up to a cosmological proof of how the universe evolved. Quantum physics changes your understanding of spontaneity and causality. Everything is connected. There are in fact no segregated fields of science and those we use are purely artificial. There is also no border between science, philosophy and art. There can’t be one without the others. They make each other better. I am one in this opinion with Edward O. Wilson, a magnificent biologist. He wrote the most amazing book called ‚Consilience‘ in which he calls for an end of scientific segregation.

What can be gained from looking over the edge of your plate rather than just deeper down Alice’s rabbit hole? I found that there is but one purpose in life and that is to improve my life by improving the lives of those around me, most of all my family, friends and colleagues. To do so does not require expertise of any kind. It needs experience and humble acceptance. It needs the ability to come to good decisions about things that have potential. Looking for guaranteed outcomes through a rigid procedure means to invite huge failures.

These days experts proclaim all sorts of do’s and don’ts that ignore the larger picture. They use shortsighted logic that targets one symptom, just like in medical treatments. That one blood value is out of a theoretical optimal range and it has to be corrected regardless of the reason why it is what it is and what the potential downsides of the treatment are. I wrote a three post series on naive intervention. Many did agree with me but still fail to see their own naïveté. Naive intervention happens in all complex systems such as the human body, a family, the economy or our climate. Shortsighted expert ignorance is the order of the day.

I find that most things are better left alone to allow natural dynamics. If at all, actions should be targeted at myself and not at others. Absolute control over our environment is an illusion and I do not mean a factory or lab. But take for example airplane crashes. Yes, we do fare better when we guide and share experience rather than being a control freak. As they say, it is better to teach people to feed themselves than to feed them.

Einstein was one of those who said: ‚Only the ignorant are certain‘ and that is the core problem with most experts. While I am steadfast in my intuitive beliefs and principles honed by experience and failure, I still leave a lot of room for being wrong and learning. While I oppose the ignorant naive activists with fervor, I still know that they make me better because there can be no progress without dissent and disagreement. Where all agree or are forced to agree, the future ends.

Logic would say that it is crazy for a 60 year old guy who is generally expected to be retiring soon, to buy a hyper-tuned 600 horsepower hatchback and compete with five to ten other crazy guys on a mixed tarmac and gravel race track in a world championship series? I ignore logic because the experience makes me a better person. I have a coach to teach me, but in the end I have to validate my learning. My coach Patrik Sandell is a world class racer himself and not a physics professor.

Cars and their drivers on a race track represent a dynamic, chaotic system that disregards control and predictability. The competitive element makes it however a valid comparison to doing business. The physics are secondary, but the drivers and teams are the key element. There are great drivers and dedicated team managers who lack the social skills that could make them successful in the long run. If I yell at my mechanics that might be as bad as a driving error. Even the regulatory frameworks put in place by FIA,  fail to achieve too often the desired effect as in everyday business and politics. Regulation produces rule beating and bypass actions that often cause the opposite of what is intended.

Learning to race teaches me to be humble and pushes me to become better in everything. It forces me to stay physically fit, rebuild my reflexes and ability for split-second judgment. Every time I take another few tenths of a second off my lap time, I have learned — something. Being fast is not about driving like a nutcase but rather truly about teamwork — and actually economics. Any unnecessary correction or movement of steering wheel, tires or car wastes energy and reduces momentum. It is not about being in perfect control but giving up control just enough to let the system take care of things by itself. I guide it, nudge it, correct it and the least amount will make me the fastest. Just as in life and business …

Driving fast is therefore mostly about efficiency, but not about who uses the minimum amount of fuel as in the over-regulated Formula One. Which are the least amount of actions that take me to the target in the shortest time. Sounds familiar? But try to code a race in a flow-diagram! I do train for example in a simulator, but not to find out what the perfect process is, but simply to produce the repetitive motor action that automates the driving skill. I then train on an ice track that is much more slippery to learn how to apply that skill in the real world. When racing time comes everything is different in each heat despite driving the same laps about 20 times. The track, the weather, the other drivers, my car, and my emotional state they all represent parameter input that changes the process in a chaotic system.

The inert momentum of the car is something that you need to get a feel for intuitively as you have no time to think and apply logic. Like in business there is simply no way to gather the information in time, process it, apply the logic and then perform a correction. It is all much too late and too often oversimplified logic. You have to feel it that when you apply a corrective action one way, momentum will swing it to the opposite. You see race drivers move the steering wheel in short left and right movements because that way they can react faster and avoid large changes in momentum. Like in a fighter plane you give up stability as a trade off. One intentionally destabilizes the car to make it more agile and responsive by using what is called a lift-off (from the throttle) into a Scandinavian flick. You do illogical things such as being at full throttle into a tight corner while breaking hard. Breaking harder before the apex allows you to accelerate faster out of the corner. Not logical at all until you gain the experience.

All processes in your business are the same chaotic structures. If you try to make them predictable then you kill the agility. The goals are stable and the outcomes remains desirable but the path of actions is different each time. The hardest part is to unlearn our demand for control and stability. Like in an aerobatic plane it is the instability that gives you agility. Not more control and more bureaucracy and more monitoring as suggested by process experts. In dynamic situations you need to empower people to act, just like a race driver needs to have power at the wheels at all times as otherwise he simply spins out. They need be allowed to react intuitively to something unexpected to be efficient and fast. That is totally illogical to experts, but it is a simple fact of life.

Many business or process experts are like the ‘couch experts’ in racing. They will make all sorts of comments about a race driver or business skills, but they have nowhere close the ability to do it any better because they never tried it and do not have the balls to try. I propose that many consulting firms just fill a market space where weak management structures in large corporations require external consultants to take decisions for a management team that is too afraid to take them. The best consultants have however the experience and have run a business themselves. Anyone else you can simply ignore …

No matter if you see it or you don’t. Real life happens at the race track.


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