6 traits all successful digital enterprises have in common

'A digital transformation is not just about changing technology. It's about changing the way the enterprise works.'
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

We're making some progress toward achieving highly digitized enterprises, but it's going to take time. The problem is technology solutions are being dropped on top of -- or are being used to pave over -- outdated, calcified processes.

Photo: Joe McKendrick

This challenge was explored by Phil Wainewright, co-founder of Diginomica, speaking with Diginomica co-founder and colleague Jon Reed at the recent Financial Force confab. Wainewright spoke to the ever-elusive vision of the "frictionless enterprise," or one that quickly moves information across all internal and external boundaries. (Phil was a contributor here at ZDNet for a number of years, and was one of the original thought leaders in the web services and service oriented architecture movement.)

Here's the problem with today's digital transformation efforts, he explains: Workplaces have typically been constructed on clunky processes that many of today's technologies have simply paved over. Even with today's amazing array of technology, in many cases, we're still paving over cowpaths. "Enterprises and the enterprise applications that we've ended up with today are still reflecting all of the processes around putting things down on bits of paper sending those bits of paper around through closely defined functions, to make sure the bits of paper don't get lost," says Wainewright. "So there are all kinds of built-in barriers and boundaries and demarcations that we don't need any more. We're just going through the motions because that's the way it's evolved."

A frictionless enterprise, while built on and enabled by the latest technology, is at its core a people enterprise. Management needs to be forward-looking and open to change and new ideas. Technology makes change possible, and enables ideas to flow freely. "A digital transformation is not just about changing technology," Wainewright says. "It's about changing the way the enterprise works. We have to use the technology and its connectedness to sweep away all of those barriers."

Wainewright outlines six key markers of what makes up a frictionless enterprise:

A frictionless enterprise is ubiquitous. It's everywhere the decision-maker is at a given time. Interestingly, the label that would have applied here up until recently was "mobile," but things have expanded beyond that, Wainewright says. "It starts off with mobile -- we've got these smart devices -- but the next phase of evolution of computing is that you don't even need the devices, or you don't need to carry them around. The computing just comes to you with messages, so you can be sitting in your car and the message comes to you in your car, because that's where you are at the moment." It's all about connections, Wainewright adds. "The more successful you are in this frictionless enterprise world, the more networked you are the more connected you are and more you're making connections and collaboration across the old demarcations."

A frictionless enterprise is on-demand: Cloud computing has paved the way for an on-demand economy, with an abundance of resources available to enterprises with a keystroke. "You can use resources as you need them, as they're made available. It's very much an as-a-service model."

A frictionless enterprise is real-time. Decision-makers need to be able to see and react to events and receive insights or services as they are needed. "Information needs to be available, you shouldn't be waiting for it."

A frictionless enterprise is collaborative. And well connected. "The most effective way to get things done is to is to connect people to resources and to outcomes," Wainewright says, pointing to new ways of organizing software development as an illustration of this principle in action. "If you look at the way that organizations do DevOps for in software development now, one of the most important elements of that is cross-functional teams having people from different bits of the organization working together. Part of the essence of this of this richness concept that we don't have to put people in their old boxes anymore."

A frictionless enterprise is ready for change. Many enterprises are still mired in systems and processes that inhibit their abilities to adapt to new market realities. The key is to build systems and processes with a great deal of flexibility.

A frictionless enterprise is all about the customer. This is probably Wainewright's most important observation. "If you don't tie all the activities in the enterprise into that engagement with the customer, then it's not going to work," he says.

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