It's a shift to a digital business model ; a re-envisioning of our value proposition for the new world.
I'm doing my very best to methodically unpack all the components:
- In "The Next Transformation", I attempted to describe the inevitable shift, its motivations and consequences.
- In "The Digital Business Platform" I took a brief tour through the components of the new digital factory.
- In "The Digital Business Strategy" I did what I could to describe cross-industry examples of emerging digital business models, and a methodology I've seen that can get the discussion moving in the right direction.
And now, I'd like to spend some time looking at a key role that seems to exist in most digital business models I've seen so far: the behind-the-scenes process architect.
Every Business Is Built On Processes
Anyone who's worked in the business world understands that work gets done through repeatable processes: finding customers, delivering your value proposition, getting paid for it, reporting to stakeholders, etc. etc.
In any modest-sized enterprise, there are typically hundreds of processes at work -- in larger ones, many thousands.
The degree to which the process portfolio is viewed as a unified organizational asset varies widely. In some businesses, process authority and ownership is widely distributed; in others highly centralized. Indeed, there's a widely-held view that -- when it comes to effectiveness -- you're only as good as your processes!
Those that choose to manage business processes centrally often invest in continually improving their process effectiveness. Enter business process analysts, process engineers, business process architects, and the like.
There's inevitably a predictable cycle, sometimes abbreviated DMAIC from the Six Sigma world: define, measure, analyze, improve, control. Almost a never ending treadmill of continual enhancement -- when you get good at it.
Find these organizations, and you'll notice similar patterns: they're investing in platform capabilities to support this continual improvement process: everything is measured by default, data is easy to get to, there's an easy way to do the analysis, collaboration tools that make it easier for cross-functional teams to work together, and the like.
You'll also inevitably see a hierarchy in the process jockeys: there's a group focused on smaller or isolated processes; another group that tackles processes that span one or more functional silos, and sometimes an elite group that tackles the really hard strategic process re-engineering.
You'll often find this pattern in manufacturing, financial services and other mature and/or global industries. But you certainly don't find it everywhere.
Enter The Digital Business Model
So, if that's how things work in a highly-evolved physical business, how do things change when envisioning a digital business model?
Well, they do -- and they don't.
What doesn't change is the importance and the nature of the work: here are critical business processes we've got to get much better at, here are the new feedback loops we'll need to create; here's the organizational and governance model to go get that work done sooner than later, and so on.
What does change dramatically is context and agility.
So much of existing process thinking has its roots in the physical world and sequential, syncrhonized workflows. Digital business processes -- of course -- mostly take place in the digital realm (social, web, mobile, sensors, etc.) and can be very asynchronous, e.g. multiple thread working in parallel.
Look closely at any proficient digital business model, and you'll often find dozens of small "experiments" in play: these users get experience A, those users get experience B, and so on. Very often, those experiments are in a tight feedback loop with the predict analytics team.
These small-scale experiments are easy to create and easy to measure, since you're essentially working on a digital playground vs. doing stuff in the physical world.
Compare that with the typical difficulties associated with getting a traditional organization to try something (anything!) new.
The Role Of The Digital Business Architect
In a nutshell, the digital business architect is the essential "process jockey" of this new world. It's not usually an IT role; it's clearly a business role.
As I meet these people, I ask the inevitable question: what, exactly, is it that you do?
Here's a sampling of what they say:
- enable business teams to get on treadmill of DMAIC in their own functional worlds: work to improve their agility and effectiveness.
- identify opportunities to bring cross-functional teams together around more substantive process re-engineering work.
- drive requirements for broad platform capabilities to make the work easier and more productive
- work to build the digital skills portfolio across the business: how to effectively use mobile, social, analytics, etc.
- engineer and evolve important foundational workflows and composite data pictures, e.g. complete view of customer, complete view of customer experience, etc.
- measure and improve process re-engineering effectiveness and efficiency
I know, it sounds either (a) very esoteric, or (b) not that much different from what's already done in traditional models.
Esoteric, it is not. Similar to earlier business process re-engineering roles? Yes -- except that the context and end state are very different. People who grew up in one model often don't demonstrate the agility required for the newer, digital one. It appears to be a very hard leap to make.
These roles are observed to be far more effective when combined with two others, which I'll be covering shortly:
- the digital platform architect who is working to create the supporting capabilities for these peole to do their work, and
- one or more digital business leaders who are driving the transformation.
Otherwise, these next-gen business architects sort of flounder: they don't have the air cover, and they don't have the IT support. And, before long, they inevitably end up moving on to work for an organization that has invested in those two critical elements.
The most frequent observed pattern -- by far -- is the "everyone sort of doing their own thing" approach.
Over here, the marketing team working on the web site, mobile apps, social, analytics, etc. Over there, the quality team digging into their own flavors. Next door, the engineering team trying to find new ways to collaborate and engage. Across the org chart, the sales team trying to figure out how to engage customers more effectively.
From my point of view, that might be a necessary step in organizational evolution, but -- at some point -- the approach appears to change, and the pieces are methodically woven together as part of a broader plan to re-invent the business for the digital world.
When you do see a marked shift in the approach, it always makes for a great story: a rapid change in the business climate, strong executive leadership, fresh new talent being brought in, a shift in the overall investment pattern and drive organizational change -- drama, conflict, wins, setbacks, etc. -- all the ingredients of a great business book!
And I hope to be sharing more of those stories with you in the future.