Who transforms the big IT consultancies?

Almost everybody are talking about digital transformation, digital first and user experience. Management consultants, Enterprise Architects, Business Analysts etcetera are in demand more than ever before. We have plenty of frameworks and methodologies to rely on and work with, and many are constantly being refined. The need for change is increasingly important and organizations are being forced to reinvent themselves at an increasing rate in order to stay ahead of competition or even to prevent themselves from dying.

Who do we turn to for advice and help on the journey?

Everyone agrees and adopts to new ideas and are talking about the importance of cultural change and working with lean or agile methods. For some time now people and their user experience – both within the organization and outside it – are getting more and more attention.

“The simple fact is that in a global company of 400,000+ employees mostly geared towards IT infrastructure projects, the acquisition of a silo of 100-odd designers is unlikely to have much impact. In terms of cultural impact it is so diluted that it practically qualifies as homeopathy.”

Rob Gillham, Head of Insight at Foolproof (from The Consultant-ization of UX)

I suggest the gut feeling and inherent trust in the major players of the arena are often misplaced. On each market there are a number of large IT consultancies whose reputation is bound to be shaken up by the fact that they do not exhibit any signs of actually taking their own medicine.

Use Consultants wisely

There is also the fact that most of the big IT consultancies once “helped” create many of the legacy problems that we are now left to deal with,  when trying to modernize the business capabilities. An excellent business model, until everyone realizes what is going on. For a more nuanced and in-depth analysis of the problem, please read Tom Graves “Big-consultancies and bridging the chasm” and “Big-consultancies and getting it right“.
There are of course many bright people at big IT consultancies that can do a lot of good for many organizations. So I am not saying stay clear of them, but I am saying be aware and start questioning your gut feeling – and make more informed decisions.

Antifragile decisions and enterprise debt

I often try to catch and at least skim through blog posts via Sinan Si Alhir’s (@SAlhir) twitter feed as they often offer interesting insights on various subjects. A while ago I had an epiphany when reading one of his blog posts about a perspective on  Nassim Nicholas Taleb‘s (@nntalebantifragility concept.

In Sinan Si Alhir’s blog post I was inspired by the mix of Taleb’s concept together with Jan Husdal’s (@janhusdal) thoughts on flexibility, agility, robustness and resilience.

I was at the time thinking about different ways of explaining to top level management how and why they have contributed to building enterprise debt and how they can actively work on avoiding it in the future. I needed something visual and simplified so that it could be used on any level within the organization and in any business area.

One of the reasons why we today have to deal with large enterprise debts is that the awareness of how to make decisions that are future-proof is low. How to make decsions have also shifted over time. For many years our decision making have been characterised by a gut feeling that decisions should be robust and resilient. The notion to create something that endures over time. Unfortunately in many areas what was robust 10-20 years ago is no longer robust today.

Let us first briefly expand a bit on how we make decisions. I hope most agree that we make decisions on feelings. Some may argue facts. But in reality it is how we interpret the facts and how our gut feeling is when we are presented with the facts. Gut feelings are based on experience and knowledge. Both of which may be wrong today. Experience drawn from situations in the past may not be applicable today. Knowledge aquired in the past may not be as viable as it once was – just think about what happened to Michael Porter‘s Monitor Group, and why.

We live in a world where the rate of change is accelerating to a point where it is difficult to adequately adapt conceptually, logically and physically fast enough to handle changes in a good way. This coupled with incorrect gut feelings are the main reasons why we continue to accumulate enterprise debt. What once undeniably were robust and resilient decisions, now become fragile and vulnerable – and at a steadily increasing pace.

Antifragile decision model

With flexible decisions we consciously make room for known or probable changes. When we reach agile decisions we are also prepared for unknown and unexpected changes – we have increased our capability of adaptation. It really is this capability that I want to cultivate by using and explaining my model for modern decision making.

When we strive for agile decision making this makes our organization more antifragile in comparison to others.

Lex Parsimoniae

I am currently engaged in a thread on LinkedIn that started with the headline “Simplicity?” and the question “Who has used or considered simplicity as an architectural feature of any project?”.

There have been some discussions about the meaning of the word simplicity, especially in relation to flexibility. Very interesting read, but to me they are missing the point. Someone suggested the core discussion topic is the use of Occam’s Razor, which brought us back to the first few comments of the long thread – and trigged this blog entry. I rather like how Einstein originally put it: “The supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience”. Which was later referred to as Einstein’s Razor when paraphrased as “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”.

There is a danger in overly theoreticizing everything as we then tend to draw on academically describing the enterprise in the most proper way. Somewhere along this path we loose our target groups of people; that we rely on to help us realize value from our ontologies, models and frameworks. We need a more pragmatic approach.

I believe all architectural ontologies and frameworks are focused on simplicity for the sake of clarity, if nothing else. The problem is that there is need for loads of complexity to correctly describe an enterprise. Hence most (if not all) frameworks and ontologies tend to layer the entities and provide views that are made simpler to comprehend. That which we can picture in our minds we can understand, and the more simple and elegant we can describe something – the easier it is for us to understand and use it.

There is little or no value in perfectly describing an enterprise according to any framework or ontology, if we lack the means of simplifying to a level where every involved party know and understand what is demanded of them to realize value for the enterprise.

Simplicity is definitely a tool we need to use in order to succeed.

”Consumerization of IT”

I just read an interesting article by Nathan Clevenger on CIO.com on “How the iPad will change IT forever”.

The concept that the ”consumerization of IT” will drive the enterprises to change their role and attitude is far from new really. What is new is that it is exactly what is happening right now. Most organizations were taken a bit by surprise by the cheer force that drove the ”new” smart phones into the hands of all of us. Perhaps even more so by the drive to include iPads?

A completely different, but also interesting discussion, would be why the drive is so strong. For now let us just settle for that it is really happening at the moment and that we have to handle it in the best way we can.

I guess that you either have experience on your own, or have at least heard about the joys of owning a new toy settling into ”ok, so how do I actually use this?”. Normally I think most of us take some pride in being at the forefront, trying out new things and figuring out if and when and how to introduce something new and interesting to the organization. Not this time. Now we are facing security issues, questionable benefits et cetera – and the users are turning to the safe normal channels and are asking for answers. Naturally we try our best to muster up some help and support for the users. To manage the mobile devices and supply them with settings and recommendations for in-house distributed custom apps and so on – rather than just asking ”well show me your rationale for buying the thing in the first place”.

If we view the concept of consumerization in a more holistic light, we must apply the same user centric model in other areas as well. Extrapolate to the usual handling of computer platforms and it becomes more obvious what must be done and that what is happening today with mobile devices will extend to the desktops and every other aspect of the enterprise as well. It is a shift towards helping and supporting on the users demands and desires rather than those of the organization.

It is a shift in how we view, act and react; perhaps a bit in the same way as is expressed about software development in the Agile Manifesto. Even more interesting if you look at what Apple is doing with Lion and what Microsoft is doing with Windows 8.

IT must become more consumer friendly.

The end of software

I’m stealing the headline from Salesforce.com founder Marc Benioff, who is talking about the future of software in rather radical terms. It does of course apply in the traditional sense with the old software licensing models along with the whole apparatus of distributing software, managing updates etc.

The tag line could have been “What will Microsoft do when their core business model is dead?”.

These things has been on my mind for some time now. Especially when it comes to the myriad of technology and product choices I am faced with as part of job. I try to steer towards the a pink fluffy future with total interoperability, interchangability and systems totally built out of composite services. In doing so I often end up trying to decypher the business drivers and philosophies of the companies behind the products we are choosing from.

I felt the need to write something about this as I read an interesting article by Don Tapscott (author of the excellent book Wikinomics) in Wall Street Journal. He is talking about the lack of business model innovation and gives five examples of where he suggests it is difficult or even impossible for the companies to achieve breakthrough success without changing their entire industry’s modus operandi.


Microsoft is an other example that fits into this in a somewhat different way, but maybe a bit similar to the music industry. They too have invested heavily in an old business model which still represent a very significant part of their revenue flow. The possibility to quickly adopt to new business models are seriously crippled due to this heritage from an outdated era. Not only will new business models cannibalize an important revenue flow, it will also bring major changes to the organization itself and all the partners surrounding the old core business. The complexity increases as you try to look at all different areas that Microsoft have a stake in.

The recent shift towards HTML 5 and JavaScript is in my book a very welcome one, but has naturally stirred up quite a bit of commotion in the developer ranks. One can not help to ponder the implications on partners that have built their businesses around traditional Microsoft software. One thing is clear however, this is a strong and bold move towards new business models. The question is: will it succeed? Also, how will it affect current product strategies?

In all of this commotion IT-architects have to decide on choices relating to different software or service suppliers, and when to go for the different choices. Building and maintaining roadmaps of changes and of reference architecture is a constant struggle of choosing not only based on the current frameworks and wisely construed models – but also trying to figure out how the company and business model landscape will change in the next few years.

Not an easy task.

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