As recently as a few years ago, this transformation was described as a change in focus from Systems of Record, responsible for tracking and managing the transactions that define a business, to Systems of Engagement that support the interactions and collaborations that propel it forward. In reality, however, the change has been even more dramatic, introducing Systems of Enablement that allow both consumers and businesses to go beyond enhanced interaction to new levels of achievement, altogether.
Consumers have become accustomed to using devices of increasing sophistication and personalization to access services from a variety of sources in complex workflows that allow them to accomplish things neither they nor the service providers could have envisioned even a few years ago. In this mode, technology becomes the medium through which a user gets things done — and perhaps talks about what they did — and the business is expected to provide services that facilitate both. Systems of Enablement, thus, are less likely to control an entire interaction with a user; instead, they must support many different goals and fit into a variety of workflows to reach the widest possible audience.
Unfortunately for those who would read the tea leaves, the forces that propel the type of sweeping change that has brought Systems of Enablement to bear are much easier to recognize in retrospect than to predict, especially when they include such notoriously unstable elements as the fads of popular culture. There is no easy way to forecast what the next big thing will be. The one thing that can be stated with certainty about the future of Systems of Enablement, though, is that they will need to constantly adapt to accommodate the advancement of technology and the vagaries of global society.
It is this need to support ongoing, perhaps radical, change that presents the greatest challenge for IT in most businesses. In the not-so-distant past, IT largely treated change as instability, and many of the methodologies and practices it employed were specifically targeted at limiting the amount and cost of technology change to the organization. Hardware and software platforms that were expected to last for decades and application release cycles measured in quarters, if not years, were just a few indications of how IT treated change as the enemy.
Unfortunately, after making a significant investment to develop an organizational infrastructure and mentality to protect against change, many IT shops now face the frightening realization, whether driven by industry buzz or business demands, that the enemy is within the gates and may even be ruling the kingdom. Similarly, the business finds itself on the verge of the very nightmare that it has always dreaded: pouring hard-earned money down a hole chasing after the latest technology fad.
It is in this context that IT must take up a different mantra. Like an up-and-coming heavyweight contender of the '60s, who broke the mold of the typical slow-footed slogger, it is time to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” IT can no longer afford to make long-term commitments to any technology. Instead, it must be prepared to adopt new technologies quickly (float) while getting maximum impact out of the investment (sting). Only in this way can the organization hope to remain competitive as Systems of Enablement become the norm, rather than the exception.
Fortunately, the technology industry, itself, has been in the process of adapting to this new reality for some time. Technologies such as cloud computing, data analytics and artificial intelligence, along with approaches like open source software, microservice architecture, flexible API’s, agile development, application lifecycle management and DevOps, serve to provide a foundation from which IT can effectively launch out into the maelstrom of disruptive technology. Interestingly, the common factor in all of these is that they are not solely technical solutions, but rather a transformation of how IT supports the business.
The latest technologies and industry best practices are not sufficient, however, to overcome the undertow of an organizational management that views technology as separate from their core mission. If the business press is to be believed, more and more businesses have begun to realize that every company is a technology company. This, in fact, is the true disruption of technology, for it highlights the need for cultural change both within IT and across the organization.
The specifics of how to bring about such a cultural transformation are beyond the scope of this article; however, it is worth mentioning a few considerations that will help to set reasonable expectations:
The changes to the technology landscape brought about by mainstream adoption of digital innovation present tantalizing opportunities for organizations willing to adapt. There is a real danger, though, for those that think they can keep up with the speed of disruption through business as usual.