Back in December 2018, a friend asked me if I could help his team with a ‘digital platform’. I agreed to give a one day workshop for his team.
The first question I asked them was “What do you want to know?” I did not get a straight answer. So, I framed a more specific question. I tried “Which business model do you have in mind?”
After a while, it came to light that the term ‘digital platform’ was used a lot during business casual meetings. Everybody nodded and smiled then changed the subject because nobody had a clue what it was about.
“So which assets in your organization do you plan to digitize?” I asked.
I was hoping to get answers that could give me some idea of where the team was with regards to their knowledge of the subject. I also wanted to find out what they were interested in.
“Do you understand the difference between computerize and digitize?” I probed more.
Still no answer.
“We are now at the 4th digital disruption, which level do you think you are at?”
I now had even more wide-eyed looks directed at me.
“OK, I will give you multiple choices. The 1st digital disruption was the internet. The 2nd disruption was when offline mobile devices arrived. We still had to bring it back to base to synchronize. The 3rd disruption was IoT when our devices got smarter and are now online all the time. We are now in the 4th disruption - the AI era.”
“We don’t use any mobile devices” someone mumbled.
“But we have a database.” Another one added.
“We want to be industry 4.0” said another almost inaudible voice that came out from somewhere.
In my head, I heard Diana Ross singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” playing round and round.
“So, there is no business reason, you just want to follow the trend” I asked.
“Let's say then that you want to become a digital organization, correct?”
“YES” was the loud answer from the room.
I saw in my mind that I was rewinding a VHS cassette with a VCR player and would need to start the movie from the beginning. Changing gears, I switched to a focus that would give them the groundwork to build on. I gave them information I thought was relevant like: what is a digital platform, what are the key attributes, what are current business models, what are the enablers etc.
I presented them with the research from one of the major consultancy firms which reported by percentage that the increase in efficiency 1st tier comes from operational excellence (5%-7%), 2nd tier comes from supply chain excellence (another 4%-6%), 3rd tier comes from AI (2%-5%) and the last tier comes from integrated platform (1%-2%). These numbers are from the same high asset base business that they were operating in.
“Have you been exploiting current technology to reap the 1st tier benefit?” I asked.
“We don’t know. We have never measured anything” was the answer.
“OK then let’s map where you are right now. And see what needs to be done to get you there if you know exactly where you want to be”. That was nice. We now had some actionable items. I could go back to workshop mode.
“What is your business objective? What does your IT infrastructure look like? How does it support the business goals? You can draw it on the board. We can look at it together. To make it more meaningful, you can add arrow to show data flow and mark who generate and who consume which. Do it in both directions, vertical and horizontal.” Here was a laundry list of questions to get them started!
One member was volunteered to do what I asked. After a few minutes, I heard soft voice from the white board that was still completely white. “I don’t know all of this information. I know only within the area I work. I have never seen any drawing or diagram. I don’t know if I can draw what you want.”
I was stunned but not surprised.
“Well, at least you know where you are right now, don’t you?” I continued with “Don’t feel bad about this. You now have very interesting information about your organization, what do you want to do about it?”
I told my friend during afternoon coffee break “What I just asked you to do would be the same thing any consulting company would do. They will first assess the current organization capability in 4 dimensions i.e. people, process, tools and data. Then they will map organization ‘wish to be’ in relation to these 4 dimensions. They will tell you what the gaps are and what needs to be done to close the gap and in which sequence.”
I don’t know what the team takeout from the session was. But I know for sure that my friend has armed himself with the knowledge that he could respond intelligently and impress his counterparts next time they meet. Of course, that would open the door to many opportunities of being perceived as someone who knows something about the subject that everybody is talking about but knows nothing about.