Convergence: One Year’s Meme

Peter Dorfman Creative Solutions celebrated its first birthday on December 1. It’s a good time to stop and reflect on what I’ve learned from a year as a freelance content creator.

I leverage not only my original training as a journalist but three decades of experience in marketing, implementing and writing about technology. So it’s hardly surprising that most of my content marketing initiatives have been technology-related. It is intriguing, however, to see the way disparate projects with disconnected clients tie back to a common idea, as though companies operating in distinct market segments all are inspired by the same dominant meme.

conferenceIf that’s the case, this year’s meme has been the erosion of the wall between the world of corporate Chief Information Officers and the businesses they serve. The distinction between the rationale for the business and the IT assets that enable the company to execute that strategy is disappearing, as markets, marketing channels and the products sold through those channels all become increasingly digitalized.

“It’s impossible to live in this society and not be inundated with technology,” Barry Libenson, CIO of the West Coast grocery retail chain Safeway, told me in an interview. “That’s the reality, even for a large brick-and-mortar operation like ours.”

A Seat at the Table

I spoke to Libenson in connection with an article for the magazine SupportWorld, published by the customer support professional organization HDI (“Come Together: Business and IT Executives See Their Roads Converging,” November/December 2014). He was describing the preoccupation with the digitalization of virtually every important business process. People of a certain age remember when enterprises could be run by executives who never touched computer keyboards and had admins filter and print out their emails. Such a thing is inconceivable now. For a CIO like Libenson, the result has been that he now has a seat at the table where business strategy is developed, and technology is no longer just an enabling tool but is a core part of that strategy.

My background in IT Service Management (ITIL) and my nodding acquaintance with the software development discipline have led to a series of content projects related to this convergence recently: White papers and two eBooks focused on Agile or Lean development strategies intended speed up the process by which pragmatic business challenges are translated to enterprise software.

Developers have argued for decades that the traditional process by which software is designed, built, tested and deployed is too slow and too disconnected from the needs of the business to be practical. Now, agile development methods by which software is rolled out in small, rapidly developed increments are ubiquitous. It would be unthinkable to develop new mobile apps by anything other than agile methodologies with constant feedback from the business. This is not a fad; it’s simply that these software tools are essential competitive weapons, and that change in competitive markets is so rapid today that there is no way conventional development methods could keep up.

More to the point, however, it is no longer feasible for the business to call a meeting with IT, draw up a set of requirements, and tell the developers to come back in six months with a finished application, expecting it to reflect an understanding of the original business problem. The new reality is that Marketing, Finance, Operations and other business functions must adopt technology developers as trusted partners, invest in bringing the techies up to speed on what the business actually does for a living, and allocate business people’s time to development projects as fully involved product “owners.”

Esoteric But Practical Concerns

Business people also must develop an appreciation for some seemingly esoteric factors that can impact the timing – indeed, the feasibility – of critical development projects. A series of writing projects for Nlyte Software provided an object lesson with respect to the data centers that serve the infrastructure needs of enterprises.

The data center is a huge black box to most line of business executives. They think of it as a remote installation stuffed with expensive hardware that houses their applications. Beyond that, the executives rarely give the data center a thought until some capacity issue becomes a reason why they can’t have some IT enhancement, or can’t get it in the current fiscal quarter. Nlyte markets software that provides advance warning when data center resource issues have the potential to become bottlenecks for business system enhancements.

While IT people are the immediate consumers of the data Nlyte’s tools produce, business people need to develop an appreciation for processes like Configuration Management and Change Management, so that they at least know enough to anticipate that issues like data center capacity could get in the way of a critical business initiative.

The convergence of the business and technology currents in enterprises is a halting, imperfect process. But it is irreversible and it is not just driven by millennials – it is captivating executives at the peak of their experience and their command of enterprise strategy. It seems likely to be an important continuing theme in 2015 content projects.

Is mission convergence a theme behind the products or services you sell into enterprises? Contact Peter Dorfman for help articulating that point to technical and business audiences.

2 responses to “Convergence: One Year’s Meme

  1. Frank Scaramuzza

    Peter – Nice article on convergence, and I agree with your assessment that businesses are certainly looking for their ROI from technology much more closely, and that does require some walls to come down. Now let’s hope that the focus moves from using technology to build profit into using that technology as a strategic tool throughout the enterprise.

    Have to say that I am not quite in agreement with your about Agile. Having seen numerous installations, many using Agile and many not using a true “Agile” methodology, I think that speed to market is certainly a focus, but better tools and tighter organizations are making that happen much more than “Agile”. Everyone does it a little differently, and I really think that there is a much broader evolution in software development coming down the road.

    Best of luck and Happy Holidays!

  2. Well, there are capital A “Agile” and lower case a “agile” development models — the latter being a selective adoption of agile principles without worrying about strict conformance to the Agile methodology laid out in the books. Either way, old school “waterfall” development is disappearing — but not at all points in the value chain. There still seem to be organizations that have built agility into their development processes, but the IT operations teams who deploy the software to end users still are using old school batch and queue methods.

    Organizations adopting “continuous delivery” and “DevOps” approaches are trying to extend agility all the way from development through deployment. That’s the subject of a white paper I’m working on right now.

    Thanks, Frank.

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