Digital Transformation Starts With Mobility: Some Practical Advice

Mike Baca, Director, Digital Transformation and Mobility, AmerisourceBergen Corp [NYSE:ABC]
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Mike Baca, Director, Digital Transformation and Mobility, AmerisourceBergen Corp [NYSE:ABC]

IT Leaders currently contemplating digital transformation feel a lot like summer vacationers on their first day at the beach. Excited, they rush to the waters’ edge—after all, that’s where the fun is. But before long, the shock of the frigid waters laps at their toes and they retreat, chastened, unprepared and left looking at others frolicking in the waters and wondering “How did they do it?”

Such is the dilemma of IT leadership in 2017. Digital Transformation looks like the frigid sea, fraught with crashing waves, sharp rocks, and ugly little creatures lurking under the surface. And many of our peers and even our business partners are rushing past us saying, “Come on in, the water’s fine!”

The water may indeed be fine on the surface. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know. But what dangers lurk beneath?

First, let’s understand what we mean by “digital transformation." Literally speaking, computers have been transforming the way we do business since they were introduced in the 1950’s. What we are calling digital transformation now is the profound way in which technology is impacting how we interact with the world. It is born of the convergence of three powerful trends:

• The emergence of new technologies yielding unprecedented capabilities
• A highly competitive and efficiency-conscious business environment
• The dramatic rise in the voice of the user within the system

  ​What we are calling digital transformation now is the profound way in which technology is impacting how we interact with the world. 

Mobility—in its broadest definition the idea that smart, connected technologies can eliminate the friction in business processes—is the key enabler of digital transformation. Digital transformation’s goal is frictionless workflow.

So where do we begin? What follows are some practical guidelines for encouraging IT leaders to plant a foot in the incoming tide with confidence.

Get Focused

Mobility is not something you can do off the side of your desk. A small, motivated team with a clearly defined mission and the support of IT is critical to the introduction of this paradigm. And yes, mobility is a paradigm not a technology.

Much like a successful startup, the team will need a variety of skills. The ability to educate and evangelize the organization is key along with the practical skills to implement solutions. It is critical that the team demonstrates a bias for action by getting in the game with quick wins that generate momentum. These “wins” will likely be purchased solutions that show immediate benefit, but will enable the team to claim the mantle of mobility within the organization.

Partner With The Business

Your business partners see the same news stories, view the same ads, and read the same blogs as you. Take the lead and include them in your planning or you will find yourself playing catch-up to their shadow IT. As part of your team’s evangelization effort, conduct workshops, and discovery sessions with them to generate ideas. Seek out innovators and mobility advocates and bring them into the fold. Above all, identify mobility use cases that bring real value to the business, not just “me too” solutions. Guess what, just about every company has a mobile-enabled version of their website (whether they need it or not).

Operate Outside of IT Processes (But Not IT)

Bi-modal IT notwithstanding, it’s a fact that innovation requires a different approach than maintaining production systems. The latter requires stability, predictability and risk aversion to be successful, while the former can only happen in their absence.

Don’t bypass governance where it is essential, but recognize that much of your initial work in digital transformation will be one of the three P’s (Proof of Concept, Prototype or Pilot), and that unnecessary and burdensome processes will kill those initiatives in the cradle.

To avoid political pitfalls, employ the concept of intentional collaboration with other IT teams. Give them seats at the table where appropriate and don’t just provide status, but make sure they are consulted and understand what is going on every step of the way. This extra effort will pay dividends down the road.

Deal With Divergence

Five or so years ago, the big question in mobility was which platform would “win”: Apple or Android (or something else). Developers bet their futures on learning objective-C or Java, and IT managers hedged their bets by duplicating efforts to create two versions of the same solution. HTML5 was touted as the future answer to this problem by offering a universal, albeit web-based, platform for solutions. While HTML5 certainly has its place, fully native apps written with multi-platform code generators strike the best balance. As we move into non-screen technologies such as wearables, IoT devices, cognitive services, sensors and the like, it is clear that divergence will continue. As in all IT solutions, let the requirements direct your path.

Don’t Let the Perfect Be The Enemy Of The Good

The mobility space is not waiting for you. We are ten years into the age of modern mobility, and the space continues to evolve. Be nimble and quick as you vet technologies, platforms, and solutions. Balance cost, risk and capabilities and then make a decision. Assume that the vendor you adopt may not exist in three years. Be prepared to abandon, adjust or redirect along the way. Your planning horizon for digital transformation tools and vendors should be around 18 months, so plan accordingly.

Build. Deliver. Assess. Repeat.

Mobility is personal. Even more, it has become a natural extension of the person using it. Achieving that natural experience is purposeful, incremental work. Consumer experiences have a huge impact on the adoption of enterprise solutions, so build something, and get it in the hands of users early and often. These early builds are not meant to generate praise but to elicit raw, honest reactions. Be sure to observe, listen and refine during these sessions. Of course, an agile development process is required, but more than that, you must have an agile culture that understands it is indeed possible to have defined scope while leaving room for refinement.

Prepare To Scale

You can’t play in the sandbox forever. For each POC/prototype/pilot that succeeds, you will need to engage mainstream IT for governance, scaling and support. It is critical to ensure you have intentionally involved IT along the way so that the eventual hand-off doesn’t become a “dump-off." This will require a full assessment of the solution along with a plan to fill any gaps prior to full adoption. Think of it as preparing the baby’s room while you’re still pregnant.

Looking back on our timid beachgoer, we would summarize and apply these practical guidelines in this way: decide where you’re going, take a step, expect to get cold and wet, evaluate your position, then do it again. And again. And again. After all, the water is indeed fine.

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