In comparison to the golden days of the second half of the 20th century, the last two decades have been hard hit. The fragility of globalisation and that prosperous economic model so beautifully enabled by a 70-year technology revolution, have tested business continuity and disaster recovery plans like never before.
During this time the global community has lurched through tech and property driven financial crisis. It has endured endemic terrorism, and a crippling pandemic. And it has been fragmented by the existential threats of energy and climate, world order dislocation, and challenges to once unshakable fiat money. The wonderfully efficient business models and supply chains enabled by W. Edwards Deming following World War II are fractured and broken. Despite all these challenges, the desire for a hopeful return to a golden age of global prosperity is clearly evident. Just maybe not as we know it.
The period between W. Edwards Deming and Dotcom (let’s say 1950-2000) ushered in ERP and the modern software revolution. Over decades, highly refined processes and perfected workflows shifted from paper and clipboards into mainframe environments – from conveyor belts to computing and from ledgers to LANs.
In the progression to slightly less monolithic server-based business applications, millions of lines of customised code are transferred into configurable data fields, coupled with ready-made workflow connections, and processes based on standards set by leading companies and their representative bodies. The standardisation of business systems lowered the entry point for new enterprises, spawned new industries, and ultimately allowed SaaS to proliferate.
ERP was a true revolution in automating process and quality management systems and building the modern world. Cloud was then a transformation for ERP. It was an innovation on an original idea, but it wasn’t the next revolution. In many ways, by standardising business systems, we went too far. The vendor market over-estimated what configuration over customisation could achieve and ultimately set unachievable expectations in relation to client outcomes. On the client side, end-user organisations seized on vanilla processes and workflows and got lazy about working out solutions to their own problems. In chasing out-of-the-box software they sought to expedite, and even outsource, the hard work. In doing so, the core driver of 20th century post war economic prosperity was forgotten.
In business transformations there are no short cuts to results
One of the defining social drivers of the 21st century is a move towards the concept of individualism. We see it everywhere. In the transformation of traditional marriage, family, and identity structures. In the migration away from the concept of houses and homes, in the rise of the gig economy, and even in the regulatory schemes of government, financial and insurance services. The individual sits at the centre of new globalisation economic design and is giving rise to the next business systems revolution. At ServiceNow Knowledge 2022 I was fortunate to hear Dr Catriona Wallace and the Hon Victor Dominello MP discuss it in the context of their recent research. Dr Wallace described the trend as, “know me and care about me”, and discussed the requirements to operate within a world of both hyper-personalisation and ethical restraint.
This time however the business systems revolution to support this change is not being driven by process efficiencies and quality management, though they remain important tools. It is being driven by the pursuit of Experiential Excellence. You’ve heard it many times before and once you’ve seen it you can’t unsee it – Customer Experience, Employee Experience, Digital Experience. These are all ambitions of populist organisational and service transformation agendas with Experiential Excellence at their core.
For business and technology leaders it requires a mental shift. Traditional ERP alone will not get us there. It means a new business systems methodology is required to accompany, and reflect the challenges of the modern world, not one created more than 70 years ago.
An Experiential Excellence platform isn’t just a new ERP. It’s a new type of system capable of operating at speed and with breakthrough power; but it is also capable of breaking the intellectual shackles of pre-configuration to help organisations recapture the essence of what Deming started so long ago and we somehow lost along the way: The ability to think about and solve any kind of complex, innovative and multi-objective, multi-stakeholder problem. And I think that ServiceNow, and the Now Platform, is the first company (and business system) to do it.
The sense of something special was clearly evident among ServiceNow staff and partners, at the event. But I don’t think they have yet nailed the messaging. And the reason is because there is still such a strong gravitational pull towards the old ERP model among end-user clients. This reinforces a need for ServiceNow to still define itself by the last 50 years of system technology rather than the next 50.
That needs to change. So, next time when a client asks, is ServiceNow an ERP or is it an RPA platform or something else, the answer is – it is neither, and both, and all, and sometimes at the same time. This wonderful superposition, the same quantum computing characteristic that allows a particle to be one thing, or either, or both, all at the same time, is the very essence of their opportunity – should they wish to take it.
To be a leader in the new quantum age of computing will mean taking the brave step of unshackling themselves from the 20th century view of ERP and lead the redefinition of business systems for the quantum age. Let the revolution begin.