Experiential Excellence: Thoughts from ServiceNow Knowledge 2022

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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.

Looking Back

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.

Looking Ahead

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.  

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5 Key Insights to Shape Your Cloud Strategy – An ASEAN View

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Digital transformation has been a key company objective over the last two years – and more than a third of enterprises in ASEAN have it as their key business priority in 2022-23. They are aiming to be agile and digital organisations – with access to real-time data insights at their core. 

Businesses have learned that their technology systems need to be scalable, accessible, easy to manage, fast to deploy and cost effective. Cloud infrastructure, platforms and software has become key enablers of business agility and innovation.

But the expansion of cloud applications has also seen an infrastructure and applications sprawl – which makes it essential for organisation to re-evaluate their cloud strategy. 

Here are 5 insights that will help you shape your Cloud Strategy.

  • Technology Change Management. Your cloud strategy must define the infrastructure and data architecture, security and resiliency measures, the technology environment management model, and IT operations.   
  • Building Scalable Enterprises. Focus on seamless access to all organisational data, irrespective of where they are generated (enterprise systems, IoT devices or AI solutions) and where they are stored (public cloud, on-premises, Edge, or co-location facilities).
  • A Hybrid Multicloud Environment. For a successful hybrid multi cloud environment, keep a firm eye on hybrid cloud management, a suitable FinOps framework that balances performance and cost, and integration.
  • A Technology-Neutral Approach. Partnering with a technology-neutral cloud services provider that leverages the entire tech ecosystem, will be critical.
  • “Hybrid Cloud” Can Mean Many Things. Work with a cloud services partner, that has broad and deep capabilities across multiple hyperscalers and is able to address the unique requirements of your organisation.

Read on for more insights

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AI in Traditional Organisations: Today’s Realities

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In this Insight, guest author Anirban Mukherjee lists out the key challenges of AI adoption in traditional organisations – and how best to mitigate these challenges. “I am by no means suggesting that traditional companies avoid or delay adopting AI. That would be akin to asking a factory to keep using only steam as power, even as electrification came in during early 20th century! But organisations need to have a pragmatic strategy around what will undoubtedly be a big, but necessary, transition.”

Anirban Mukherjee, Associate Partner, Ernst & Young

After years of evangelising digital adoption, I have more of a nuanced stance today – supporting a prudent strategy, especially where the organisation’s internal capabilities/technology maturity is in question. I still see many traditional organisations burning budgets in AI adoption programs with low success rates, simply because of poor choices driven by misplaced expectations. Without going into the obvious reasons for over-exuberance (media-hype, mis-selling, FOMO, irrational valuations – the list goes on), here are few patterns that can be detected in those organisations that have succeeded getting value – and gloriously so!

Data-driven decision-making is a cultural change. Most traditional organisations have a point person/role accountable for any important decision, whose “neck is on the line”. For these organisations to change over to trusting AI decisions (with its characteristic opacity, and stochastic nature of recommendations) is often a leap too far.

Work on your change management, but more crucially, strategically choose business/process decision points (aka use-cases) to acceptably AI-enable.

Technical choice of ML modeling needs business judgement too. The more flexible non-linear models that increase prediction accuracy, invariably suffer from lower interpretability – and may be a poor choice in many business contexts. Depending upon business data volumes and accuracy, model bias-variance tradeoffs need to be made. Assessing model accuracy and its thresholds (false-positive-false-negative trade-offs) are similarly nuanced. All this implies that organisation’s domain knowledge needs to merge well with data science design. A pragmatic approach would be to not try to be cutting-edge.

Look to use proven foundational model-platforms such as those for NLP, visual analytics for first use cases. Also note that not every problem needs AI; a lot can be sorted through traditional programming (“if-then automation”) and should be. The dirty secret of the industry is that the power of a lot of products marketed as “AI-powered” is mostly traditional logic, under the hood!

In getting results from AI, most often “better data trumps better models”. Practically, this means that organisations need to spend more on data engineering effort, than on data science effort. The CDO/CIO organisation needs to build the right balance of data competencies and tools.

Get the data readiness programs started – yesterday! While the focus of data scientists is often on training an AI model, deployment of the trained model online is a whole other level of technical challenge (particularly when it comes to IT-OT and real-time integrations).

It takes time to adopt AI in traditional organisations. Building up training data and model accuracy is a slow process. Organisational changes take time – and then you have to add considerations such as data standardisation; hygiene and integration programs; and the new attention required to build capabilities in AIOps, AI adoption and governance.

Typically plan for 3 years – monitor progress and steer every 6 months. Be ready to kill “zombie” projects along the way. Train the executive team – not to code, but to understand the technology’s capabilities and limitations. This will ensure better informed buyers/consumers and help drive adoption within the organisation.

I am by no means suggesting that traditional companies avoid or delay adopting AI. That would be akin to asking a factory to keep using only steam as power, even as electrification came in during early 20th century! But organisations need to have a pragmatic strategy around what will undoubtedly be a big, but necessary, transition.

These opinions are personal (and may change with time), but definitely informed through a decade of involvement in such journeys. It is not too early for any organisation to start – results are beginning to show for those who started earlier, and we know what they got right (and wrong).

I would love to hear your views, or even engage with you on your journey!

The views and opinions mentioned in the article are personal.

Anirban Mukherjee has more than 25 years of experience in operations excellence and technology consulting across the globe, having led transformations in Energy, Engineering, and Automotive majors. Over the last decade, he has focused on Smart Manufacturing/Industry 4.0 solutions that integrate cutting-edge digital into existing operations.

The Future of AI
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The Future of Industries: The Global Semiconductor Industry Disruption

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The semiconductor industry is 70-years old and has a prominent – and sometimes inconspicuous – presence in our daily lives. Many of us, however, have become more aware of the industry and the ramifications of its disruption, because of recent events. The pandemic, natural disasters, power outages, geo-political conflicts, and accelerated digital transformation have all combined to disrupt the semiconductor sector, leaving no organisation immune to the impacts of the continuing global chip crisis.

It is estimated that 200 downstream industries have failed to fulfill customer demands owing to the silicon scarcity, ranging from automotive, consumer electronics, utilities and even the supply of light fixtures.

This Ecosystm Bytes discusses the impact of the crisis and highlights major initiatives that chip manufacturers and governments are taking to combat it, including:

  • The factors leading to the shortage in the semiconductor industry
  • The impact on industry sectors such as Automotive, Consumer Electronics and MedTech
  • How leading chip makers such as TSMC, Intel and Samsung are increasing their manufacturing capabilities
  • The importance of Asia to the semiconductor industry
  • How countries such as Malaysia and India are aiming to build self-sufficiency in the industry

Read on to find out more.

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The Future of Cities: ERP Transformation – Prepare to Play the Long Game

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It is an incredible time of change for the city and regional governments where every strategic activity – especially in these globally challenging times – presents a significant opportunity for transformation. To continue to meet the changing needs of the communities they serve, every modern city government’s technology story is a work in progress. While this is the mantra for successful continuous improvement it also describes the best strategic approach for how municipalities should manage their corporate application replacement programs.

Unfortunately, significant systems upgrade and replacement programs are regularly approached as complex, multi-tasking activities that have a hard start, a defined program, and a date-stamped end. In taking this traditional project implementation approach, intuitively, many organisations believe that doing as much as possible, in as quick a time as possible, ultimately helps to achieve twice as much within the same time. The result is more likely to be half as much, and at lower levels of quality and enjoyment for all involved. This manifests as project scope creep and budget overruns.

Aside from these big bang approaches, thanks to large implementation costs and stringent regulatory oversight, local governments are also forced to think upfront about the potential future value created by a significant core system technology change. The pressure of moving at high speed, and with a dominant technology focus, can obscure both the true organisational cost and ultimate value of the program. This mentality prevails even when it is acknowledged that activities associated with a transformation program will eventually usher in a period of significant change – that is not limited to the changing core corporate applications environment itself.

The 4-Part ERP Transformation Trap is All Too Common in City Government

An over-reliance on technology to deliver business transformation outcomes. Local governments everywhere continue to pursue strategic plans that are either wholly defined or implicitly reliant on world-class customer experience (CX), employee experience (EX), and digital transformation (DX) capabilities. Despite these being business-oriented strategies, organisations then pursue an over-reliance on technology – usually winner-take-all ERP led procurements – to achieve them.

Choosing an industry solution focused on the wrong business model. The chance of achieving these digital transformation outcomes is further obscured when the customer is not central to the data model. The core corporate application technology underpinning the sector’s leading ERP programs is largely based on a property-centric model – where the customer is a subordinate attribute of a property, and the property asset defines the business process and individual.  It is a challenge for any council to deliver contemporary customer-first digital transformation with a property-centric approach. To realise customer and employee-centric outcomes, councils must therefore rethink their project’s business methodology and ask themselves, “what is our primary focus here?”. This is never more important than when replacing legacy systems.

Inability to realise that a winner-take-all ERP solution is not an architectural choice. ERP is important but it is not everything. The traditional council ERP is just one important part of an overall capability that allows authorities to longitudinally manage the impacts and opportunities of change across their organisation, communities, and stakeholder ecosystems. Having chosen a sector specific ERP solution, city governments realise too late that no single technology vendor has a best-of-breed solution to achieve the desired DX outcomes. That requires a more sophisticated architectural approach.

Failure to acknowledge there is no finish line to transformation. Like many worthwhile activities, the prize in DX is in the journey, not in the cup. While there can be an end to “project scope”, there should be no “end point” for an ERP transformation program. Only once these challenges are acknowledged and accepted, can transformation be assimilated into the organisation to ensure the council is technically capable of delivering the implicit outcome for the organisation. This could simply be defined as ‘a contemporary business approach to managing the money, the assets, the community, the customers, and the staff of regional government.’

A Better Way: Re-Architecting for Project Success

Where opportunities to meet increasing CX and EX demands arise, especially through ERP and corporate application renewal programs, successful projects in contemporary councils require a service-oriented architecture not found in contemporary or legacy ERP systems alone.

Beyond the property-centric challenges already outlined, even contemporary systems and suppliers can be among the least flexible to the changing data management requirements of many organisations which call for significantly more robust data, integration and application friendly infrastructure management environments. 

Customer centricity, data management, integration and software infrastructure capabilities must take precedent over an aging view of single-vendor dominance in the city government sector, especially in middle- and back-office functions, which are typically void of true differentiation opportunities and prone to confining organisations to technology-led and locked projects.

Rather than tendering for a single software provider or platform, contemporary city governments must ditch the old approach to procuring a winning ERP vendor and take steps to establish the following Big 5 platform capabilities (Figure 1). And then foster the contemporary workforce to support them.

The big 5 platform capabilities

For several decades now many organisations have attempted to short-circuit the city government ERP challenge. Fundamentally, technology transformation is not possible without technology change. A non-negotiable part of that change is a shift away from the psychology of brand-based procurement towards a new architectural approach which, like all businesses, is adaptable to change over a long period of time.

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Technology-led Transformation of the Banking Industry

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When the FinTech revolution started, traditional banking felt the heat of competition from the ‘new kid on the block’. FinTechs promised (and often delivered) fast turnarounds and personalised services. Banks were forced to look at their operations through the lens of customer experience, constantly re-evaluating risk exposures to compete with FinTechs.

But traditional banks are giving their ‘neo-competitors’ a run for their money. Many have transformed their core banking for operational efficiency. They have also taken lessons from FinTechs and are actively working on their customer engagements. This Ecosystm Snapshot looks at how banks (such as Standard Chartered Bank, ANZ Bank, Westpac, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Timo, and Welcome Bank) are investing in tech-led transformation and the ways tech vendors (such as IBM, Temenos, Mambu, TCS and Wipro) are empowering them. 

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Relooking at BPO through a Digital Lens

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COVID-19 has been a major disruption for people-intensive industries and the BPO sector is no exception. However, some of the forward-looking BPO organisations are using this disruption as an opportunity to re-evaluate how they do business and how they can make themselves resilient and future-proof. In many of these conversations, technology and process reengineering are emerging as the two common vectors in their journey to transform into a “New Age BPO” company. 

Ecosystm research finds that running large, people-intensive centres can have a diverse range of challenges (Figure 1).

Challenges of Operating a BPO

The transformation must address the top three pain points that have been plaguing the BPO industry:

  • Staff scheduling and growing cost due to resource shortage in metro cities
  • Managing physical and IT security with data security and industry best practices in mind
  • Work/performance metrics that drive cost pressure and minimise differentiation

The New Age BPO

The wave of movement of the BPO centres away from expensive metro locations to tier 2 and tier 3 towns will now become even more significant – across all countries. This will enable BPOs to tap into a larger resources pool and at a much lower cost to the business. This will mean investments in process re-engineering and technology. But, before this journey starts, it is very important for these organisations to reimagine themselves in the context of value and differentiation – and it can no longer just be “I can do it faster and cheaper”!

Becoming a New Age BPO will mean replacing the traditional mindset of ferrying a large number of employees to the office around 24-hour shifts, by technology-enabled processes. Technology will enable these organisations to be a lot more agile, put the same (or better) safeguards on data and privacy, and drive better work efficiency. 

For this transformation to happen, it is important for the BPO organisation to not just bounce back to what they have been used to, but should show a willingness to “bounce forward”, as my colleague Tim Sheedy puts it. This means that they take this disruption as an opportunity to relook at their staffing plans, business processes, and customer engagement – and leverage the right technologies to address areas of improvement in all three fronts. At the same time, technology adoption should not be done in silos. The comprehensive technology adoption plan must be designed to address all three areas (staffing, process, and customer engagement) simultaneously. The technology should also be architected to be scalable (by geography and staff levels) and allow better manageability in terms of real-time reporting and work allocation.

It will be a fine balance. But the good news is that the technology is not only available to address these areas but is also mature enough to be cost-effective. Of course, this will require the organisation to view technology as a strategic investment. 

Another aspect of technology-led transformation that will benefit BPO organisations is the transparency that technology can provide and the opportunity to build better trust. This will be driven by full visibility of what is actually happening and the ability to provide real-time progress reports on issues raised. This means that quarterly site visits by clients to “show and tell” can be avoided. The discussions can be about specific points of interest and improvement rather than the “feel good factors” that these visits usually provide.

So, in many ways COVID-19 has accelerated the evolution of the “New Age BPO sector” and the intersection of this wave with the digital transformation wave will have a positive long-term impact on the BPO sectors in popular destinations such as India, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico and others across the world.

Without this transformation, BPO organisations will keep pushing themselves into a tight corner and eventually be replaced by nimble and technology-savvy competitors that are focused on process and industry differentiation.

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The Elusive Search for the Right Tech Talent

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As the world has had to cope with a scenario never seen before in modern times, technology has been at the forefront of the response. This means hardware – computers, servers and the like – flew off the shelves. Cloud infrastructure and migration have been top of mind. “Digital Transformation” and the adoption of digital tools is expanding like a house on fire! We found that over 3 in 4 companies accelerated their digital plans in some way. Another 20% put plans on hold, largely because they felt the need to evaluate the old plans which became inadequate.

Digital Transformation has emerged as a key priority

As vendors, channel partners and organisations scramble to put their new digital houses together and build the best digital castles possible, there is a major talent crunch. There are few who can deeply understand customer needs and recommend the right solution. While this affects all parties, the channel partners are feeling this more acutely. In my recent conversations with channel partners, it became evident that they are facing difficulties in finding and retaining good Sales and Solutions talent. There have also been complaints about talent being poached by the tech vendors they partner with!

The standard response to this problem is vendor certification and training. However, this is inadequate, due to three main reasons.

The Pace of Technological Change

The latest technology and what is possible with it changes on almost a daily basis. In this environment, for a person to keep up with everything is almost impossible. The ways in which a specific technology can be applied and the solutions it can deliver change, based on the ecosystem that forms around the technology and with the improvements in capability with time.

Small changes in different applications can cascade to create a solution (in terms of meeting a user need) which was not possible a short time ago. This may then compete with a completely different technology that has been considered satisfactory till date for the same user need. If the new option performs better, the old option is gone before you can snap your fingers.

For a salesperson to be across all this requires a solid understanding of the industry and its environment at a conceptual level. Given the pace of change, such people have become increasingly rare. They can be trained on a specific technology, not on perspectives, conceptual clarity or industry depth – that would require a formal degree!

The Limits of Lecture Style Training

Old Confucian saying that Benjamin Franklin is often credited with

Unfortunately, there is a key shortcoming in the whole certification program. A person going through any kind of classroom type training is limited in how much they can understand. This includes any kind of knowledge download or dump – videos, online courses, virtual classrooms, reading, webinars or physical classes. With technology that changes every day, the depth of knowledge imparted through such knowledge downloads is woefully inadequate. Expertise in technology is difficult to attain without getting one’s hands dirty.

Trying to make the training more “practical”, involving more exercises is good and does lead to better-trained personnel. But this is a long process and does not fit in with the timelines of most certification programs.  

An actual customer implementation is probably the best teacher available right now. However, this leads to an unintended consequence – channel partners tend to stick with the vendor solutions that they have implemented before. Even if they can partner with other tech providers for better options they prefer to stick to what they know.

Vendor Bias in Training Programs

Certification is done, quite understandably, from the vendor’s point of view. The program is not built to generate an understanding of the tech world that we live in. That is taken as a given. Expertise in the vendor’s solution is the focus, and rightfully so. Talking points refer to that solution’s strengths and gloss over the weaknesses. There is no reason for a vendor to teach the participant the advantages of the competitor’s technology. Or explain the shortcomings of their own.

When the certified salesperson, however, is in front of the customer, this certification does not help them address all the queries. They are unable to clear the doubts or provide a complete (and objective) view that would satisfy a probing customer.

But there are ways in which this skills gap can be bridged – it will require both vendors and their channel partners to change how they view and grow talent. Stay tuned for the next feature where I share how the tech talent landscape can be changed.

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