Foundations for digital culture (part 1 Influencers)

A narrative to create a digital culture… for the customer (part 1)

In the past

Over the last five decades, information technology departments evolved from independent groups to entire companies with specialized technology-based products and services. An industry sector is named for technology and many companies today are changing their brand story to position themselves as a “technology company”.  Large media outlets have published articles and opinions about companies using the technology label to signify the changing or even transformative way they approach data processing and decision making. 

This narrative tells a story to help conceptualize how development and operations teams within the technology department at a company can align with other business departments for greater capabilities for customers.  The purpose of the narrative is to show how technology can be used to create value for the customer.  The big idea is that technology is not the business of the company, rather it is an enabler for reaching, selling, and positioning customers to be successful. 

In the past, and in many cases still today, IT Departments were treated as cost centers. Technology equipment and data processing was siloed to include the cost of equipment, labor, and services. Labor was originally exclusively sourced as company employees. Then in the late 90s and early 2000s technology services expanded to include a more global footprint as well as specialized third-party services. Some companies flipped their IT solution delivery model to use exclusively outsourced providers in the name of expertise and cost. Many companies kept IT at a distance because they didn’t understand it, they thought it took too long, and cost too much.

IT groups matured in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s by developing standards, publishing processes, and creating governing bodies. While standardization is necessary for repeatable and predictable process outcomes, it strained the relationships between the business and IT. The business was looking for efficient service to help produce products for the customer while IT groups became enamored with their internal work rules more than the customer.  As companies merged and acquired other companies, different cultures, work processes, equipment, and software solutions were in the balance.

A consequence of the IT silo within the business was IT became focused on itself and not the customer. 

Not surprisingly the tech stack supported by technology teams became bloated and splintered.  That’s a recipe for both complexity and cost increases. IT found itself managing a growing number of vendors, platforms, and solutions. 

Then this happened

Throughout the 90s and early 2000s, the methodologies of Lean Manufacturing and Agile Software Development became popular for companies to implement. Lean methodology seeks to add value to the customer through continuous and incremental improvements while eliminating redundant activities (waste).  Agile software development values:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

These two methodologies set the stage for the DevOps movement. DevOps is a way of thinking more than a prescriptive methodology. It combines the focus on the customer and value creation (Lean and Agile) with cultural needs to get Development and Operations working together instead of separate teams. 

Industry leaders also started to make better use of technology to transform their business operations digitally helping them to improve efficiency, scale operations, and increase cash flows. As an example, Walmart pushed technology into its supply chain to allow them to accurately forecast demand, setup efficient trucking routes, and not only track inventory levels but predict them as well. Amazon moved from an online book retailer to a global retail giant by using and innovating the eCommerce experience to reduce friction for the customer to find and make purchases. In general, companies began to use technology to not only increase the speed of operations but also to decrease the time it took them to react to competitive business pressures in the Marketplace.

With the promise of taking ownership of its destiny, creating the ability to pivot faster, having flexibility for funding initiatives, and the desire to enable innovation, many company leaders decided to bring the technology service delivery model back in-house. 

Having knowledge and ownership of the IT service delivery model in-house sets the stage for a better digital culture. It sets the stage for owning the customer experience, building brand ambassadors, and creating business continuity that can be transitioned to the next generation of company workers.

Next Week – Part 2 – Building Blocks

Onward and Upward!