New frontiers for new, emerging technologies

The world that organisations operate in has changed rapidly over the last few months, causing priorities to shift as digital leaders seek to do what’s best for the business in uncertain times. Some pre-COVID digital trajectories may have been focused around aspects of transformation that no longer carry the same weight and sense of urgency, so we’ll be seeing tweaks to course – as well as to speed – as recovery plans take shape.

Business models which revolve around the provision and consumption of data and goods need to operate effectively in a world of fractured supply chains, new partner relationships, evolving regulatory landscapes, and shifting customer demands and expectations. A digital agenda in some areas is therefore also morphing into a decentralisation agenda because of the new trading realities organisations find themselves in.

The road differently travelled

Some industries (hospitality and travel, for instance) will find it difficult to plot a return to any normal – however “new” – under current lockdown and quarantine conditions. Others (e.g. healthcare, education) have sought to achieve a degree of service continuity as best they can by bringing in temporary measures that attempt to blend online, “touchless” experiences with continued physical interactions where absolutely necessary (and permitted).

However the nouveau digital amongst them will have to contend with digital stalwarts (purveyors of more established online services for retail, entertainment, etc.) having already set the quality bar high. That means unrelated industries will now need to up their collective games quickly (in terms of user experience and robustness) as their customers’ make-do mentalities harden into far more demanding expectations regarding the new business-as-usual.

The road to digital enhancement and enablement is therefore one “differently travelled”, depending on the type of organisation you are. The state of your legacy technology, your available talent pool, sector context, attitude to risk, management predilections … all have a bearing on the speed, priority, extent, and quality of any digital adoption.

Some of these considerations are real, but others may actually become proven to have been more artificial (and even imagined). But COVID-19 will sweep away the last of any faux blockers and re-align any fading north stars, leaving organisations free to focus on what really does matter in terms of adopting the digital approach that’s right for them.

A new theatre of operations

The extended enterprise has a semi-permeable boundary, drawn at a different radius from the enterprise core, depending on the task at hand. At times it’ll encompass various partners, suppliers, and customers alongside employees. And in COVID times, with many workers still at home, this also means supporting workflows which may not originally have been intended to take in such a degree of remote participation.

To manage access to content (and the workflows that pass it back and forth across an enterprise’s sphere of interest), organisations are looking to cloud-based and cloud-infused models of content management to help them extend the inside of their business outwards to a range of venues, across a range of channels (see below).

semi-permeable enterprise boundaries

Source: Independent Thought

Solutions need to be tightly integrated with the enterprise’s business applications too, so organisations can construct sophisticated workflows around them (because business processes may well encompass all elements of the IT estate, and – facilitated by blockchain-based relationships – extend out far beyond the enterprise to other partners across the ecosystem).

And, importantly, any of the above may likely have roots in on-premises systems – i.e. content that’s not going anywhere anytime soon. So you’ll need a hybrid approach in order to leverage the best scalability, agility, and reach that cloud solutions can offer; coupled with traditional on-premises systems of record upon which you’ve built a proven, certified, and robust stack of business applications.

As interests expand, and the collaboration zone widens to encompass more ecosystem partners, the increasingly multi-party nature of business relationships means that networks will start to overlap with other networks. Where these leverage blockchain – say, to provide trust-at-a-distance to help with the remote onboarding of new partners or patching up fractures caused by post-COVID business failures – this will lead to more extensive and widespread adoption of blockchain-based applications across all aspects of the business.

business collaboration zones

Source: Independent Thought

There are adoption analogies here with the move to cloud-based tools. Such migrations have tended to encourage a degree of “platform thinking” that builds upon early endeavours (once benefits have been realised) to promote exploration of further avenues of agile innovation beyond the scope of any initial business case.

Akin to this (and, similarly, once initial business case conditions have been satisfied), “blockchain thinking” opens up the re-conceptualising of how enterprises engage with their partners and operate their business models … perhaps prompting exploring further decentralisation and disintermediating of processes across their networks, or looking to join up networks-of-networks using blockchain ledgers as a form of “trust middleware”.

A differently digital transformation

Cloud-based service platforms and apps (tinged with blockchain capabilities, where they add value) have lowered the barrier to entry for developing content-fuelled, data-driven, AI-infused, trusted, personalised services. However, do bear in mind that there is a continuum here.

At the far end, you have the concept of content and process services fully integrated with emerging technology services to deliver extreme, self-sovereign personalisation and the like; but along the way, there are still plenty other opportunities to extract more value from your content and engage differently with customers and partners. Some of these options might better align with “where your business is at” today, if full immersion and adoption was sounding a little too full-on for now.

Certainly, different organisations will have been at different points along the path to emerging tech adoption prior to COVID; and some will have somewhat jumped ahead (or been pushed) whilst enacting their pandemic-coping strategies. But wherever you feel you are on the curve right now, there are numerous reasons to use the momentum to remodel operations for a post-COVID realpolitik; one forged in new operating conditions, with new customer expectations of how engagement should be.

Just as embracing cloud-based apps and platform services helps an organisation evolve more of a semi-permeable boundary around its enterprise hub (engaging outwards with a wider enterprise of partners to help it provide end-to-end services); similarly, emerging technologies (like blockchain) can help it do this in new, decentralised ways. They provide new opportunities to do things “differently”, with resilient alternatives to the fragile and fractured systems that have often struggled to deliver during the pandemic. An open and collaborative, differently digital enterprise has a distinct advantage in its ability to support distributed cross-boundary teams, build better external relationships, and drive innovation.

Blockchain-based ecosystems provide the ultimate in cross-boundary working, with networks of interconnected organisations, people, and devices all communicating and transacting value amongst themselves on a peer-to-peer basis. These “business ecosystem networks” provide partners with different ways of engaging with each other, through less asymmetric relationships – changing not only how customer experience is delivered at the “sharp end”, but also the choice of underpinning technology needed to drive these interactions (amongst people, organisations, and “things”) at the backend.

Shore-up before scaling-out

Ultimately, the flexibility vendors are offering in their platforms can mean they’re no longer completely in charge of the ways in which customers experience their capabilities. In effect, they’re trading control for a shot at ubiquity – and a slice of a bigger pie.

However, the “old rules” (around project management and governance) do still apply. Products, services, and workarounds will need shoring-up to production grade. Technology and process decisions may well have been taken “in the heat of battle”, in response to rapidly emerging and evolving existential threats to the business, but a more thorough review of support, endpoint security, business continuity, etc. must be undertaken as soon as possible in order to solidify the new shape of the organisation.

Any frailties will become dangerously exposed when new normalities exert stress-test pressures they may never have been designed to withstand over the long term. Temporary arrangements thus risk soon being treated as foundational for anything that comes thereafter, with assumptions inevitably made regarding their robustness and wider fitness for purpose.

Digital adventures (no matter how “different”) must focus on resilience as much as improved experience if they’re going to stand any chance of weathering future storms (COVID-related, or otherwise).

Call to action

Differently digital enterprises need to go beyond mere sync-and-share to transform the way they engage with their employees, partners, suppliers, customers, etc. Whilst exposing and sharing documents is still important, to get the most value from your content, it needs to be surrounded by a rich collaboration capability and integrated within business process workflows that weave around on-premises applications and systems of record as much as across lightweight cloud-based services. And nowadays, all that needs to be delivered with the capability to decentralise across blockchain-powered networks too.

Simply opening up on-premises systems alone isn’t going to provide the reach. It isn’t going to scale cost-effectively. And many of them aren’t designed to satisfy the needs of mobile, agile work styles (and distributed partners looking for less asymmetric relationships than traditional business networks may have afforded them).

You need look to the cloud to provide what it’s good at, but don’t forget why you invested in your on-premises systems in the first place. You might use data from traditional certified systems of record for some cloud-enhanced processes, but that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily happy to have it live in the cloud permanently.

You may want to support decentralised ways of working with smart contracts, on distributed blockchain ledgers, in some areas of your business – but not likely everywhere. So those blockchain applications need to integrate securely and effectively with back-office systems, for organisations to fully realise the potential benefits.

But as you look to extend the inside outwards, watch for where shadow IT has got there first. The ease with which consumer-focused, cloud-based content collaboration services can be brought in and adopted has meant that business users may think they have it all covered – but of course, their file-sharing workaround doesn’t benefit from the enterprise view, doesn’t necessarily integrate with all the other applications they use and, importantly, presents a significant data security risk as the content isn’t under enterprise management.

And if you are initiating (or joining) an ecosystem arrangement of partners in a new (blockchain-based) network, make sure the business case stacks up on many levels: not only to justify implementing the change overall (on an aggregated level); but also to ensure that each individual organisation taking part is similarly assured that its own interests are best served, too. Otherwise, initial enthusiasm and support will erode from both above and below, leaving your initiative unlikely to retain the traction and sponsorship it’ll need to justify its existence in these financially-constrained times.

To learn more, read Independent Thought’s new whitepaper for Hyland, Thriving in the new normal: The role of emerging technologies to find out how emerging, collaborative technologies (like cloud-based apps and blockchain) are helping organisations thrive in the “new normal” business environment. Discover how they’re gaining a foothold and prominence post-COVID, and how organisations can use them to survive, thrive and differentiate in a differently digital world.

Craig Wentworth

Craig Wentworth

Craig Wentworth is the co-founder and research director at Independent Thought, where he focuses on how organisations can best embrace emergent technologies in their own particular business context – to... read more about: Craig Wentworth

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