by Daniel Hebda

Ascending the stairway to digital heaven

Oct 27, 2017
Digital Transformation IT Leadership Technology Industry

Is your company digitally mature enough for digital transformation?

businessman climbing stairs / growth / achievement / new territory
Credit: Thinkstock

It all starts with a vision. This is literally the most difficult aspect of a digital transformation and its importance shouldn’t be underestimated. You have to know where you want to go and who you want to be before attempting to make broad changes. 

Establishing and validating the vision is a process itself. It’s critical to understand where your vision fits in the market landscape. What are competitors doing? What are the trends in the industry? What customer expectations exist?  You use the answers to these questions to build a customer journey map that will help you execute the vision, as well as lead the transformation. It’s one thing to have a vision and articulate it to others, but you also have to capture it in a way that you can work on it, build on it, refine it and communicate it throughout the organization.

At what point can you be confident in your vision and that your organization is prepared to undertake the changes necessary to achieve it? A company’s readiness for digital transformation depends greatly on its digital maturity.

Digital maturity

Most people think of “Stairway to Heaven” as the 1971 song by the rock legends of British band Led Zeppelin. But, in a recent blog post, Geoffrey Moore, noted author and advisor to start-ups as well as established technology companies, referenced the Carnegie Mellon systems maturity model and provided his version of what it could be today. “The digital systems maturity model is presented as a stairway to heaven … an escalating series of steps, each building on the one prior, each enabling the one subsequent.” Moore’s stairway of systems begins at the bottom with systems of record, and moves up to systems of engagement, then systems of analytics, systems of intelligence and finally systems of disruption on the top step. 

Moore’s idea of the digital disruption maturity model is “intended to help you and your colleagues diagnose your enterprise’s current state and help you target your desired future state, all with the proviso of taking things one step at a time.”

You can move up to the systems of disruption step when the other systems are all functioning well enough so that you can actually consider changes to the business model — a move that can be risky if not done right.

Observations of success

Consider a real example of how one company approached digital transformation, relying on a solid position at the top of the stairway to undertake major change.

It started with a vision to become an agile organization. That didn’t mean doing an agile project here and there, but actually transforming the company as a whole to be agile.  This change would lead the company from its position as a health insurance company to one as a health management company.

It meant that processes and technology would need to change, so that the company could react more rapidly. Some capabilities would no longer be necessary, new ones were needed and others would have to change, all in order to support this new vision and direction.

During this transition, this company reviewed capability models and customer journey maps against the current state as well as the market expectations of where they wanted to take the company.  They looked at the three styles of systems: record, engagement and insight. They realized that these systems move and transform at different speeds.  So they established a pace-layered approach so they could have systems of record update somewhat slow and systems of engagement and insight more rapidly, but still ensure that the dependencies that existed between them were managed to evolve at the right points of time and synchronize at certain milestones.

With this in place, the question became, “how do we drive agile, rapid change to make the initial transformation and enable the company to become agile in and of itself?” They decided to leverage the Scaled Agile Framework in order to lay out an architectural runway, and drive continuous intentional architecture. This included using a capability model to establish high level guidelines to enable the many agile projects to end up where they need to be, even as they pivot. 

Typical discussions around agile projects are usually done one at a time. This is OK with one project or one technology. But large organizations, with hundreds of projects running in parallel, need to be sure that the final outcome, after all the pivots, is a set of technologies that work together in a seamless manner to deliver expected capabilities. Having that vision to articulate an intentional architecture with an architecture runway is extremely valuable.

This is what the health management company did to speed up change. With the other systems running well, they were able to reimagine disruption to the business model to change who they were and deliver the original vision. They climbed their own stairway to heaven and were rewarded with an organization that was positioned to achieve their digital goals.