Organisational Transformation: Building an adaptive organisation through Platforms, People and Partnerships

Platforms deliver capability, people leverage platforms, and partnerships complete the picture of an adaptive organisation in the third part of our series on essential transformational strategies.

©iStock.com/Jared_Sislin_Photography 

©iStock.com/Jared_Sislin_Photography 

As Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

In the first article in this series, Digital Transformation: Driving Innovation, Creating Adaptability and Developing Resilience, it concluded that there are three essential transformational strategies, and the second is building an adaptive organisation.

To do so, there are three key leverage points: platforms, people and partnerships.

The first leverage point is the move from thinking in terms of technology to thinking in terms of platforms.

Platforms deliver capability

What is a platform?

One definition, from Phil Simon, the author of The Age of the Platform: How Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google Have Redefined Business describes it this way: “A platform is merely a structure made up of ‘planks’, or integrated features. For instance, Google in 1998 wasn’t a platform; it was a really neat search engine. By adding planks such as Gmail, Maps, Docs, Voice, YouTube, and countless others, it became a true platform.”

And each of the planks Simon describes can itself be considered a platform combining applications, analytics, infrastructure, processes, an ecosystem of customers and suppliers, commercial constructs, and support mechanisms to deliver a set of services.

The key point is that a platform delivers a set of integrated services rather than just integrated technology.

And that the platform can be grown to provide additional services.

An IT focused example of platform would be ServiceNow.

ServiceNow began as a cloud-based service desk tool and has evolved into a platform for digital integrated service management (DISM).

It includes applications, an underlying technology stack, a compelling commercial model, a custom development environment, a marketplace of third party applications, an ecosystem of service providers, an end-to-end support model, and a provider committed to on-going investment in the growth platform.

Today, organisations use this platform to manage service delivery inside and outside IT, manage projects, manage customer relationships, manage ICT costs and arrange other functions.

Platforms become important assets in driving organisational transformations. They reduce time (and risk) to delivery of value, and provide a mechanism for compounding ongoing internal and external investments to increase the range of services delivered through the platform.

They can also have a multiplier effect when teamed with the right people, the second of the organisational leverage points.

People leverage platforms

Most of us would acknowledge that getting the right people on board is critical to success in any endeavour.

‘Right people’ is often defined in term of their skills (ingredients) which can be combined through ‘best practices’ (or recipes) to deliver specific outcomes. But ingredients and a recipe – no matter how good or how well proven – are not sufficient to deliver a great meal. In a digital world, skills profiles change rapidly and best practices may not be best for very long – so more emphasis needs to be placed on attitude and leadership.

Again, most of us would probably agree on what the right attitude is in today’s environment: a desire to surf the waves of change, a drive to continually develop the skills necessary to do so and a willingness to quickly jump back into the surf after being dumped.

Yet many interviews still focus on evaluating skills rather than character.

We’d all agree on the value of leadership but, according to the Centre for Workplace Leadership at the University of Melbourne, leadership in Australia is lacking. Its recent Study of Australian Leadership, purported to be Australia’s largest leadership survey, tied an under-investment in leadership training –especially at the coal face – with a number of outcomes including poor organisational performance and low levels of innovation.

Much of the value of today’s technology comes through the empowerment of frontline staff and flattening of management structures. Many innovation opportunities lurk at the interface between the frontline and the marketplace. So the study’s findings are especially worrying, and shoring up frontline leadership should be on every executive’s to-do list. Although investing in platforms and people are necessary to build an adaptive organisation, it’s a fact of life that most organisations will have neither the resources nor talent to always go it alone.

That’s why the third leverage point is establishing and nurturing partnerships.

Partnerships complete the picture

Technology companies have always been free with the usage of the term partner but, as we move to the ‘as a Service’ economy, it is becoming increasingly appropriate. When customers aren’t locked in, vendors need to continue to innovate to retain business. Customers in turn need to invest to ensure they continue to get the benefit of vendor innovation.

Well-chosen partners can supply the skills and platforms which you cannot supply – or do not wish to supply.

A good example is cyber security, which has consistently appeared as a top priority in almost every survey of CIO’s, including Telsyte’s Digital Nation.

Following the cyber breaches at Sony and a host of other high profile brands, ICT security has also made it onto the boardroom agenda.

However, few organisations can afford the ongoing investment in all the necessary skills to mitigate the ever evolving threats. Even fewer have all the skills on staff to address incidents if (or, more likely, when) they occur.

Similarly, developing a critical business platform may require a range of skills, technologies and services. Some of these may be available in-house or off the shelf, while others may be difficult to acquire or maintain over the long term.

It is possible to look at these as simple ‘build or buy’ decisions but, for critical services like cyber security or key platforms, it often makes more sense to establish and nurture a long term relationship.

The more collaborative approach driven by a mature partnership ethos also can contribute to the final and most difficult transformation in achieving digital transformation, that of culture.

Further Reading