A Pinch of Salt, a Pinch of Pepper, and a Heaping Dose of Agility

Dear readers, today I would like to put on a cooking show for you. I’m standing in front of the stove, armed with an apron and a wooden spoon, surrounded by bowls, pots, oil, salt, pepper, tomatoes, and other ingredients. Time to get cooking!

Just kidding. Those of you who know me a bit better know that you wouldn’t really catch me on a cooking show. But the parallels between digital transformation and cooking are too obvious for me to resist conjuring up that image.

If we’ve learned anything from the discussions and experiences of the last few months, it’s that digital transformation is anything but trivial. It doesn’t suffice to simply declare that digital transformation is happening and then make a few tentative software adjustments. Digitalization causes wide-reaching changes at every company, including structural ones. The difficulty lies in anticipating these changes in advance, but it’s the only way to establish the necessary requirements.

While digital transformation may or may not involve new business models, which in turn may differ from one another, one thing is the same across the board: All activities will become more customer-centric. In keeping with this, companies need to better familiarize themselves with as many aspects of their customers as possible: their surfing behavior, their purchasing habits, their expectations for new services, and their acceptance of app content. This new, increased focus on customers alone has radical implications for IT: Data volumes will increase, data analytics will play a central role, and quickly adaptable services and app features will become commonplace.

Storage systems will then need to be adjusted, and CRM and analysis applications will have to be whipped into shape or even repurchased; data security solutions will become even more important (especially in the wake of the new General Data Protection Regulation); infrastructure flexibility must be improved, high availability must be guaranteed, sufficient performance must be ensured, and completely new development tools must be introduced. The dynamic integration of cloud solutions and the use of managed services must be considered, and all of the individual components must be precisely and dynamically coordinated with one another – and all of this needs to be done because of one single aspect of digitalization. Digital transformation is truly anything but trivial. Which makes it all the more crucial to partner with an IT service provider that can handle all of the necessary changes and, ideally, can offer a full portfolio from a single source, the contents of which are coordinated with one another to the greatest possible extent.

I still haven’t forgotten my cooking analogy, by the way: Just as with cooking, digitalization calls for a precise combination of the right components (ingredients) with one another.

If only it were as simple as that.

Combining the components is one thing, but successful implementation is something entirely different: When two people use the exact same ingredients and follow a precise recipe, one of them might make an acceptable meal, whereas the other might make a magnificent, prize-worthy dish. Little things often make all the difference, and the same applies to digital transformation.

Taste and talent are to cooking what a cultural shift and agility are to digitalization. In both cases, each of the two are indispensable to success. Incidentally, you can use the well-known OSI layer model as a reference point for imagining a new “digitalization layer model” that would include the following important aspects:

  • Agility
  • Cultural Shift
  • Applications
  • Software
  • Hardware
  • Infrastructure

Your company must be ready to undergo a cultural shift; in order to promote digitalization, you need to question a wide range of outdated dogmas and structures and, in the event of doubt, break with them. These include existing hierarchies, specialist departments, and positions. Ideally, everyone will work together with everyone else, which will involve some people giving up some of their power. That will not be to everyone’s taste, but that’s not a problem; the important thing is that your cooperation helps you achieve your goals.

This calls for mental agility. Agility means much more than that, though: for example, being committed to innovation, loving to shake things up, and accepting creativity as a tool that’s worth just as much as strict analysis. And, of course, agility is specifically required in software development.

There are wonderful examples of how this kind of agility works in the field of industry. For example, Volkswagen set itself the goal of transforming “from an automotive manufacturer into a mobility provider,” according to CIO Martin Hoffmann. The company’s IT played a central role in making this happen, especially in expanding its innovation leadership and competitiveness. To facilitate this, the Group opened its Digital Lab in Berlin, and works closely together with our subsidiary Pivotal in order to create a powerful digital ecosystem. “Imagine that you have a great idea one morning, and that by the end of the day you can offer it to your customers as a product that is ready to use,” reads the Pivotal homepage. This approach is not only Volkswagen’s preferred way of developing new business models, but also represents the very essence of agility.

I very much hope that your company will also develop a taste for this new agility. Bon appétit.