By Greg Lush
I have referenced this luscious quote a thousand times: "Have you replaced your employees’ bicycles with Ford F150s and wonder why they still only drive on bike paths?" Our past can influence current behaviors in both negative and positive ways. The so-called comfort zone, which many individuals stay within for various social-economic reasons, is weighted heavier towards the habits which do not always move us forward. Unfortunately, innovation is often curtailed when the comfort zone represents your boundaries for experimentation. What is the significance of this chatter? Undiscovered opportunity requires individuals to think about things completely different and be willing to fail along the way (a place where many institutional employees are not comfortable). It is only at the apex of the "I know it can do X" where we will unlock these undiscovered opportunities.
Let's start with a simple example from the service industry. Successful service companies will often have a blend of scheduled and unscheduled work. Scheduled work is anything which we can plan for, typically a maintenance contract or a project. Unscheduled work, on the other hand, might be comprised of service calls or other emergency activities. Understanding the patterns of your field workers will assist you in maximizing your profit by dispatching those workers closest to the job sites. For years intelligent scheduling programs had been in existence using GPS coordinates for the worker and the destination. Instead, if we look at this a little bit differently, we may seek to understand the driving patterns of the worker, the worker cost, familiarity with the job site, and relationship with the client. These variables will give us greater perspective and allow us to choose the optimum resource. In order to execute such a plan, we would need to connect to various systems and create algorithms which balance the weight of each input to obtain the optimum output. Just over the last few years this capability is now within financial reach. Yet, as with many parts of the business, we are burdened with our own legacy. Certainly, you have heard the idiom; people, process and technology:
- People: If the systems that you are dealing with are older than say seven years, people will be a larger factor then you might expect. Our digital landscape is changing at record pace. Just a handful of years ago if the enterprise wanted any deviation from the provided software, it often meant customization. While often partners help build the customization, there is generally an individual, or a team of people, who have come up with a design. Often, this deep-rooted sense of ownership, which during the initial build was expressed as passion, now may become roadblocks when faced with impending change.
- Process: I will never forget my first corporate CIO job. The president of the organization knew that I had come from a smaller service company and he advised me to dream like never before. Initially I was a bit perplexed as I, most likely similar to you, have been passionate about what I do for many years. Yet as we discussed his comment further, we began to unpack the reality of how we think about innovation. If our budget was always $100, then our brain would be thinking of things, often as a state of compromise, to achieve our objectives and goals within the $100 budget. Essentially, we are limiting ourselves as we rationalize decisions. For many, this can be crippling to the organization and ironically to your career. You must learn to get into a head-space which allows you to see everything that is possible, and once at that place, then whittle them back.
- Technology: It is convenient to consider the technology components as investments made in the past are, frankly, a real bear to just abandon. So many things are tied to these decisions which often extend far past the actual technology. As a matter of fact, if technology was the only factor we considered, 99% of the systems would be replaced as they have obvious shortfalls. Unfortunately, that is not the world where most of us live; so in order to maintain our sanity we need to keep looking towards the future. Decisions made today will have greater impact than ever before. For instance:
- APIs: choosing or allowing software companies enter your eco-system who do not have the capability to provide APIs (in 2020) is just crazy.
- Common data approaches: Microsoft, and other software manufacturers, have provided the concept of a data hub within an organization. All system data, either from a transactional system, form, collaborative tool, or even email should be made accessible by other applications as required. Keep in mind that undiscovered opportunity takes the data side, UI, analytics, etc. Create the hub and spoke with the common data environment right in the middle.
Rooting out undiscovered opportunities must become a daily activity. If you believe that information is not a single dimension, then each time you speak with someone about automating their process or enhancing their digital habits, you should ask them what else would make this perspective smarter. People are so accustomed to thinking about things in narrow lanes you must constantly be pushing on the outside of the box to see what else is possible. For me, a crawl, walk, run, approach has always worked well. Time after time I have seen people overcomplicate the ability to extract real value from their organizations. This is the third step of the hierarchy, so you have already obtained their trust and have their digital habits practicing contextual computing approaches. You will be in the perfect place to have a frank conversation with the business owner, "If you had one thing that could compromise your ability to hit your numbers, what would that be?" The response will be a lot different if you leap frogged the suggested steps from this book. Trust is KEY and your fastest path to providing relevant, and pragmatic solutions to solve business challenges.