Digital Transformation War and Peace

Lionel Grealou Data, Digital, Strategy

Image credit: Original War and Peace theatrical release poster

From Napoleon’s Battlefield to Digital Transformation

Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1971) is a literature masterpiece which brings to light many interesting, contradicting and sometimes confusing aspects of human behaviors: observing the world from multiple perspectives, considering contextual views, with no constant factor, looking at how people change… Tolstoy’s view was that “history is an inexorable process which man cannot really influence”. He illustrated this dilemma as the “battlefield started to overcome Napoleon who was unable to respond quickly to ever-changing circumstances”.

The right information at the right time is 9/10 of any battle.

Accredited to historian Captain Sir Basil Liddell Hart

It is hard to influence things at a macro or global level, however relative change can happen at various sub-levels – especially once there is an effective feedback loop in place. Rapid technology advancements directly contribute to bringing change opportunities (adoption potential) and challenges (timely execution). Digital transformations are means to change how organizations operate and experiment with their ability to adopt new solutions and adapt to what they cannot influence.

There is clearly a causal effect between what organizations can internally influence (their processes, their decision making) and what is imposed to them by the external environment (new competitors, economic crisis, etc.). Like in a war, decision making timeliness and the ability to influence are key parameters to successful transformation execution.

From Strategy Definition to Execution

Organizations embarks onto business or digital transformation initiatives for two (often combined) principal reasons:

  1. They aim to introduce new capabilities and adopt new processes, tools and technologies to enhance operations, increase productivity, create more value from new and existing products and services.
  2. They have to continuously adapt and modernize their operative platforms and IT landscape, creating a more integrated environment for enhanced data continuity and learning.

Leading and delivering digital transformations in “normal times” is sufficiently challenging as organizations need to control business disruption and adjust accordingly based on their ability to change and culture towards risk mitigation. Schwartz highlighted in his book War and Peace and IT (2019) how leaders must unite across business and IT functions to embrace value from technology. This basically informed IT driven competition where technology is embedded is products and services themselves (rather than only being part of the traditional value chain). Therefore, IT strategy needs to be integral to business strategy to accelerate decision making, while bringing means for the business to be more adaptive to change.

To accelerate, enterprises must bring technology to the heart of their work, for just as technology is causing this disruption, it is technology that provides the solution.

Mark Schwartz (2019)

Risk Mitigation in Times of Uncertainty

Facing unplanned disruption at a global scale in the times of a pandemic like COVID-19 brings existing and new digital war and peace challenges together:

  • It is harder to make decisions as organizations experience unprecedented disruption; how does the disruption timeline compare with the business cycle?
  • What is the lead time to implement the change, and how is the external environment changing in the meantime?
  • What are the clear outcomes from the digital transformation – in business terms?
  • How to reduce “idea-to-cash” timeline to realize business value in context of the risks which require to be mitigated?
  • How to ensure that the organization in investing in the right things with the relevant implementation timeline for them to make a difference?

Digital transformations are means to mitigate risks: for example, cloud and DevOps can help mitigate implementation risks as they provide scalable tools to experiment and create proof of concepts which can later be scaled based on the validated way-forward.

  • Cloud infrastructures provide on-demand scalability and low cost entry points to run proof of concept projects and experiments with solutions.
  • DevOps frameworks provide agility and the ability to move quickly to execution, experiment, validate assumptions, and manage investment risks while ensuring the best return on investment.

The main challenges these days with the COVID-19 pandemic and the global working-from-home confinement include how to prioritize and draw the line between:

  • What is truly transformational now (new thinking towards future readiness),
  • What is entrepreneurial in seizing new opportunities to mitigate risks now, in addition to being useful to the society (experimenting with short term requirements), and
  • What is more likely to remain related to self-preservation in bolstering current practices to sustain existing operations in the times of crisis (minimum service with “more of the same”).

What are your thoughts?


References:

  • Tolstoy L (1971) War and Peace
  • Schwartz M (2019) War and Peace and IT: Business Leadership, Technology, and Success in the Digital Age

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