Outdated business processes and technologies can tie businesses down and prevent digitization and modernization.

The pandemic revealed which organizations were shackled to outdated technologies and business practices. In the early days of the global lockdown, these organizations struggled to adapt to a remote workforce and had to spend on infrastructure, hardware, and software to enable teams to work from home safely. Those organizations that had begun to deal with processes and technologies that held them back typically adapted rapidly to the strictures of the pandemic.

Whilst we all hope the pandemic is receding, change of the scale seen during the lockdown is not diminishing, and once again, if organizations are not trying to untie their shackles, they will be dragged down by unwieldy processes and technologies that cannot respond to change. 

“What the pandemic did was highlight acute points in the customer journey that just were not going to work,” says Andy Caddy, CDO of The Collective, a provider of all-inclusive accommodation rental in London and New York.

“The pandemic led to more demand; it gave us an impetus in the areas that we had been modernizing, but not at pace, like our network, VPN and infrastructure,” says Tom Hamilton, Vice President Technology at ISS Shipping, a maritime services agency.

“We were migrating a lot of our systems that connect into customer’s systems, and we expected clients to stop, but in fact, they wanted to go faster.” Both business technology leaders report that their organizations had a digital core that enabled them to respond to the events of 2020.

However, the scale of change as a result of the pandemic still highlighted new digital opportunities.

“The oil majors wanted to go faster onto our digital solutions,” says Hamilton, whilst residents of The Collective, who would typically have been at work during the day, suddenly placed new demands on the organization as they worked from home. “It was a combination of trying to find solutions that we could white label and adapt them pretty quickly or building something ourselves for our website and App,” Caddy says.

ISS Shipping realized back in 2017 that it was shackled to business processes and technologies that were holding the organization back.

“We had to change everything we were doing to be in the modern world,” Hamilton says with honesty. As those businesses that were not able to respond effectively to the pandemic learned, those shackles can become a risk and then a cost to the business.

“You can get shackled very quickly,” adds Meltem Dincer, CTO for commodities reporting agency Argus Media, she adds that as organizations respond rapidly to one demand, a solution is adopted, becomes the norm and can quickly become yet another shackle to the organization, especially if that process or technology is key to the economic ecosystem an organization works within.

Dincer says the pace of technology in recent years has created a range of shackles that she and her peers are having to deal with. “Microsoft Excel is technically digital and technically low-code. SOAP APIs were modern, so every time you make a new deal or deploy a technology you get shackled.”

Try as hard as you like; business technology leaders often cannot remove certain shackles to the business because valuable clients refuse to change. “Our industry is made up of thousands of small shipping operators, and they don’t have the desire to digitize,” Hamilton of ISS Shipping says.

Caddy at The Collective adds that even in a young company that was “born digital”, there are arbitrary business decisions that create shackles. He says user journeys are not always digitally thought through, or like Hamilton’s experience, the sector you work closely with is behind on its digital adoption.

Connecting Front and Back

All three business technology leaders reflect recent findings from the Harvey Nash Digital Leadership survey, which reports that CIO budgets rose last year to deal with the pandemic, and will continue to rise over the coming years in order to digitize the entire business.

Last year the survey expected budgets to decrease this year following the additional spending of 2020 to keep organizations sustainable during the pandemic. But, as Dincer, Hamilton, and Caddy reveal, organizations now need to ensure the digital front-end is supported by a digital back-end. One of the main reasons for this is an effective and efficient use of data.

“In the recent past, you concentrated on the customer experience at the front-end, and then you had to deal with the workings at the back-end. Where this comes to blows is data and your ability as an organization to deal with data as it flows in and through the organization,” Caddy says. “If you don’t have an end-to-end digital and data oriented organization, you end up arguing over definitions and no single version of the truth, and that is where we were 20 years ago.”

Dincer agrees and says: “Integration is important, and when applied to the right problems, you can have fewer things to maintain rather than more technologies to maintain.” She adds that it is important to have an architectural perspective.

“When we build our solutions, we think about the customer journey and flow to always make sure we get the data we need,” Hamilton says of developing solutions for clients that will inform and improve his own organization, ISS Shipping.

“Now we are able to build small solutions to fix problems, and core to this is a single set of data that any service the organization needs can connect to. So that in the future, if we need a new process, we can look at the data flows in and out of the ecosystem we work in, and put a new process into the middle.”

Although a level of being shackled will always exist in organizations and vertical markets, all three believe that low-code and Agile working methods will enable CIOs and CTOs to reduce the number of shackles that burden the business. “Low-code is how we were able to customize for each of our 60 offices around the world,” Hamilton says of developing solutions for ports offices in different geographies.

“Today, we have the chance to do things in smaller increments with cheaper solutions. So we can fire up a process and prove it at a lower cost and with low risk,” says Caddy. Dincer agrees and adds: “In the summer of 2021, we carried out a detailed business process analysis and uncovered some foundational issues that were impacting the business,” and like Caddy, the Argus Media CTO is now trialling experiments to resolve those issues.

Beyond the pandemic, organizations face significant macroeconomic challenges. Dincer and Hamilton are in sectors that are front-page news at present as the world grapples with supply chain and energy issues caused by the pandemic, and Brexit increasing costs and red tape. In addition, climate change is finally a major concern of world leaders and business heads.

“There is a big desire to decarbonize our industry,” says Hamilton. “Traditionally, a ship would go as fast as it can and then sit outside of a port with the engines on waiting for a port berth, and that causes a lot of greenhouse gasses. Just in time ports will rely on real time data. So there is a huge drive to digitize the underlying infrastructure to facilitate the desire to decarbonize and inform decision making in shipping.”

Just as the pandemic made organizations realize the shackles that prevented them from responding to a worldwide health event, so climate change, economic factors such as the supply chain, energy cost and housing stock shortages will rely on organizations being as shackle free as possible in their processes and technologies.

Watch the whole conversation in Cutting the Shackles to Digitize the Business

Cutting the Shackles to Digitize the Business video