A new operating model to succeed in the digital world

As digital becomes the way to operate in industry after industry, we need to re-evaluate our operating model. We need to see what this offers and how we can adopt these practices and new ways of working through the necessary changes to not just keep up but thrive in the digital world.

With the digital age, it’s brought with it disruption, digital transformation and industries that are transformed all around us faster than we realise. What does this mean for us? And what does the future hold? If companies are not actively looking at ways to transform, the threat of being disrupted is very real. With the barrier to entry next to nothing, new players are entering the market overnight, these new players might not even be on your radar and can come in and disrupt you overnight. The customers will quite easily move to the new players who have leapfrogged you without you even noticing.

I’ve always taken all my endeavours with passion and creativity. The mediums I’ve most often found for my creativity in design and digital. Be it chance, I’m not sure, all I know is I’ve never looked back and I’m truly fascinated by this industry and what this has meant is that we’re on the cutting edge of what’s new, different ways of thinking and new ways of working by default. Here follow the key areas I believe organizations can learn from design and digital companies to create a new operating model to succeed in the digital world.

Where do we start?

When exploring a new operating model, we need to consider two key areas:

  1. Secondly, we need to look internally at our back-office processes. How can we optimise and transform internally to gain the advantage? How is our culture transforming to adapt and promote these new ways of working?

Even though executives are aware of digital transformation and trying to take a stab at it, you need to be careful with what outcome you achieve. Despite their best efforts, many companies are destroying the value because of uncoordinated efforts. The activities they are doing are only happening in small pockets, their attempts are restricted to a silo, and their inability to scale them across the institution really holds them back from having a dramatic impact. The other challenge companies have to be frank is they just move too slow in the digital world. We have to think in terms of building a little speedboat that can be agile enough to react to whatever demands are placed on it.

It’s all about our customers

The good news is that the closer you get to your customers the less of a guessing game it becomes as customers help to co-create products through open innovation. Rather than guessing what would work before launching a product or service, companies can make adjustments nearly real-time by allowing customers to provide direct feedback. This is already taking place in products from Lego to aircraft engines.

Design as a foundation

Design is trying to make things better every step of the way. Design is doing the same thing over and over 100 times, trying to improve and optimise it every iteration. Getting it closer to fulfil our customer’s unspoken needs each time. We don’t shy away from redoing things. It becomes an opportunity to do it again but different and better each time.

Design is a mindset, it’s a way of life. We all look at things differently but we’re all working toward a common goal of releasing a product or building a service that better serves humans, our customers. From this thought processes, everyone involved is a designer, we are all designers. The way to manage the process is from the start whenever we start something new to understand the intent behind it and clarify the expected outcome. After that, you can put the measurements in place to gauge if you’ve reached your outcomes or not and see what you can learn from it.

“Design is trying to make things better every step of the way.”

The challenge of education

I see myself as a life-long learner and enjoy pushing my own boundaries continuously with what’s new and what’s changed. Since Google introduced “daylighting” where companies allow employees to spend up to 20% of their time working on their side projects. Seeing how that, in turn, can be introduced back into the business, we’ve seen a plethora of companies follow suit. I believe we’ll get to this point where companies have programs and internal courses run to not only educate employees on their ways of working but further to build knowledge and expand exposure to the team. If you find your true passion area then work not only becomes easier. You have the feeling of wanting to go to work, and ultimately it brings more business value as someone that has passion in their area will outperform any other employee.

Think in systems

In today’s business landscape there is a high-level of interconnectivity and interdependency among the various elements we work with forming ecosystems of information. Thus we cannot work on one aspect without affecting another. Companies are becoming more and more interconnected and a lot of the time the relationship between various elements are more important than the independent function of a specific element in a company.

We need to learn to zoom out and move beyond the cause and effect of certain elements. Nothing happens on a linear journey anymore. Even traditional linear television is being disrupted by non-linear VOD (Video On Demand) services such as Netflix. As humans, we’re becoming more and more adjusted to this way of living. Learning to think in systems and ecosystems of interconnected elements is definitely a definitive skill in the new operating model of business.

An appetite for risk

When the outcome of any initiative or project does not yield the desired outcome, we must take this as a learning opportunity and ask ourselves what lessons can be learned? We can look at what external factors could be identified that could have had an influence on the failure. Further, we can look internally as to what internal factors could have compromised our judgement? There is almost always something we could have done differently along the way, learn from that. Lastly, are there any gems that were uncovered through this process? Francis Ford Coppola once stated: “Art is partially being available to accidents that fall into your lap”. Rather than dwell on what went wrong, consider what you might have inadvertently discovered.

You don’t have to share your findings with others, but you should challenge yourself to have an answer. These are all lessons that could be learned to help us better steward future projects.

Ask Questions

It comes down to the better questions you can ask, the better problem solver you will be. If you are anything like me and find it difficult to talk to people, questions have this way of stripping away fear and building confidence because as you ask questions you learn along the way.

Experiment with an Iterative Model

Clients are coming to us admitting that they do not know what will work and how their users will respond, and neither can we say for certain. If we keep our combined assumptions in check, we can approach the situation in a very different way. Rather than trying to only build one prototype and test that with users, we can build an array of experiments that we test on sub-groups of users in parallel, learning a lot faster and crafting the final solution based on actual outcomes from user testing along the way.

A powerful part of an experimental culture is knowing that great ideas can come from anywhere. A culture that allows the best idea to win is a core part of the operational model of the future.

Get feedback early and often

99% is good enough

We will always be designing solutions for clients, customers or both and the fact that humans are never stagnant, never fully content over time means we will never achieve perfection. It is just right for that time with the resources we had at our disposal. When we change our perspective and learn to ship early and often, we’ll see that our 99% effort is good enough, and we don’t have to always strive for 100%.

Circular Ecosystem

We see this all the time with how we consume services as well. Where I used to buy a software package once-off, I now make use of a SaaS (Software as a Service) model. Where for as long as I pay I get the latest versions all included. We’ve started selling hardware in our IoT solutions on a HaaS (Hardware as a service) model. We soon realised that after just 10 months the custom hardware we developed was already dating and there are new solutions on the market daily. When we stood back and re-evaluated, we saw that we can shrink the size 10x and cut the costs 10x all in just 10 months. Trying to compete in this market is just not feasible. What it has enabled is selling the hardware as a service. If we look at the next 12 months and there is a better solution on the market we just plug-and-play it to give the client the benefit of having a never ageing system in place.

Advanced Analytics

Analytics will see a huge shift from showing what happened in the past, to a tool that can predict the future. When we combine the right data at the right time, we can start seeing trends and show what is likely to happen with increasing accuracy. In the new operating model, we will use machine learning to build cognitive systems with neural networks and models aligned to our business processes to crunch all the data and shorten the time from raw data to data-driven decision making being at everyone’s fingertips.

“The new business operating model combines a bunch of tools and methodologies in a tailored solution, integrated into new ways of working for companies that help them keep ahead of the continuous change in the digital world.”

Shared Responsibility

We need to get the entire team onboard with the company’s north start metric and what drives us forward. The only way these types of transformations are successful and sustainable in the long term is with frontline adoption, ownership and a shared responsibility from all.

“Digital Transformation is about people first and technology second.”

Where do we start with transformation?

Where to from here?

I’m an all-hands-on-deck product designer. I thrive when I have the opportunity to create something that is simple, beautiful & easy to use.