Everybody - yes everybody these days is talking about ‘digitalization’, ‘change’, ‘transformation’. That is trendy, ‘disruptive’, ‘game changing’. But it is also becoming common rhetoric, some may say buzz wording.
Preparing for an international keynote speech covering trends in cloud and transformation, I again thought about what is really making companies like Uber, Airbnb, Netflix and of course Amazon, Google, and Salesforce etc. so ‘alien’ and so different to the established players who have been there for decades and generations. Well, you may, say they are a result of the reinvention of processes and supply chains, turning standards upside-down, reducing CAPEX, running on OPEX, banking on dynamic and innovative IT, counting on Big Data and digital marketing.... Absolutely, all that is true and these are important key levers. However, I believe that you can sum everything up in just one phrase; they all live and breathe a new Digital Culture and Digital Leadership.
This, in my view, is the ‘nutrient medium’ for everything new and ‘disruptive’. Innovation, agility, new channels and processes, as well as the redefinition of IT, technologies and tools are just the ultimate consequences and outcomes of forthright digital leadership and blossoming digital culture.
Whilst preparing for my speech, I also came across a 2015 Gartner CIO survey about ‘Bimodal IT’. Gartner defines Bimodal IT as the combination of secure, reliable and predictable IT on the one hand (mode 1) and agile, experimental, customer focused, partner driven solutions and applications (mode 2) which are driving digitalization. That is the balancing act for every IT strategy and setup.
In that context, Gartner Analyst Mary Mesaglio came up with a very striking comparison – the traditional Japanese Shaolin monks and the erratic, unpredictable Ninja fighters. Mesaglio clearly stated that it is less a matter of endurance and reliability but more about consequently breaking the rules by all means – that's Ninja. The Shaolin, however, do have their strengths – such as endurance, perfected over generations, and long-lasting, deep-rooted traditions. The Shaolin culture and its fortitude is also based on ‘Bushido’ as the ultimate common ethical code. However, this static constitution also became a disadvantage against the Ninja, fighting without an overall codex or any principles with inconvenient, surprising, unpredictable, guerrilla-like tactics – and experimenting with new, light-but-powerful smart weapons.
So what would happen if we transpose this idea and look at typical types of businesses and corporate cultures? What impact would these factors have on processes and IT? For me, the differences between successful digital companies and traditional businesses are exactly the same as those between ‘Ninja’ and ‘Shaolin’.
If we carry this idea forward to analyse how IT-decisions are made, it becomes clear that Shaolin types are ‘fighting’ with more people, expertise and central IT ‘tradition’ and ‘endurance’. The Ninja, like new kids, use new gear and they experiment – like playing with ‘new weapons’ such as Cloud, IoT, Big Data and Analytics combining everything, running pilots and hundreds of try-error tests etc. in continuous loops of change and improvement. It might look like ‘no plan’ but the strategy and power behind it can be compared to having ‘no fixed plan’.
Are you ‘Shaolin’ or ‘Ninja’?
So being honest and self-reflected about the systems, patterns and status of your company and business, I am sure you will be either more ‘Shaolin’ or ‘Ninja’. If you have a Ninja culture, I bet digitalization has already taken place or you are currently changing, and you are on the leading edge of Cloud, IoT, Big Data, Analytics and Omnichannel sales and services. What are you? Check and chose!