There’s been no end to the talk of artificial intelligence, machine learning and robots squeezing people out of the enterprise. Let me add a different perspective.
The human is, and all always will be, at the center of the enterprise. It takes humans to organize technology – no matter how “intelligent” – in a way that it best serves customers. It takes humans to understand and ultimately deliver what markets demand, and to create new markets where none have previously existed. No organization can exist in an entirely automated fashion — to successfully run a digital business requires a well-balanced combination of human business savvy and well-designed technology solutions.
That’s why agile and service-oriented thinking are so important, even more important in today’s world. Agile promotes the idea that innovation should be a highly collaborative and continuous effort, turning out products or services in tandem with user input. Service-oriented thinking elevates solutions and innovation above any underlying technology approaches, while recognizing that technology is a vital tool to carry out bold new ventures. With both philosophies, the human comes first, technology second.
Agile methodologies are associated with software development, which has served as the crucible for Agile thinking. The fundamental principles of Agile are laid out in the oft-cited Agile Manifesto – which, I might add, has aged well in the 16 years since it was first crafted and posted. The four key values prescribed in the manifesto consist of the following:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
The key to this thinking is that agile doesn’t just apply to software developers and their business counterparts; it’s a philosophy of continuous innovation that should be extend across the organization. This point was recently driven home in a Harvard Business Review article by Eric Garton and Andy Noble, both with Bain & Company, who urge business leaders in key parts of enterprises to adopt agile as a way of life. “Create small, talent-rich teams working outside the hierarchy to address your most important priorities,” they advice. “These teams are given permission to use Agile methods and processes and to work outside of the often energy-draining and slower-moving traditional processes and decision hierarchies.”
Service orientation is another concept that gained legs in the technology space, but provides many lessons for today’s digital enterprises – or those that aspire to be. Eight years ago, I had the privilege of working with Thomas Erl, highly regarded business technology author and founder of Arcitura Education, and a team of industry leaders and thinkers in crafting the SOA Manifesto, which defines what it means to be service oriented in today’s technology environment.
As with the Agile Manifesto, the SOA Manifesto has aged well. The values emphasized include the following:
- Business value over technical strategy
- Strategic goals over project-specific benefits
- Intrinsic interoperability over custom integration
- Shared services over specific-purpose implementations
- Flexibility over optimization
- Evolutionary refinement over pursuit of initial perfection
From a technology perspective, my colleague Philippe Abdoulaye, a prolific writer and speaker, puts things in their proper perspective: all technology implementations should be laser-focused on serving the needs of the customer, period. Abdoulaye, who is a proponent of IT as a Service, states that “You don’t prevent market share and customer losses or become innovation champion only by cutting IT cost and speedy IT operations.” Technology should be part of a strategy that emphasizes innovation, agility, responsiveness, and revenue.
Again, it’s all about putting the human in the center of the enterprise. Technology is the tool that accomplishes this. As recently explained by fellow Forbes contributor Peter Bendor-Samuel, “In a data-driven world, an organization can understand the context of all interactions with a customer, employee or end user and whether the interaction will bring frustration or delight to that individual.”