What is "The Mutable Enterprise"

David Norfolk

Written By:
Published: 1st November, 2016
Content Copyright © 2016 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

The hot topic today is "Digital Transformation" - in the singular. This seems to imply that once you have transformed into a "digital organisation" (usually with the help of new technology and some service integrator or consultancy, often at great expense) you have reached a "promised land" and everything will be hunky dory.

Here at Bloor, we are a bit cynical about this, although (of course) there is some value in the concept of "going digital". The big issue we often have, is that "going digital" is a business thing as much as a technology thing (technology is just an enabler) and once the business has done its transformation, it becomes addictive. Another transformation comes on its heels.

We have been thinking about this for some time and decided that the real transformation is when a traditional business becomes a Mutable Enterprise, a business in a state of constant change, in response to today's constantly changing (and globalised) business environment.

Businesses have to become more responsive, in near real-time to customers throughout the world using mobile technology and expecting to transact business "any time, any place". The old static business models are running out of steam and new startups, using the latest technology and without old systems and old (non-millennial) customers, are disrupting the business of market-leading incumbents. Uber is a great example, It disrupted the taxi business, without taxis. When it ran into trouble with the regulators, it reinvented itself as the "driverless car company" - in Pittsburgh, Uber will allow people (hardly "drivers") to order a temporary lease of a self-driving car from their phone (see here), and Uber doesn't own any driverless cars either. Uber is certainly part of the digital transformation but, more than that, it is what Bloor calls a Mutable Enterprise.

Martin Banks informally defined Mutable Enterprise for Bloor in June 2015: "The 'Mutable Enterprise' is one that is in permanent transition towards ever more effective, reliable and fast solutions to business problems - both the old ones that can be done better, and the new ones that continually appear" - see our previous MiniMag (there are more of Martin's thoughts in my interview with Martin Banks).

The Mutable concept has been used in our writing and thinking since then. For example: in my Blog and in Philip Howard's Editorial, Mutable has now become central to the way that Bloor sees the automated enterprise. Our current definition of the Mutable Enterprise (or Organisation) is:

An Enterprise (Organisation) is highly agile and able to both initiate a new competitive stance, and to respond flexibly and rapidly to shifts in its competitive environment, through the exploitation of technology. It does this by repositioning its core resources (human, cultural, organisational, technical, capital, IP) to effectively match and exploit new competitive circumstances. It uses changes in information technology to exploit the rapidly growing diversity of 'on demand' services and the related impact of social media in transforming how humans now communicate in real time, resulting in significant and continuing shifts in organisational culture and behaviours. Rapid innovation in the tools used for work and communication, covering desktop computers to totally mobile smartphones and tablets, underwrite the ability of the Mutable Enterprise to 'sense and respond' to its market and competitive environments in radically new ways. This is the prime challenge to the Mutable Enterprise: being able to create an organisational and operational culture to replace classic top-down 'command and control' modus operandi with a more biological-like 'outward in' approach to business management.

Taken from the Bloor Mutable Enterprise Wiki - see Simon Holloway's article.

We visualise this in terms of an interface to automation seen in terms of an Action Layer, a Data Layer and an Infrastructure Layer:

The Mutable Enterprise diagramClick to zoom-in

Philip Howard will explore the Data Layer in more detail, and its context in relation to the Action Layer and Infrastructure Layer.

There are, of course technology implications of all this. For example, I would see an ability to experiment with, and validate, a business model -- of a digital business platform -- as an effective enabler for business mutability without nasty surprises. This is important because the Mutable Enterprise can't eschew good Governance - because it depends on a state of trust between all its stakeholders.

If a Mutable Enterprise operates in a world of virtualised technology, where everything is software-defined and where change, reconfiguration, retooling and resizing can all be programmed, then Governance can actually be better, as well as faster and more agile, than it was in the old days of working with physical hardware and manual configuration.

Take the idea, now emerging in systems engineering, of the Digital Twin, for example: "The ultimate vision for the digital twin is to create, test and build our equipment in a virtual environment. Only when we get it to where it performs to our requirements do we physically manufacture it. We then want that physical build to tie back to its digital twin through sensors so that the digital twin contains all the information that we could have by inspecting the physical build," says John Vickers, NASA's leading manufacturing expert and manager of NASA's National Center for Advanced Manufacturing - here.

The "digital twin" supports preventative maintenance and "what if" analysis for engineering systems where downtime is prohibitively expensive. Why not do the same thing with "business process", so you can continually change and evolve process without impacting day-to-day operation?

The Mutable Enterprise is constantly changing and evolving. The trick is to maintain constant service levels to all of its stakeholders while change is happening, at the same time as you maintain constant levels of governance.

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