Freedom represents a revolution in the way businesses use automation. It is about freeing the business to operate in the way that it wishes to and, at the same time, freeing the the people involved in the business to work in a way that is more natural for them, a way that they are more comfortable with.
Freedom is being driven, in essence, by demographics. In the 20th century, businesses were run by people who hadn’t grown up with the Web, hadn’t grown up with ubiquitous mobile connectivity and were not familiar with computers as an integral part of their daily experience. In these circumstances, automation was treated as a black art managed by, in effect, a technology priesthood–business was dominated by IT. This also meant that organisational processes were often dominated by the IT group’s needs. The new organisational model needs Freedom from the limitations of the past and it needs a very people-centric organisational agility, associated with Freedom.
In the 21st century, we have the rise of the millenials, people born after about 1980 (there are varying definitions), who have been familiar with the Web and mobile technology all of their lives, and have integrated computer technology with the way that they run their lives. See, for example William Strauss’ and Neil Howe’s Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. In order to engage the best and most innovative next generation employees with your business, you must free your business from IT dominance.
‘Freedom’ is the freedom you give your employees to use technology on their own terms and to innovate, using technology to deliver better business outcomes. Freedom is the framework within which you manage the other technology trends emerging in the 21st century:
- Big Data as an enabler for Actionable Insights;
- Trust as the basis for security and identity management;
- Cloud as the enabler for buying technology as ‘pay as you go’ services;
- Mobile computing as the enabler for ubiquitous connectivity, regardless of time and place;
- Collaboration, which is about computer-assisted communications and insights for all stakeholders in the business;
- Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tagging, used to automatically identify and track tagged objects.
- The “Internet of Things”, in which every electronic device has at least basic intelligence and is connected to other intelligent devices.
Freedom, however, is not licence, and freedom must be subject to good Governance–which doesn’t mean that it must be subject to arbitrary rules imposed for the benefit of a technology elite. In the context of Freedom, good governance is about the assurance of reliable, resilient, business outcomes (including compliance with the regulatory environment) from the investment in technology–without waste.
Freedom is about doing better business by using innovative people; and provides the impetus for the other Trends. Freedom for a business implies that there is a basis of Trust between all the affected stakeholders, internal and external: employees, business partners, customers, regulators and so on. And you need Freedom to act on your Actionable Insights. So, Freedom provides the context for dealing with the other, emerging, millennial trends.
Freedom impacts the business itself in three main areas: management (including people management), technology infrastructure, and marketing (freedom implies that you will have more innovative things and services to sell). It also impacts all of its stakeholders, not only within the business (managers, developers, auditors and so on); but also outside the business (customers, regulators and so on).
Think, for example, of the new freedom for your customers that comes from consumerisation and mobile commerce. They make decisions on their smartphones; the competition is not just a click away for a customer sitting at their computer, it is a gesture away, for a customer in the pub, in the train–or even in bed. The market can change at the twitch of a finger; and a business with a healthy market share can lose it overnight as younger customers, who just work differently, discover competition that the incumbent thought simply didn’t matter. Even the ‘silver pound’ is at risk as prosperous pensioners discover that buying stuff online involves less faffing about than is involved with another trip to town.
The hard metrics for “why should you care” should be measured around things like time to market, flexible costing (pay-per-use) and staff retention (acquire and retain the best people).
Freedom implies an end of the command-and-control style of management, where the employees are treated as mushrooms–kept in the dark and fed on manure. Corresponding IT infrastructures have to support ‘bring your own interface’ (more than just the bring your own device–BYOD–that everyone is talking about). On the other hand, Freedom does not imply that the business operates without good governance, although this a ‘just enough’ governance promoted, at first touch, by transparency (what people do in public sight is usually in accord with what the business wants); and by collaboration between and inside role-based teams (perhaps enabled with “social” software).
One implication of Freedom is that a business’ technology is designed and built at the logical level; so that a wide range of physical instantiations of process and technology can be accommodated in the pursuit of a desired logical business outcome. This implies model-based development.
Another implication is that a holistic approach is taken to process improvement and the delivery of business outcomes, with end-to-end feedback loops between the automated business process in production and the evolution of requirements, build and deploy processes in development. This implies DevOps at scale.
The business also has to deal with the impact of Freedom on its customers–the buyer now has a lot more freedom around their choice and method of purchase. However, this should be seen as an opportunity rather than as a problem–a nimble business can now take on and win against a much larger incumbent in many business areas. The onus is on any business that wants to be successful to understand the freedom its customers now have and to make sure it offers them whatever they might want.
Many of the technology trends of recent years have arrived in order to support Freedom. It is therefore tempting to see Freedom in business as the result of new technology developments but in fact it’s the other way around–the market place is full of companies using new business models, enabled by new technology, and eating the businesses using older models. Employees increasingly demand new technology that gives them the Freedom to work (and make money) as they wish:
- Bring Your Own Infrastructure (BYOI). Be careful of this as it can mean lots of things, the “I” can stand for Interface, Identity, even Ideas. All are primarily about the psychological imperative to take control of your working environment. Physically it is about mobile devices, about allowing workers to join corporate working networks wherever they are and whenever they want (which implies robust mobile Identity and Access Management (IAM)) and about social collaboration instead of corporate email. Underneath this, however, it is about employees demanding to be free from corporate restrictions and to be able to use the devices at work that they use in their ordinary lives.
- Service-orientation. Service-orientation is not, primarily, a technology thing, it is about abstracting technology from the physical infrastructure it runs on–all you care about is what you need (both capability and service level), paid for as and when you use it; not how it is supplied.
- Cloud comes in private, public and hybrid flavours; and is service-orientation taken to the infrastructure with Software as a Service (SaaS), for example; or Infrastructure as a Service, (IAAS); or Platform as a Service (PaaS).
- Convergence and virtualised software-defined infrastructures. The technology infrastructure used to be built from specialised, single-purpose, hardware boxes–servers, routers, switches, telephones etc. Provisioning such an infrastructure is a major logistics exercise, slow, error-prone and inflexible. These days, infrastructure is increasingly built from general-purpose computers, emulating physical devices in software. Software-defined technology services are more flexible and deployment, redeployment, configuration and tear-down can be programmed flexibly.
- Richer consumer technology, the ubiquitous Internet and global connectivity, the ubiquitous mobile phone, even the computer gaming culture has given us a new generation of business employees who refuse to run their lives according to some sort of corporate standard.
Finally, in summary, here are some key questions to ask when starting to address Freedom:
- Does the business have the Vision (or visionary employees) needed to exploit Freedom for innovative business? If not, where will these visionaries come from?
- Is the business (and its employees) mature enough for Freedom? Is it based on transparency and metrics-based decisions rather than on decisions dictated by vested interests; does it believe in process improvement based on honest post-implementation reviews (and has it got rid of any sort of ‘blame culture’)? Will you need to devote resources to cultural change?
- Are the external stakeholders in the business (customers, regulators etc.) mature enough for Freedom? Will they make fact-based decisions about your fitness for purpose and probity or worry about the lack of sufficient ‘command and control’? Will you need to devote resources to the education of your external partners? Remember that shareholders are stakeholders too–if companies are going to move to a more freedom-oriented stance they may need to convince investors and the financial press; are these mature enough to accept such an approach and any associated teething problems?
- Can your existing IT infrastructure technologies support freedom and the necessary ‘light touch’ governance needed for Freedom to operate in the business? Are they flexible (perhaps with virtualisation and software-defined technologies) at the technology level; do they support generation of any metrics management might need; do they support role-based identity and access management, or, at least, provide something like dynamic data masking as a stop-gap? If your existing technology does not seem suitable, what resources are available for changing it?