Seeing through complexity…..

We might want to use a French phrase in the tech world: “Deformation Professionnelle.” In other words, the tendency to see the world through the lens of what we do for a living. In no place does this phrase resonate more loudly than in the world of Information and Automation Management. If you are a process person, you see the world through the lens of processes; if you are a content person, through the lens of content, and if you are a data person, then it’s all a data problem; you get the drift. I think we need (another French term coming up) more “Renaissance” people in our industry*. People who know just enough about many different things to cut through the noise, see the connections between the unmet needs, and move us forward in some positive directions. Our industry is plagued by information and data silos and beset by silo-style thinking. This week we spoke with a vendor about their product and thought that were they to brief one of the big analyst firms, they would need to talk to multiple analysts in multiple briefings as their product and vision span multiple tech silos. Indeed the large analyst firms reflect the silos of the tech vendor sector, but I think it’s at least possible that it is starting to change, not the analyst firms; their business models depend on silos, but the tech sector itself.

Yet, back in the dot com era, there was a book that caught some serious attention, “Reengineering the Corporation’- it defined a method (Business Process Reengineering BPR) to analyze your current situation and to map and process your desired future situation. The challenge then was not the lack of method. Instead, it was the limitations of the technology itself. Be they ERP or KM systems, they promised a great deal but delivered far short of their promises. Technology, particularly in Information & Automation Management, has advanced spectacularly since the dot com era. It’s not just faster and more accurate; it can do things that were impossible a couple of decades back. But despite this, projects continue to fail and fall short of expectations at a worrying rate. Though seemingly impressive at the time, the technology of twenty years ago was severely limited. Yet, in contrast, the world was awash with skilled business analysts and sound methodologies such as BPR back then. Today the reverse is true; we have great technology, yet so often few experienced business analysts, little methodology in play, and little understanding or acknowledgment of the importance of human knowledge and domain expertise.

Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Blockchain, advances in automation, Process & Task Mining, and IDP (Intelligent Document Processing) give us tools we could only have dreamed of twenty years ago or even ten years ago. Yet, for all the talk of Hyperautomation and Digital Transformation, where are the methodologies and the generalists with change management skills, imagination, and analytical skills to use these modern technologies effectively? The answer is they are in very short supply. And by the way, I am a big believer that any methodology is better than none. So maybe it’s time to go old school and pick up a copy of that old book to remind ourselves of what we have forgotten. BPR is not without its critics or flaws; it was used as a blunt instrument to downsize, right size, and outsource, though that was never its author’s intent. Moreover, a sound methodology and good analysis may, and often does, reveal that your problems are less about dysfunctional processes and more to do with dysfunctional management or corporate culture. So when you start your next transformation project, engage with technologists and the renaissance folk who understand both the process and the people.

Likewise, technology vendors must stop looking over their shoulders to determine the technology most resembling their own. Instead, they should start thinking about how their technology can be used to improve businesses and operations. Thankfully, though its early doors, at Deep Analysis, we are beginning to see vendors lead, not with the tech, but with the problems it resolves. In truth, it’s still a rarity. As analysts, we are very interested in the underlying technology. Still, our heart skips a beat when a vendor leads specifically on the problems they solve, then dives into the tech. All the analysts here have solid experience in building pitch decks for startups seeking funding, and any VC will tell you that you must start with the problem, followed by the solution and market. It’s a sound approach, but something too many startups forget the logic of once they receive funding. To be blunt, nobody cares if your product is a bit better than somebody else’s product, they care about the problems it resolves.
Similarly, nobody cares which MQ or Wave you hope to be placed in one day. They care about what makes you different and why they should consider using you. Often, it’s better if you don’t neatly fit into an industry-defined silo.

Here’s the thing, in a world of terabytes and petabytes of data, millions if not billions of documents, neural networks, and viral data silos all within a single enterprise, there is no technical magic wand. Nor is there any fairy dust or a silver bullet waiting to fire. There is incredible complexity, so complex that some are now thinking of putting their trust in Decision Intelligence engines to figure out business problems. Decisions Intelligence is pretty clever, but at the end of the day, whatever technology you use is simply a set of tools, and you can build all sorts of solutions to problems with the right hands. Our industry tends to lack imagination, and too few renaissance people to see the wood from the trees. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Both enterprises and vendors alike can tap into their imaginations a little more, think more creatively, and squeeze in a quote from my favorite artist, Joseph Beuys “Every human being is an artist, a freedom being, called to participate in transforming and reshaping the conditions, thinking and structures that shape and inform our lives.”

*Disclaimer – Renaissance people, in our definition, would likely never dream of setting foot in a Rennaisance Faire.

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