The Housekeeping Issue

Digitally transforming digital organisations | Autonomous vehicles and the Caribbean

To start, some housekeeping. I’ll not publish this Friday as I’ll be taking a last-minute vacation for a few days this week. I’ll mostly be offline for well-deserved rest. Back to a normal schedule next week. Lastly, I’ve decided to ditch the issue number system before it becomes too unwieldy. Imagine Issue No. 14159265: ... Not good! It is for a good cause, however. I have something new I want to test over the coming weeks/months. I’ll let you know soon.

On to the quick update.

Can digitally native organisations transform, digitally?

Source: Evening Standard, UK

This is a topic that has been on my list of things to write about for a long time. I have some initial thoughts and I would like to share them with you here.

If you remember, in Issue 5: Why Digital Transformation is different from standard IT, I said that Digital Transformation is really about change management:

As you’ve no doubt spotted the biggest difficulty for an organisation is the resistance to change, which is why I personally believe that Digital Transformation is essentially one big change management exercise. Bringing people with change management skills in to the organisation — even if on a temporary basis — is key to succeeding in Digital Transformation.

I think we’re witnessing a company that is currently grappling with this in a very public way. To be fair the company involved could not be more public. Apple Inc.

What lead me to this ? The recent announcement that Jony Ive was leaving Apple to focus on his own projects, and has setup his own design company called With Love From got me thinking. I couldn’t stop wondering about the “why?”. I read many articles from journalists and bloggers alike. Some with great insight and some with links within Apple, but I’m not convinced anyone has hit the nail on the head yet.

So to try to do this, I’ve thought about it from a Digital Transformation and change management perspective. Let’s look back at Apple’s track record in change management. The upcoming departure of Steve Jobs through illness back in 2010 necessitated a succession plan to ensure that — unlike many companies run by strong leaders — Apple would not face insurmountable difficulties. Disney was probably its model at that point having had its own transition by the icon Walt to todays’ management, Apple put in place a smooth transition plan that has sent Apple further and further up the corporate charts, with Tim Cook driving this forward.

Jony Ive’s leaving was planned and implemented long before anyone got wind of it, both inside and outside. Yes, there had been rumours for a while, but this plan was almost certainly instigated before that.

So why did Jony Ive leave then?

Apple has slowly been turning the ship towards services and pinning future growth and revenue on them, in lieu of more iPhones. Remember, iPhone revenue has been the driver of revenue for many years. To design and build an iPhone takes a very special set of skills, skills that Jony Ive was/is exceptional at. However, to be blunt, those skills are useless when it comes to designing and building software services. It’s just not the same skill set.

I suspect that when Jony Ive took over all design in Apple, which ended in the leaving of Scott Forstall (an incredible software designer), there was a hope that Ive’s sensibilities would produce excellent software and services, the new place the puck was supposed to be. That didn’t happen quite as well as Apple had hoped. I’m not going to list all the areas that software got a little worse, but there was an overall feeling that things got worse, and the commentators were vocal about it over the years.

So to me, what this is, is a change management situation where a resource that is no longer suited will need to move on or do something else within the company. This is not a judgement on that resource and should never ever be viewed in that way. It is simply a strategic choice from Apple to move away from hardware towards software.

They are doing Digital Transformation of their products and services. Hardware will not go away, I don’t think that for a minute, but evidence shows us they are moving in that direction for the foreseeable future. This is why I think Jony Ive’s agency is a strategy to keep Jony Ive included where it is still needed without him getting in the way of software design. Time will tell if this works, but I think it’s very intelligent and could be the basis of new growth impetus within Apple.

You may find in your own transformation that current key ressources will either want to or will need to move on to other things. Plan your change management for this eventuality.

Autonomous Vehicles and the Caribbean

Source: Uber

Another topic that is of much interest to me is vehicle autonomy. Like almost everyone, I can’t wait for the day I can ride (safely) in a car whisking me to my destination, whilst I can get on with other things and paying zero attention to the road, traffic etc,.

I am however, realistic about its eventual implementation in the Caribbean. Like may things, the Caribbean is a pretty (very pretty) special place, but its road infrastructure is not on the postcards.

There’s reason, and it’s not just underinvestment and neglect, there are very real environmental conditions that render the concrete and tarmac fragile. Hot and humid conditions with the sun beating down all day then being deluged by rain (cooling it somewhat) then heating up again, sometimes several times a day cause these materials to become fragile. Add to this the near constant moving of the earth, through tectonic movement that sometimes results in earthquakes (hundreds a year in some islands) and simple land movement from, what are young land masses built from volcanic activity, Barbados excluded, this alone hinders current technology from fully “understanding” the road it is on.

If you’ve lived or visited us here, you’ll also note that there are some periods in the year the sun is low in the sky but blindingly bright. In those circumstances, even humans have real difficulties seeing enough of the road, often leading to less than optimal conditions for driving, and in some cases causing fatal accidents.

Let the technology cut its teeth on the easy, straight and sell-maintained roads of Las Vegas first. I’m guessing we’re probably around 15 to 20 away from Level 5.

I'll write about the autonomous levels sometime soon as a complement and follow-up to this article.

Reading List

Source: wikipedia

 A history of humankind’s enemy number one 

This is a book recommendation from the Economist. I’ve not read it, but it’s on the wish list. Living in the tropics this little pest is a constant source of frustration. I’ve had dengue fever — it’s called break bone fever here in the Caribbean not incorrectly — and a couple of the other mosquito-borne pleasantries. But like so much in nature there seems to be a positive too. From the digital angle, technology is working to curb the mosquitoes’ deadly impact whilst preserving its role in nature. Time will tell.

“They will fight well at first, but soon they will fall sick and die like flies,” predicted Toussaint Louverture of the Frenchmen sent to end his slave revolution in Haiti. He was right. About 85% of the 65,000 soldiers deployed to the colony died of mosquito-borne illnesses, and Haiti won its independence.

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Matthew Cowen @matthewcowen