Unintended consequences (the good kind) of DigitalTransformation with @jkyriakidis

Jordan Kyriakidis, CEO of QRA Corp, spoke at a session at ITWC’s Toronto digital transformation conference on some of the unexpected consequences of technological advances in terms of collaboration and cross-fertilization of ideas. QRA is a tech startup in Atlantic Canada, and Kyriakidis’ examples are about how companies in that relatively small (economically) region are encouraging new ways of thinking about solving business problems through these sorts of “collisions”.

Addressing the complexity introduced by advancing technology means that we have to invent new methods and tools: he gave the example in industrial complexity where design moved from paper to computer-aided design, then added electronic design automation when the complexity of where to put which chip overwhelmed human capabilities, and now design verification allows for model-based (requirements-driven) design to be validated before more expensive engineering and production begins.

Another example in precision diagnosis and treatment was around data-driven farming, combining computer vision and big data analytics (plus drone delivery of individual plant treatment) to optimize crop yields.

His third example was of integrating and analyzing a variety of data sources about a specific athlete to allow a coach to optimize training and performance for that athlete in their chosen sport.

His main theme of precision diagnosis and treatment — essentially, doing something different for every case based on the context — can be extended in pretty much any industry: consider the attempts by many consumer-facing companies to customize individual customer experiences. Interesting look at companies that are actually doing it.

FinTech panel at ITWC DigitalTransformation 2018

Lynn Elwood, VP Cloud and Services from OpenText, hosted a panel on FinTech to close out the morning at the ITWC digital transformation conference in Toronto. She started with some background on digital transformation in financial services, where there is still a strong focus on cost reduction, but customer engagement has become more important. She included survey results with a somewhat disappointing view on paperless offices, with more than 75% of the respondents saying that they would not be going paperless for as much as five years or maybe never. Never??!! Maybe just not within the career lifetime of the respondents, but c’mon, never? I understand that digital transformation is not the same as content digitization, but if you’re still running on paper, that’s just going to fundamentally limit the degree of your transformation. At the same time, more than 75% were saying that they plan to use AI already or within the short term (hopefully to replace the people who think that they’re never going to be paperless), and most organizations said that they were equal or better than their peers in digital transformation (statistically unlikely). Unintentionally hilarious.

The panel was made up of Michael Ball, CISO Advisor for a number of firms including Freedom Mobile; Amer Matar, CTO of Moneris (a large Canadian payment processor); and Patrick Vice, partner at Insurance-Canada.ca (an industry organization for P&C insurance). Matar talked about how legacy technology holds back companies: existing companies have the advantage of being established incumbents, but newer players (e.g., Square in the payments market) can enter with a completely new business model and no legacy customers or infrastructure to drag along. Vice talked about how companies can combat this by spinning off separate business units to provide a more streamlined digital experience and brand, such as how Economical Insurance did with Sonnet (a project that I had the pleasure of working on last year), which still uses the established insurance organization behind a modern customer experience. Ball stressed that the legacy systems are evolving at a much slower rate than is required for digital transformation, and the new front ends need to go beyond just putting a friendly UI on the old technology: they need to incorporate new services to present a transformed customer experience.

They had an interesting discussion about security, and how moving to digital business models means that companies need to offer a more secure environment for customers. Many people are starting to look at security (such as two-factor authentication) as a competitive differentiator when they are selecting service providers, and while most people wouldn’t now change their bank just because it didn’t provide 2FA, it won’t be long before that is a decision point. It’s not just about cloud versus on-premise, although there are concerns about hosting Canadian customers’ financial data outside Canada, where financial laws (and government access to data) may be different; it’s about an organization’s ability to assure their customer that their information won’t be improperly accessed while offering a highly secure customer-facing portal. There’s a huge spend on security these days, but that needs to settle down as this becomes just baked into the infrastructure rather than an emergency add-on to existing (insecure) systems.

Good discussion, although it points out that it’s still early days for digital transformation in financial services.

Digital government with @AlexBenay at IT World DigitalTransformation 2018

I’ve attended IT World Canada conferences in Toronto before — easy for me to attend as a local, and some interesting content such as Technicity — and today they’re running a digital transformation conference (that oddly, has the hashtag #digitaltransformation as if that were a unique tag).

Alex Benay, CIO of the government of Canada, gave the opening keynote: with $6B/year in IT spend and more than a few high-profile mistakes under their belt that happened before he arrived in the job in early 2017, he has some views on how to do things better. He’s even written a book about digital government, but given that the federal government takes five years to write requirements, he’ll probably be long retired before we know if any of his predictions come true. He talked about some models of digital government, such as Estonia, and how the government of Canada is attempting to integrate their digital services into our everyday lives by partnering with the private sector: think Transport Canada road alerts built into your GM car, or passport renewal and customs forms triggered by an Expedia booking. He admits to a lot of obstacles, including untrained staff in spite of massive training spends, but also many enablers to reaching their goals, such as changing policies around cloud-first deployments. He finished with five core tenents for any government IT moving forward:

  • Open data by default while protecting citizens
  • Collaborate in the open
  • Grow digital talent
  • Change laws/policies to avoid situations like Facebook/Cambridge Analytica
  • Adapt business models to focus only on meeting user needs (procurement, tech management, service design)

Good principles, and I hope that our government can learn to live by them.

AI and BPM: my article for @Bonitasoft on making processes more intelligent

Part of my work as an industry analyst is to write papers and articles (and present webinars), sponsored by vendors, on topics that will be of interest to their clients as well as a broader audience. I typically don’t talk about the sponsor’s products or give them any sort of promotion; it’s intended to be educational thought leadership that will help their clients and prospects to understand the complex technology environment that we work in.

I’ve recently written an article on AI and BPM for Bonitasoft that started from a discussion we had after I contributed articles on adding intelligent technologies to process management to a couple of books, as well as writing here on my blog and giving a few presentations on the topic. From the intro of the article:

In 2016, I was asked to contribute to the Workflow Management Coalition’s book “Best Practices for Knowledge Workers.” My section, “Beyond Checklists”, called for more intelligent adaptive case management to drive innovation while maintaining operational efficiency. By the next year, they published “Intelligent Adaptability,” and I contributed a section called “Machine Intelligence and Automation in ACM [Adaptive Case Management] and BPM” that carried forward these ideas further. Another year on, it’s time to take a look at how the crossover between BPM and artificial intelligence (AI) — indeed, between BPM and a wide range of intelligent technologies — is progressing.

I go on to cover the specific technologies involved and what types of business innovation that we can expect from more intelligent processes. You can read the entire article on Bonita’s website, on their LinkedIn feed and their Medium channel. If you prefer to read it in French, it’s also on the Decideo.fr industry news site, and apparently there’s a Spanish version in the works too.

Integrating process and content for digital transformation: my upcoming webinar

As much as I love chatting with the newer crop of entrepreneurs about their products and ideas, sometimes it’s nice to have a conversation with someone who remembers when OS/2 was the cheapest way to buy 3.5” high density disks. You know who’s been hip-deep in the technology of content and process as long as I have? John Newton, founder and CTO of Alfresco, that’s who. John started Documentum back in 1990, around the time that I was selling off my imaging/workflow product startup and starting my services company, and while he’s stayed on the product side and I’ve stayed on the services/industry analyst side (except for a brief period as FileNet’s BPM evangelist), we’re both focused on how this technology helps companies in their digital transformation journey.

John and I will get together on a webinar about integrating process and content on July 24, sponsored by Alfresco, which will combine structured content with a free-ranging conversation. We’re planning to talk about use cases for applications that integrate process and content, some best practices for designing these applications, and overall architectural considerations for process/content applications including cloud and microservices. Add a comment here or on Twitter if there’s something in particular that you’d like us to discuss, and we’ll see if we can work it in.

I wrote a blog post for Alfresco a couple of months ago on use cases for content in process applications, stressing the importance of integrating process and content rather than leaving them as siloed applications; in general, this is what I’ve seen over the years in my practice as a systems architect and consultant helping organizations to get their content digitized and their processes automated. If you have digital content that’s locked up without any way to take actions on it, or automated processes that still require manual lookups of related content, then you should be thinking about how to integrate process and content. Tune in to our webinar for pointers from a couple of industry gray-hairs.

Integrating your enterprise content with cloud business applications? I wrote a paper on that!

Just because there’s a land rush towards SaaS business applications like Salesforce for some of your business applications, it doesn’t mean that your content and data are all going to be housed on that platform. In reality, you have a combination of cloud applications, cloud content that may apply across several applications, and on-premise content; users end up searching in multiple places for information in order to do a single transaction.

In this paper, sponsored by Intellective (who have a bridging product for enterprise content/data with SaaS business applications), I wrote about some of the architecture and design issues that you need to consider when you’re linking these systems together. Here’s the introduction:

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions provide significant utility and value for standard business applications, including customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management (SCM), human resources (HR), accounting, insurance claims management, and email. These “systems of engagement” provide a modern and agile user experience that guides workers through actions and enables collaboration. However, they rarely replace the core “systems of record”, and don’t provide the range of content services required by most organizations.

This creates an issue when, for example, a customer service worker’s primary environment is Salesforce CRM, but for every Salesforce activity they may also need to access multiple systems of record to update customer files, view regulatory documentation or initiate line-of-business (LOB) processes not supported in Salesforce. The worker spends too much time looking for information, risks missing relevant content in their searches, and may forget to update the same information in multiple systems.

The solution is to integrate enterprise content from the systems of record – data, process and documents – directly with the primary user-facing system of engagement, such that the worker sees a single integrated view of everything required to complete the task at hand. The worker completes their work more efficiently and accurately because they’re not wasting time searching for information; data is automatically updated between systems, reducing data entry effort and errors.

Head on over to get the full paper (registration required).

Summer BPM reading, with dashes of AI, RPA, low-code and digital transformation

Summer always sees a bit of a slowdown in my billable work, which gives me an opportunity to catch up on reading and research across the topic of BPM and other related fields. I’m often asked what blogs and other websites that I read regularly to keep on top of trends and participate in discussions, and here are some general guidelines for getting through a lot of material in a short time.

First, to effectively surf the tsunami of information, I use two primary tools:

  • An RSS reader (Feedly) with a hand-curated list of related sites. In general, if a site doesn’t have an RSS feed, then I’m probably not reading it regularly. Furthermore, if it doesn’t have a full feed – that is, one that shows the entire text of the article rather than a summary in the feed reader – it drops to a secondary list that I only read occasionally (or never). This lets me browse quickly through articles directly in Feedly and see which has something interesting to read or share without having to open the links directly.
  • Twitter, with a hand-curated list of digital transformation-related Twitter users, both individuals and companies. This is a great way to find new sources of information, which I can then add to Feedly for ongoing consumption. I usually use the Tweetdeck interface to keep an eye on my list plus notifications, but rarely review my full unfiltered Twitter feed. That Twitter list is also included in the content of my Paper.li “Digital Transformation Daily”, and I’ve just restarted tweeting the daily link.

Second, the content needs to be good to stay on my lists. I curate both of these lists manually, constantly adding and culling the contents to improve the quality of my reading material. If your blog posts are mostly promotional rather than informative, I remove them from Feedly; if you tweet too much about politics or your dog, you’ll get bumped off the DX list, although probably not unfollowed.

Third, I like to share interesting things on Twitter, and use Buffer to queue these up during my morning reading so that they’re spread out over the course of the day rather than all in a clump. To save things for a more detailed review later as part of ongoing research, I use Pocket to manually bookmark items, which also syncs to my mobile devices for offline reading, and an IFTTT script to save all links that I tweet into a Google sheet.

You can take a look at what I share frequently through Twitter to get an idea of the sources that I think have value; in general, I directly @mention the source in the tweet to help promote their content. Tweeting a link to an article – and especially inclusion in the auto-curated Paper.li Digital Transformation Daily – is not an endorsement: I’ll add my own opinion in the tweet about what I found interesting in the article.

Time to kick back, enjoy the nice weather, and read a good blog!

AlfrescoDay 2018: digital business platform and a whole lot of AWS

I attended Alfresco’s analyst day and a customer day in New York in late March, and due to some travel and project work, just finding time to publish my notes now. Usually I do that while I’m at the conference, but part of the first day was under NDA so I needed to think about how to combine the two days of information.

The typical Alfresco customer is still very content-centric, in spite of the robust Alfresco Process Services (formerly Activiti) offering that is part of their platform, with many of their key success stories presented at the conference were based on content implementations and migrations from ECM competitors such as Documentum. In a way, this is reminiscent of the FileNet conferences of 20 years ago, when I was talking about process but almost all of the customers were only interested in content management. What moves this into a very modern discussion, however, is the focus on Alfresco’s cloud offerings, especially on Amazon AWS.

First, though, we had a fascinating keynote by Sangeet Paul Choudary — and received a copy of his book Platform Scale: How an emerging business model helps startups build large empires with minimum investment — on how business models are shifting to platforms, and how this is disrupting many traditional businesses. He explained how supply-side economies of scale, machine learning and network effects are allowing online platforms like Amazon to impact real-world industries such as logistics. Traditional businesses in telecom, financial services, healthcare and many other verticals are discovering that without a customer-centric platform approach rather than a product approach, they can’t compete with the newer entrants into the market that build platforms, gather customer data and make service-based partnerships through open innovation. Open business models are particularly important, and striking the right balance between an open ecosystem and maintaining control over the platform through key control points. He finished up with a digital transformation roadmap: gaining efficiences through digitization; then using data collected in the first stage while integrating flows across the enterprise to create one view of the ecosystem; and finally externalizing and harnessing value flows in the ecosystem. This last stage, externalization, is particularly critical, since opening the wrong control points can kills you business or stifle open growth.

This was a perfect lead-in to Chris Wiborg’s (Alfresco’s VP of product marketing) presentation on Alfresco’s partnership with Amazon and the tight integration of many AWS services into the Alfresco platform: leveraging Amazon’s open platform to build Alfresco’s platform. This partnership has given this conference in particular a strong focus on cloud content management, and we are hearing more about their digitial business platform that is made up of content, process and governance services. Wiborg started off talking about the journey from (content) digitization to digital business (process and content) to digital transformation (radically improving performance or reach), and how it’s not that easy to do this particularly with existing systems that favor on-premise monolithic approaches. A (micro-) service approach on cloud platforms changes the game, allowing you to build and modify faster, and deploy quickly on a secure elastic infrastructure. This is what Alfresco is now offering, through the combination of open source software, integration of AWS services to expand their portfolio of capabilities, and automated DevOps lifecycle.

This brings a focus back to process, since their digital business platform is often sold process-first to enable cross-departmental flows. In many cases, process and content are managed by different groups within large companies, and digital transformation needs to cut across both islands of functionality and islands of technology.

They are promoting the idea that differentiation is built and not bought, with the pendulum swinging back from buy toward build for the portions of your IT that contribute to your competitive differentiation. In today’s world, for many businesses, that’s more than just customer-facing systems, but digs deep into operational systems as well. In businesses that have a large digital footprint, I agree with this, but have to caution that this mindset makes it much too easy to go down the rabbit hole of building bespoke systems — or having someone build them for you — for standard, non-differentiating operations such as payroll systems.

Alfresco has gone all-in with AWS. It’s not just a matter of shoving a monolithic code base into a Docker container and running it on EC2, which how many vendors claim AWS support: Alfresco has a much more integrated microservices approach that provides the opportunity to use many different AWS services as part of an Alfresco implementation in the AWS Cloud. This allows you to build more innovative solutions faster, but also can greatly reduce your infrastructure costs by moving content repositories to the cloud. They have split out services such as Amazon S3 (and soon Glacier) for storage services, RDS/Aurora for database services, SNS for notification, security services, networking services, IoT via Alexa, Rekognition for AI, etc. Basically, a big part of their move to microservices (and extending capabilities) is by externalizing to take advantage of Amazon-offered services. They’re also not tied to their own content services in the cloud, but can provide direct connections to other cloud content services, including Box, SharePoint and Google Drive.

We heard from Tarik Makota, an AWS solution architect from Amazon, about how Amazon doesn’t really talk about private versus public cloud for enterprise clients. They can provide the same level of security as any managed hosting company, including private connections between their data centers and your on-premise systems. Unlike other managed hosting companies, however, Amazon is really good at near-instantaneous elasticity — both expanding and contracting — and provides a host of other services within that environment that are directly consumed by Alfresco and your applications, such as Amazon RDS for Aurora, a variety of AI services, serverless step functions. Alfresco Content Services and Process Services are both available as AWS QuickStarts, allowing for full production deployment in a highly-available, highly-redundant environment in the geographic region of your choice in about 45 minutes.

Quite a bit of food for thought over the two days, including their insights into common use cases for Alfresco and AI in content recognition and classification, and some of their development best practices for ensuring reusability across process and content applications built on a flexible modern architecture. Although Alfresco’s view of process is still quite content-centric (naturally), I’m interested to see where they take the entire digital business platformin the future.

Also great to see a month later that Bernadette Nixon, who we met at the Chief Revenue Officer at the event, has moved up to the CEO position. Congrats!

All of the bpmNEXT video coverage

I was scrolling through some of my unread RSS feeds and saw Kris Verlaenen’s posts about last month’s bpmNEXT conference: like me, he was live-blogging the event. However, he also went back and added in each of the videos for the presentation to his posts – nice touch!

His posts:

You can also go to the bpmNEXT YouTube channel and see all of the videos including those from previous years, and read my coverage of the event here.