What Shapes My Thinking: Digital Operating Model & Technology Strategy

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As a CTO & Chief Architect, what shapes my thinking on operating model design & technology strategy for the modern digital world? I shared some of my insights when I recently spoke at the Executive Leaders (CIO, CMO, CXO) Network Event earlier in the week. Here is a brief summary of my thoughts…

Amitabh Apte, Chief Technology Officer, Reckitt Benckiser Group, Amit.Apte@rb.com

Amitabh will be speaking at the Enterprise Architecture & Business Process Management Conference Europe 2017, 16-19 October, on the topic ‘Accelerating Digital Transformation Using Enterprise Architecture‘. This article was previously published here.

Organisation Internal Influencing Factors

  • Dynamics of the Multi-Brand Portfolio – Designing technology strategy and solutions for single brand or service company vs. a multi-brand portfolio is a completely different ball game. Digital technology solutions do not always scale across a local vs global brand neither do they offer right functionality richness and fit. This dictates a hybrid architecture approach to achieve the balance across the portfolio. One CRM may be architecturally pure but not practical in this scenario.
  • Market Demands & Geography Variations – Digital solutions for large, mature and sophisticated markets may prove to be slow, expensive and too “enterprisy” for smaller, more dynamic and less-organised markets. Be prepared to create “light” versions of your enterprise solutions to cater to smaller / faster markets.
  • Organisation Culture – If consumer is the king then the internal organisation culture is the army which serves him. You simply can’t ignore the importance and influence of your organisation culture on your operating model and strategy decisions. I have worked in both, a fast-paced, dynamic FTSE 10 CPG business which is not shy from making quick decisive decisions and a large global corporate alliance structure which is run by consensus and collaboration of members. Easier to say that the rhythm, pace, considerations and dimensions of operating model and strategy were radically different for these successful enterprises.
  • Financial Performance & Commercial Drivers – Probably a straightforward argument, the operating model and strategy needs to be firmly grounded in realities and expectations from the financial performance and the commercial objectives. A fast paced, short to medium focused business simply will not have patience for a strategy which delivers only at the end of five year planning cycle. In this scenario probably a more agile and nimble-footed strategy to target quick and early wins may make more sense. E.g. release a few APIs early to target quick business returns.

Organisation External Influencing Factors

  • Changing Consumer Dynamics – In today’s digital economic world, consumer is expecting responses with the benchmark of Amazon prime, Apple Appstore updates and Mobile based CRM. Speed and agility is increasingly becoming a hygiene factor of doing business not just a nice to have attribute. Your tech strategy needs to accelerate the business and not slow it down.
  • Modern but Mature Digital Technology Trends – Major trends from 2000-2010 such as Social Media based interactions, Mobile Payments, Smart devices, Personalisation, eCRM, Cloud computing, SaaS all are mainstream now and they have to form the cornerstone of technology strategy going forward.
  • New Disruptive Technology Trends – IOT and linked devices, everyday use A.I are already going mainstream faster than we anticipated. Amazon Push, Google Home, Amazon Echo are all here and catching consumer imagination. Blockchain is on the verge of transformation traditional B2B transactions. Any forward looking Digital Technology Strategy has to take these into account and think of ways to embed them in Digital Operating Model and future supply-chains.
  • Startups & New-Age Unicorns – AirBNB and Uber have simply rewritten the rules of doing business and given a new edge to startup ecosystem. Tomorrow’s competition is not just going to come from your traditional competitors but may arrive from new startups which may not be born yet. How do you design the operating model and strategy to make your large global enterprises agile, nimble and responsive to such dynamic market forces.

Key Enterprise Architecture Principles which Shape My Thinking…

  • Business Architecture: Top Business Capabilities and Business Process bench-marking is key to determining the Target State Definition. We often jump to technology solutions without fully understanding the business requirements and the expected business outcomes. Right Technology delivering on wrong requirements is wrong technology. Ignore Business Architecture at your own risk!
  • Application Architecture: Simplify & rationalise diverse Application portfolio complexity as much as possible. Decommissioning legacy must be linked to each and every new technology investment business case. Please don’t add new applications without retiring the one which is being replaced or superseded.
  • Data & Information Architecture: Big Data is good but it’s the Business Insights & Analytics Outcomes which matter to the business decision making. Operational Data Store (ODS), Data Lakes, In-memory Data Appliances are all good and effective but focus on what business decision value they provide and accelerate differentiation.
  • Infrastructure Architecture: Cloud is now mainstream so embrace the Cloud Operating Model but where it makes sense. Cloud is not always cheaper and better though. What is the point of diverting large message payloads back and forth between on-premise legacy, ERP & SaaS applications when bulk of back-office data crunching and processing in on-premise?
  • Integration Architecture: Do not underestimate the efforts, time and money lost due to bad Integration. On-premise (ESB), Cloud (iPaaS), APIs, Event-driven, Message Oriented, and so on..use whatever makes sense. Optimise the Integration tools as much as possible. I am a big fan of Hybrid Integration concept and I believe that in large, distributed, modern Digital business, we have no option but to design patterns for Hybrid Integration. As much as possible, wrap up your legacy, ERP, back-office systems in modern API layers and expose these APIs to your third parties, suppliers, partners etc. Your resource constrained back-office will bless you and your Digital Marketeers will be your biggest fans for unlocking your legacy assets!
  • Technology Standards and Governance: Yes this is probably boring but a must have if you were to build technology solutions in a much more predictable fashion with focus on reuse of assets and probably quicker time to market with better quality. Establishing a technology review board and getting the tech design reviews embedded as part of the project / program lifecycle and stage gate process is probably one the first outcomes I would target when setting the digital operating model.
  • and finally don’t forget….Build People and Team Capabilities: We often forget we are in people business and not just technology business. We simply won’t succeed by building great architecture components while ignoring developing our real assets which is our people, our teams. I am a big fan of mentoring, coaching and developing our people while delivering above assets. Enable and empower your technical architects to have business architecture, Information architecture conversations. Offer opportunities to lead on crucial programs, learn and grow for mature conversations both internally and externally.

Amitabh is a Global CTO with 17 years of Technology Leadership experience across FMCG, Financial Services, Airlines, Retail and Logistics industries. He specialises in delivering Business Transformation underpinned by Strategy, Operating Model, Tech Roadmaps based on Digital & Ecommerce, Big Data, API-led Integration and IT Investment Governance.  He is currently the CTO at the FMCG / CPG giant Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc. His current focus areas are Cloud Integration, Big Data and Digital Enablement, Global ERP rollout and Legacy Modernisation. He also runs their Global Technology Governance Board and the Integration Competency Centre (ICC).  Prior to Reckitt Benckiser, Amitabh has played a range of roles such as CTO, Chief Architect, Outsourcing Management and Software Engineering at a number of large global organisations such as, Deutsche Bank, Home Retail Group, Fujitsu, SITA, Star Alliance and Adidas.  He holds MS Computer Science and MBA degrees and is a TOGAF and Zachman certified Enterprise Architect. Follow him on Twitter at @amitabhapte

Copyright Amitabh Apte, Chief Technology Officer, Reckitt Benckiser Group

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