The c-suite conductor: Why you need a ‘symphonic enterprise’
Strategic Planning

The c-suite conductor: Why you need a ‘symphonic enterprise’

The demands of an increasingly disrupted and disruptive digital space mean that keeping up can be daunting. It is no longer enough to invest in a domain-specific strategy that focuses on one technological disruption. Now, according to a report by Deloitte [PDF], companies need to think about how disruptive technologies can work together to achieve larger strategic and operational goals. The result is the symphonic enterprise, an idea that describes strategy, technology, and operations working together, in harmony, across domains and boundaries.

Sounds good, right? But how do you leverage multiple digital technologies not only simultaneously but in harmony so that each technology complements the other to further business goals?

Hugh Owen, SVP of Product Marketing at MicroStrategy, says: “No organization today is immune from the need to quickly evolve. Outside pressures—whether they stem from competition, regulation, the market, or technology itself—continuously push and pull organizations in a direction and space where they must be willing to compete. As a result, many companies are on the path to becoming the symphonic enterprise, or as MicroStrategy calls it, the intelligent enterprise.”

Tim Ng, the COO of Now Healthcare Group (NHG), believes that their approach is helping to make Now Healthcare that kind of workplace. He explains that transformational projects have always been domain specific, technology only as a facilitator i.e., cloud, big data, analytics.

Ng says this has always been a fallacy, leading to more work required as teams resist change due to lack of involvement. “Within NHG we have teams that take a holistic approach to operations, there are no independent areas, all are related and needed to deliver our projects and services,” he says.

“Data and the ability to share data is key to digital health in the future – we are researching a number of key technologies as foundations to become the leader in digital health. We are not looking into them as pure facilitators but as drivers of transformative change within and without with all disciplines involved.”

He adds that while blockchain and AI are two key buzzwords in the technology arena, their importance if anything is understated. He believes that to reach their true potential will require a change in thinking and true partnerships internally and external to the business.

What is blockchain? What’s the state of the vendor market? And does it biggest potential lie in securing the Internet of Things? Find out in: A c-suite guide to blockchain

“Blockchain can drive trust relationships but will require partnerships or even open source to drive true adoption and help break us from the continual cycle of archaic, recycled architectural practices,” Ng says. “AI is less an external collaborative pursuit but the impact is no less important, able to help us break through the chains imposed by data. All enterprises are focused on control, consistency and predictability.

“This may all seem the same as the traditional top down enterprise approach but where we differ is in the implementation,” he says. Breakout groups are involved in all the above to deliver a project and all have the ability to influence; agility and delivery are the focus. Technology drives process and consistency; operations reduces risk.

“All work in a defined framework, all outcomes are identified and planned for. Having all the necessary skills and outlook together means that we have a distributed approach that also includes grey IT – third parties identified by business teams,” he adds.

Ng explains that the approach is similar to the evolution of martial arts. “Each specific art — Shaolin, Tae Kwon Do, boxing – are all specific disciplines each influenced by their cultures and environments. MMA combines all disciplines to deliver one outcome. Each artist utilizes them in different ways, but the aim is to become more effective – the artist is the embodiment of a team bringing all disciplines together to deliver an outcome.”


What is a symphonic approach to technology?  

A symphonic approach, Ng says, is similar, taking all disciplines and teaching them to work together and deliver strategic repeatable outcomes. Knowing how they fit in the greater scheme, when they need to engage and disengage at the optimum time. “One thing that doesn’t change is the importance of communication. Decision making is situational and owned by each team. The driver is not me or the board, but data. Data is the composition and score.”

Ng says that each team provides a piece of the strategy and his role as COO is to identify the parts and deliver the outcomes at the right time, in the right order and place. “I set the tempo, the board the composition and score, teams the harmony and music,” he says

Owen of MicroStrategy says his company has always believed in the promise of an intelligent enterprise and has created a playbook that offers a collection of technologies and techniques to help organizations leverage existing investments and navigate toward a successful data-driven organization. “In fact, we have seen our broad ecosystem of customers and partners successfully reap the benefits of our intelligent enterprise playbook. Based on these experiences, we created a ‘Map of the Intelligent Enterprise’,” he says.

Owen explains that the most successful organizations will be the ones that embrace a cohesive framework to leverage all the different intelligence assets and deliver powerful analytics and mobility solutions across the enterprise. 

In its ninth annual Tech Trends Report, Deloitte states: “When technologies act in unison, we no longer see the enterprise vertically or horizontally. In the symphonic enterprise, the old lines become blurred, thus creating a diagonal view that illuminates new business opportunities and creative ways of solving the most complex problems.”

Patricia DuChene, Vice President of Sales, GM EMEA at Wrike, points out that corporate digital transformation has been ongoing for over 20 years now, with fast moving digital brands such as AirBnB and Uber putting enormous pressure on other businesses to compete. To do so, DuChene believes that these other businesses must learn from the trailblazers.

“Their key to success is the ability to resonate with consumers through the personalization of products and services, and they make it happen efficiently by using automation,” she says.

For DuChene, a successful digital business requires operational excellence to thrive, which means its teams need to design scalable, repeatable processes and execute them flawlessly for every order, every time. The workers that deliver these products must know the priority of every job, the status of every deliverable, and the location of every asset they need. “Knowledge workers today must have a mind-set of continuous improvement so that they can continue to deliver, even as they become successful enough to outgrow their capacity,” she adds.

DuChene believes that, for an enterprise, deploying such changes is both a technological and a cultural challenge. From a technology standpoint, organizations need a single-source-of-truth to store data about their projects, so that workers can access the information they need on demand to execute work without having to ask or wait for it from others.

“Businesses also need systems that can automate repeatable work, to increase team capacity and allow them to focus on growth and strategy. Culturally, leaders need to value collaboration and transparency, and commit to operational excellence at every level,” she says.

Andy Peart, the CMO of Artificial Solutions, uses how they have navigated their focus on conversational AI as an example. “It is a key component and face of AI – that is the UI between man and machine. Indeed, by 2020, conversational AI will be as critical to enterprises as their websites are today,” he says. Despite this, though, Peart is quick to point out that it is only a component. 


How can you build a symphonic enterprise?

“You do need to build a symphonic enterprise by combining and integrating multiple digital technologies. In this AI industry specifically, it’s like peeling an onion.  At the heart, you have the conversational AI platform – the bit that reasons/reacts/responds in a meaningful manner when there is a user query,” he explains. 

“The next layer is associated technologies – things like ASR (automatic speech recognition), TTS (text to speech) and integrations with web services and backend systems – to round out the solution. It's further built out by enhancing the biometrics, authentication, and so on. Finally, the RPA (robotic process automation) elements – the bits that work out a relevant response are completed and everything is needed to work in harmony – or should I say symphony!”

Peart adds that it is important not to forget the human dimension, as, even with AI, people will still play a key role. This is reflected in Deloitte’s report, which notes the importance of “humans and machines in one loop, collaborating in roles and new talent models.”

Dave Aron, Global Research Director at Leading Edge Forum, warns against “painting digital lipstick on the analogue pig”, trying to get some value from some digital technologies without changing much. Digital transformation needs to be a priority. He says that there still is not enough digital savvy at the top table to think through the digital opportunities and threats. “It is still the case that most large organizations don’t have enough digitally savvy board members,” he says.

Aron also believes that decision-making and oversight bodies and mechanisms, and enterprise scorecards and measurement systems, don’t consider digital early enough or sufficiently. Similarly, organization structure, operations and change management mechanisms are often not agile enough to evolve in the face of new digital possibilities.

“Both the organization as a whole, and the individuals within it, are often not sufficiently skilled or motivated to spend time sensing, listening, learning and diffusing that learning,” he says.

“If you take a look at these frameworks, despite the fact that the context and goal is to help organizations win in an increasingly digital world, the vast majority of these frameworks focus on mind-set, skills, financial management mechanisms, strategy, structure and culture that are needed to deliver on the promise.”

An integrated strategic view that brings together technology, business and operations is at the heart of what Deloitte describes as the symphonic enterprise. The report notes the potential of a range of technologies that can be used strategically to drive this transformation.

“Blockchain can serve as a new foundational protocol for trust throughout the enterprise and beyond. Cognitive technologies make automated response possible across all enterprise domains. Digital reality breaks down geographic barriers between people, and systemic barriers between humans and data. Together, these technologies can fundamentally reshape how work gets done, or set the stage for new products and business models,” the report says.

To meet the demands of an increasingly disrupted and disruptive ecosystem, the c-suite need to look to integrated approaches to creating organizations that seamlessly leverage disparate technologies in symphonic ways.


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Bianca Wright

Bianca Wright is a UK-based freelance business and technology writer, who has written for publications in the UK, the US, Australia and South Africa. She holds an MPhil in science and technology journalism and a DPhil in Media Studies.

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