The 5 levels of a Digital Business Ecosystem

In this article, Jaco Viljoen discusses the five levels of a digital business ecosystem (DBE), He explores the idea that “choice is good because context counts.” The five levels, each with its own set of capabilities that build one on top of another, are: waterfall/traditional, hybrid Agile (a combination of waterfall and Agile), regular delivery, continuous delivery, and continuous exploration. The five DBEs provide insight into which process-building blocks to apply. Viljoen also discusses using a framework to achieve business agility at scale. Download the full article here:

Business agility is the goal of nearly every enterprise today, but it is proving an exceedingly difficult one to achieve. The already complex undertaking is made more so by the plethora of choices in the diversity of frameworks and methodologies pushed by pundits, vendors, consultancies, and industry researchers. This complexity emphasizes that we must be able to define business agility before we try to achieve it. Knowing what it is helps provide the destination to which we can attach our point of departure and, ultimately, leads to a roadmap of how we can move from the current state to the desired state.

5 DBE Levels on the Road to Business Agility

The good news is that figuring out what choice to make from the potential minefield of complexity becomes easier when you have a standard by which to assess your current level of business agility based on specific indicators. 
As shown in Figure 1, there are five DBE levels (each with its own set of capabilities that build one on top of another):

  1. Waterfall/traditional (the lowest level of agility)

  2. Hybrid Agile (a combination of waterfall and Agile)

  3. Regular delivery

  4. Continuous delivery

  5. Continuous exploration (the highest level of agility, which hints at that moving goal mentioned earlier)

Using the 5 Ecosystems to Guide

Your Enterprise Improvement And now to the meat of the matter: how do you use these five ecosystems to help improve business agility? First, you must know that each DBE has seven clusters of capabilities (refer to Figure 1):

  1. Business agility mindset

  2. Collaboration

  3. Flow/lifecycle

  4. Delivery

  5. Adaptation (meaning responsiveness or sense and respond)

  6. Value

  7. Continuous improvement


Automation is a key component for Digital Transformation

In today's customer-centric business environment, automation is seen to be one of the keys to delivering superior service, says Jaco Viljoen, agile consultant, IndigoCube.

I have previously explored why and how the principles of lean-agile software development influence the way businesses work when they aspire to be digital. Something of the same nature is evident when we consider automation – again, the principles changing software development influence how the overall business process architecture is structured and realised.

Automation is a hot topic because it offers the promise of optimising what humans don't do well: repetitive tasks. Human shortcomings in this area are behind many of the poor customer experiences we have all suffered that destroy brand loyalty.

Take the common example of buying a new cellphone only to be told: "Sorry, we only have stock of white – there was a rush on these phones yesterday," even though you ordered a black one. The store clearly relied on a human clerk to match what phones were on order with available stock who allowed pre-ordered phones to be sold. Humans do this poorly. Software does it well.

The problem with this business process is that it was only partly automated. Doubtless the contract activation triggered an automatic order delivered to the shop. But it appears the stock-holding system was disconnected from the customer management system, so the item on the shelf was not automatically flagged as taken.

Automating each of these discrete processes obviously yields benefit, but islands of automation, partly automated processes, must connect because it is the human intervention that breaks processes and results in poor customer service.

IT departments have always confronted this challenge as they struggle to deploy solutions quickly and accurately. That led to the DevOps movement, which aims to connect development process to operations.

There are many tools, such as CA Automic, that can bridge the gaps between existing automation islands to create completely automated processes. Complete automation maximises the benefits of previous automation investments to fully digitalise companies to perfectly repeat essential tasks with the minimum of mistakes. And that releases humans to focus on their strengths: creative thinking and problem solving.

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To become a truly digital enterprise, organisations have to find ways of allowing the principles of software development to influence the business process architecture of the organisation as a whole. That, however, is easier said than done. By Jaco Viljoen, Agile Consultant, IndigoCube

In my previous blog, I argued that software has become the principal way in which a digital enterprise turns its strategy into business processes that are nimble enough to respond to an ever-changing market. Excellence in software development is thus a key driver of corporate success.

One of the key software development techniques for the Digital Age is Agile, and these days, most companies have one or more Agile projects on the go. However, as time goes by, they come to realise that they face the challenge of how to scale the Agile way of doing things across the whole enterprise, and pull the business and software development teams into alignment. Failure to accomplish this is the reason that so many organisations fail to become truly digital, and thus do not realise the benefits they were expecting.

Luckily, it is also likely that an organisation will also have some Lean projects on the go. Lean derives from manufacturing and aims to minimise waste without compromising productivity. At the highest level, it does this by focusing on what adds value to customers. A Lean enterprise tends to be one that creates products in response to customer orders instead of building products in advance and carrying them in inventory.

In many ways, then, Lean’s relationship to manufacturing mirrors Agile’s with software development. Both are ultimately concerned with creating processes that deliver what the business needs reliably and without wasting time and money.

Scaling Agile

However, unlike Agile, Lean was developed in the crucible of mass production (most famously at Toyota). Lean is very good at combining various value streams to produce a product desired by a customer. As a result, we are increasingly seeing leading companies using Lean vocabulary and principles to connect the work of the various Agile teams to produce the required product.

Lean’s concept of Kaizen (continuous improvement) is also changing the way that Agile is practised. Both the product and the process used to produce it are continuously improved.

Lean and Agile go together and should be seen as complementary: Lean-Agile. Like everything in the digital world, this marriage is one that is always evolving, but already frameworks like SAFe for Lean Enterprises and Disciplined Agile 2.0 have been developed to provide a way to integrate Lean and Agile.

A final word. Lean-Agile should be seen less as a set of actions to be taken, and more as guiding principles to enable an organisation to identify and achieve value. It is necessary to understand what Lean and Agile are attempting to do, and then how the two can work together. It is not an end in itself, but a way of achieving the desired end goal. As such, it is the fundamental skill to enable the digital enterprise.

Next time, I will continue looking at the next essential skill for enabling the digital enterprise.

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Ceasefire between dev and ops for a digital enterprise

by Jaco Viljoen, Principal consultant for Digital Enterprise

In my previous three articles, I covered what the digital enterprise actually is (because it seems everyone has their own definition), how lean-agile is the digital enterprise's skeleton and nervous system, and how automation is one of the keys to becoming a digital organisation, says Jaco Viljoen, agile consultant at IndigoCube.

They're a logical progression through the stages to mature a digital enterprise. But you can only mature when two opposing parties in your business realise they must find common ground. They must relinquish selfish motives to enrich or empower their own fiefdoms within the larger business. They must collaborate so the business itself can survive at all.

On one hand are the development teams (bringing new ideas and systems and opportunities to the business people – essentially change), opposed – on the other – by the operations teams (trying to meet customer demands with a suitably stable environment).

Perhaps that context makes it clearer why I say DevOps must become a philosophy that embraces collaborative culture, continuity and automation. That's a mouthful, so I'll break it down quickly.

By philosophy, I mean how you think, your morals, values, principles, your view of the world, how you think things should be done; often, what people mean when they say, "we should all be on the same page," or "pulling together".

Collaboration's a little more obvious – we need the opposing sides to collaborate – for the good of the business and ultimately the customer.

Continuity? Competition in the market demands that we do not wait for big projects to be completed anymore. We must deliver value to our customers continuously and on demand.

Automation is key to enable collaboration and continuity in the digital organisation. Manual work is slow and error-prone and results in fire-fighting and unnecessary rework.

There's often a seesaw or pendulum between the outcomes the two sides seek. Sometimes the ops guys are in the lead and they have a stable environment with little change in which to meet their customer needs. Nearly everyone's happy, including customers, but the development guys are sad because they can't create all the new stuff that will ultimately make customers happy and therefore generate more revenue.

And sometimes the development guys are in the lead and nearly everyone's happy because customers are getting the new stuff they want to keep them shelling out their hard-earned cash, and the development guys have all their new toys but the operations guys are sad because they don't like this change that disrupts their daily toil trying to make targets.

What we want is to replace the seesaw or pendulum with a lift that sees both sides gain. This becomes possible by giving each team what they want and need and we help them to elevate their outcomes so they're both simultaneously happy. Breaking down the barriers between the two, the silos that separate them, gets them pulling towards the same business goal: satisfying customers in a digitalised, disrupted world. But it means each side must give a little.

One benefit is the highly prized business agility. The second is speed to market. Being agile means gaining the ability to pivot when your radar spots a new threat. Speed to market means getting there in the six months or less it'll take your nimble competitor.

In the old days, we thought: "Big fish eats little fish." Today, we think clever: "Fast fish eats slow fish." The digital age removes the barriers to entry so anyone can compete with you if they harness the right systems in the right way. You need to do the same thing.

Digitalising must encapsulate lean-agile (as a means of gaining the right systems, quickly) and automation (as a means of employing those systems to the benefit of your workforce and your customers).

The industry is slowly getting to this point. There are pockets of goodness out there, like the islands of automation, but we must stitch them together so they're seamless, from end-to-end, the golden threads uniting our organisations for the customer's benefit. Those that do will be unstoppable.


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The applicaton of Digital Technology is 'digital'

Many companies don't really understand what "digital" actually means – or, more importantly, what capabilities they need to prosper in a digital economy. In this first of a series of articles on digital, we build an understanding of what digital means to your business. By Jaco Viljoen, Agile Consultant, IndigoCube

Broadly speaking, "digital" refers to the application of digital technology to all aspects of human society, including business. According to Wikipedia, one passes through three stages on the path towards becoming digital: digital competence, digital usage and, finally, digital transformation.

It's important to keep this progression in mind because the goal is transformation. Digital may begin with the drive to acquire the necessary skills and then to apply them to the existing business, but the ultimate aim is to do things differently – true transformation. When this happens, new value is unlocked and the business may even change direction, sometimes quite markedly, says Jaco Viljoen, Agile Consultant at IndigoCube.

For example, consider Amazon. It began by using digital technologies to streamline and improve a long-standing business model, selling books. Over the years, having become adept at digital skills and pushing them into every facet of the business, it has now become something rather different: a sales and marketing platform par excellence, and a fulfilment specialist. Along the way, it has become a pioneer of drone technology and of digital marketing and customer service. Amazon no longer really means books, but a certain style of Internet commerce.

In my view, the digital enterprise falls into two distinct parts. One is the strategic, the other is the engine room, in which the foundational digital capabilities are created and launched. At the strategic level, executives are focused on rethinking how to use the company's digital capabilities to improve current processes, but also how to use them to create new value propositions to both existing and new markets. Ultimately, digital is about unlocking growth for the digital enterprise.

It's all about the software...

In a very real sense, then, the digital enterprise is its software. Strategy is vital, as always, but now, for the first time, putting it into action is fundamentally dependent on applications in a way it never was before. 
Because the digital enterprise is wholly dependent on its software, and the apps it develops are the way it transacts with customers and business partners, they have to be of a high quality as well.
Thus, the engine room of the digital enterprise is the development team, which has to develop and run the software needed to deliver value to customers.
One additional point: the digital world demands speed. The development team thus need to be able to respond to customer demands and new market opportunities rapidly.
In short, excellence in software development has become as critical to success as strategic insight. Does your company have the necessary development capabilities to excel in a digital economy?
Having established what the digital enterprise is, and understood the key role of software development in enabling it, we now move onto considering the eight key capabilities it needs to enable the digital enterprise.

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