In his new book, “Seeing Digital,” Leading Edge Forum research fellow David Moschella explores digital transformation in the post-cloud era and how it will affect organizations, industries and careers. In this Q/A, Moschella discusses the book, replatforming, “The Matrix,” platform organizations and the future of enterprise IT.
Q: What is your definition of digital transformation?
A: In our new book, “Seeing Digital,” we stress that industry language tends to change for a reason, and there is much to be learned by understanding why words such as internet, web, cloud and platform have taken hold at various times. The same is true for “digital transformation.” The increasing popularity of this phrase today speaks to the perceived need of large organizations to become “digital first.” In such organizations, modern IT systems essentially bypass traditional geographic and functional structures by providing both customers and employees with an integrated, intuitive and largely self-service online experience, thereby becoming the dominant operating model of the firm.
The biggest transformation challenges today are those of migration and replatforming.
Q: What is the biggest challenge to digital transformation facing companies today?
A: The biggest transformation challenges today are those of migration and replatforming. Over the years, large organizations have built up a labyrinth of overlapping systems, databases, applications, processes and security systems that have tended to mirror the firm’s organizational history and silos. Migrating all of this legacy, but often mission-critical, work to a shared set of modern digital platforms requires a sustained, multiyear commitment. It also requires deep technical and architectural leadership, with the full support of senior management.
Q: Talk about the post-cloud era and how it has evolved to what you call “The Matrix.”
A: The technology environment of the 2020s will be increasingly pervasive, embedded, aware and autonomous. Does this sound like a cloud? We have labeled this emerging post-cloud era “The Matrix,” partly because of the famous movie with its machine intelligence and virtual worlds, but mostly because of the rows-and-columns nature of matrix mathematics, a fundamental machine intelligence building block. In this metaphor, the matrix columns are the traditional vertical industry stacks, while the matrix rows are the powerful cross-industry services from Amazon, Facebook, Salesforce, Microsoft, Apple, Google, et al. The opportunities and tensions created by these colliding vertical and horizontal worlds will define the technology dynamics of the 2020s. The book has a number of images that help readers see this graphically.
Q: What do you mean by companies becoming “platform organizations”?
A: In the IT industry, the word “platform” has long been used to describe just about anything that others can build on top of. But we think there are two reasons why this word is popular today. First, the word “platform” is now strongly associated with the winner-take-all nature of many internet markets. For example, Amazon (retail), Google (search) and Microsoft (PCs) control the dominant platforms in their respective spaces. Who wouldn’t want to be more like them?
More recently, leading digital companies have also managed to harness the power of the crowd. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Uber, Airbnb and YouTube are essentially enablers; their value comes mostly from the content and services their customers provide on top of what is basically a neutral technology platform. Here, the use of the word “platform” is mostly a way of saying that your firm wants to better leverage the energy and capabilities of its customers and ecosystem. Again, who doesn’t?
The technology environment of the 2020s will be increasingly pervasive, embedded, aware and autonomous. Does this sound like a cloud?
Q: What is the future of enterprise IT?
A: For those IT organizations that become true digital leaders in their firms and help their companies embrace 21st century data-driven operations, the outlook is bright. But succeeding in this role requires embracing the coming wave of new technologies — machine intelligence, speech/voice recognition, algorithmic operations, blockchains, sensors/internet of things (IoT), augmented realities, cyber security and more. Unfortunately, for those IT organizations whose role remains mostly limited to back-office systems and infrastructure, the outlook won’t be nearly so rosy, as much of this work will migrate to business partners, software-as-a-service vendors, public cloud infrastructure and similar offerings.
Q: Why did you call the book Seeing Digital?
A: The book’s title has two roots. Most important, the book is done in a highly visual format, with each page presenting a visual concept, framework, checklist or similar image. This is a format we have used for many years, and our clients tell us it provides an easier and more impactful reading experience. But the title also echoes Nicholas Negroponte’s 1995 classic, “Being Digital.” That book was one of the most influential works of the early internet years, and providing a similar sense of the 2020s is certainly something we have aspired to.
Find more inspiration from “Seeing Digital” here.
David Moschella is a research fellow at the Leading Edge Forum, where he explores the global business impact of internet technologies, with a particular focus on disruptive business models, industry restructuring and machine intelligence. He was previously the LEF’s global research director. In addition to Seeing Digital, David has authored two earlier books — Waves of Power (Amacom, 1997) and Customer-Driven IT (Harvard Business School Press, 2003). Previously, he was head of worldwide research for IDC, the largest market analysis firm in the IT industry. David lives in Boston, MA.