Welcome everyone to episode 44 of the HSO Dynamics matters podcast.
Your regular sonic dive into the world of Microsoft technology related matters and much more besides.
I’m your host Michael Lonnon and in this episode, I took a trip around Manhattan Island with HSO Cloud Application Platform Director Andrew Welch.
Andrew tells an interesting story about the history of New York and why its serves as a lesson for those organisations moving toward cloud application-based platforms as a means to secure future success. It worked for New York, and it could well work for you.
So, grab a brew, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Thank you for joining me, Andrew. What we’re talking about today is the topic of the way people buy and consume technology. The trend at the moment is moving away from point solutions into more of a platform first or platform led purchase structure and implementation. Why do you think that shift is happening?
I think that the shift is happening largely because of the technology that is available. If you look back historically, at software acquisition, even before the cloud, an organisation would acquire, or they would build a custom software application. They would buy it, they would deploy it to their on premise, or to their data centre, whatever that was, and it was very difficult to cause these solutions, or to cause these sets of data, to talk with one another in an effective way. You were building highly custom, highly challenging data integrations between systems and what started to happen 10 years ago is we started to make a transition to the cloud. And what we started to see were those walls break down. But we were still fundamentally using the same paradigm just in a virtual cloud environment. So we’re going to buy something, we’re going to build something, we’re going to deploy it somewhere, we’re going to use it. As cloud technology has evolved and, in our world, this is around what we call the Microsoft cloud application platform, consisting of the power platform Azure, and Microsoft 365. What we’ve seen are the emergence of technologies like Microsoft dataverse, for example, where we build many different solutions – I call them data collection – but the pointy end of the spear, the things users interact with and use, we build them a top common data source. That’s why dataverse was previously called CDS, the Common Data Service. A lot of this has to do with what’s possible, and how organisations are exploiting and using what has now recently become possible.
I was going to ask you then, is it business leading this evolution or is it innovation that’s driving the change?
I think its innovation catching up to where probably business users and business stakeholders have wanted to be for a long time. But it’s finally the technical capability catching up with that.
That’s quite interesting, because in the technology world, we always talk, or we tend to talk about how innovative we are and how we’re developing new solutions for different things. But actually, as you’re saying its rather, business has been driving the change, as opposed to the change to be driving the business, which is quite a different slant.
I think that for a very long time, we’ve had a tail wagging the dog type of situation, what technologists don’t understand – and I consider us to be technologists – but what many technologists don’t understand is that most organisations setting aside technology companies, most organisations have a purpose that is not technology. Whether it’s an insurance firm that’s here to provide insurance products and services, or whether it’s a public sector organisation that’s responsible for getting kids in school or defending the country, they all have other missions. This is the reverse; it is technology in service of the organisational mission. What we saw for a long time was that so many business decisions got made because we couldn’t do something with technology and now, we’re seeing business decisions getting made because technology is finally there and able to support some of those business decisions.
Is every organisation and is everyone on board with this evolution into a platform first world that we’re moving into or have moved into.
Almost nobody is ready for it. I would say that very few people are even thinking in these terms yet. Certainly some of the most successful organisations are, but very few really are. There’s quite a journey ahead of us but on that journey, we’re going to see who can run the fastest and who can run the surest and it’s going to be very interesting to see how this goes.
How would you advise an organisation that’s looking to get on or looking to change to a platform first environment and that is perhaps a little bit reticent about it, how would you advise them to approach change?
I’ll offer some strategic thinking, and then I’ll offer some specific tactical thinking. From a strategic perspective, and I’ve used this example in a blog post, I wrote back in December, I would look at it the way that once upon a time, New York City looked at planning its now famous street grid. If you look at lower Manhattan, the area in the New York financial district that the Dutch originally settled, and then the English took from the Dutch, and then the English reclaimed for themselves during the American Revolution, you can look at the bottom at the southern tip of Manhattan where Wall Street is, and those streets and buildings, they all sort of double back on one another and it’s rather chaotic down there from an urban planning perspective, especially if you look further up Manhattan. I believe it was 1810 or 1811, New York came out with what they called the commissioners plan, which laid out the pattern of roughly north to south numbered avenues and east to west numbered streets. So long before the Empire State Building stood in the place it now stands, we at the very least, or our ancestors knew, that there was going to be a street corner there. We could build a building there, and this was a pattern that additional innovation followed. So, my recommendation to organisations trying to think strategically about the transition to the platform, first era in the cloud is to use the commissioners plan for inspiration. Try to plan in a way and build your street map, build your roadmap, your management, your governance, your infrastructure, around what you think might be in the future. Try to anticipate 80% of outcomes. When the commissioners plan was put together, no one could have conceived that we’d be able to engineer buildings as tall as the Empire State Building, but we were able to absorb those kinds of workloads, we would call them in software into the urban design of New York later on. That’s my strategic recommendation. There’s a few things and I’ll pause before I get onto some tactical ideas for people.
In terms of adoption, I suppose this is where technology in particular fits into your recommendation, like how does technology help in the tactical sense of adoption?
To translate the New York City example into technology. First and foremost, I think that these organisations need to be they need to be looking for an ecosystem, they need to be looking to acquire a foundational sort of platform technology they believe is going to help them meet, say, 80% of their needs going forward. There are not many organisations and not many technology vendors that are able to do this, frankly, I think that Microsoft is the only one that can do this really holistically, which is why I spent all my time with Microsoft technology. I think there’s a mindset change that rather than looking to acquire a financial system, or rather than looking to acquire an HR system, or looking to build a custom application for a bespoke need, we need to be looking at how can we acquire and build solutions that are going to snap into that platform foundation we’ve already put in place. That means thinking very differently about requirements and the way to manage projects, and we manage the software development lifecycle. One phrase that I use all the time is the tyranny of the deliverable. We’ve got to get away from the old notion of saying, I need these 300 requirements to be met and vendor, please come to me and tell me what my deliverables are going to be over the next two years. The new way of doing this is to say, listen, I’m going to try to right size the capacity of expertise I have available to me, and then we’re going to do things; we’re going to innovate, we’re going to solve business problems rapidly and continually and we’re going to look more at outcomes more at what the business value is, the efficiency gains we realise and how we make life easier for our employees and for our customers. That’s the tyranny of the deliverable. Saying I must have this delivered to me and this delivered to me and this delivered to me and it’s a very radically different way of thinking about how we structure technology acquisition and service delivery as well.
It’s as you say it’s a mindset shift as much as anything else.
Don’t think about technology. Think about the future. What challenges do you want to solve? Where does your organisation aspire to be?
Andrew refers to what he calls, the tyranny of the deliverable. In other words, stop thinking about technology as a set of outputs. Instead, consider the platform you’re putting in place is the conduit to any future possibility. Forming the basis on which to innovate and solve business problems by snapping on new applications as a need arises.
Less costly, more structured way, faster, and business value led.
I hope you enjoyed this episode, stay tuned for more podcasts on our channel www.hso.com/dynamics-matters