The Boundaries Have Vanished

Michael Adams, VP of IT, MarineMaxMichael has 20+ years of experience in delivering digital and enterprise technologies that drive increased profitability

A new world order has slowly evolved, leaving many corporate technology teams unprepared to adapt to the critical new responsibilities they manage. The “Digital World” that exists today is every bit as robust, engaging, and experiential as the physical one in which we live and breathe. It can be argued that there no longer exists a dinstinction between the two worlds. For many decades, technology development focused on providing services to the physical world. From a CIO’s perspective, this endeavor was a mix of reacting to business demands while attempting to stay ahead of the ever-shifting technology landscape. Delivery and development methodologies required users of these services (customers, sales teams, finance teams, operations, logistics, etc.)to operate in functional silos, often in a manner dictated by the technology as opposed to the need. The last decade has brought about a subtle shift in technology capabilities and customer behavior, both internal and external to the organization. Decision makers currently manage digital properites as if consumers and team members visit them for specific purposes until they retreat to everyday life. However, reasoned observations have revealed the boundaries between the two, and have finally given way to a transformed, integrated environment-with the only distinction being one of physics, not function.

As the technology revolution progressed, businesses began to embrace the value these services could provide. This maturation within the business environment resulted in teams of technologists and silos focusing on the key areas of utility. The outgrowth were distinct practices encompassing ERP, CRM, networks, telecommunications, business productivity tools, databases and reporting, purpose built applications, compute, storage, end user devices and, in most cases, industry focused proprietary solutions. Naturally, business stakeholders came to view the purveyors of these solutions as a disparate function within the enterprise with the CIO relegated to the delivery manager for technology solutions. Technology delivery practices, strained under the rapid evolution of capabilities and ever increasing demand, responded by reacting to the “sounds of the guns. ”Out of this metamorphosis grew ever sophisticated methodologies and technology stacks with layers of integration. Likewise, the partners serving these demands built an infrastructure dependent on ever complex SOWs, SLAs, and CRs fueling costs and slowing delivery.

Nonetheless, the value users realized that decades of development has
fueled massive increases in productivity and economic drivers unimaginable, twenty years ago. At the same time, a hidden cost was developing that later manifested in the growing divide between traditional businesses and businesses that embrace autonomous, interlaced technologies responsive to employee and consumer demands. Key shifts in both technology and economic fundamentals have fueled this transition. The confluence of mobile, social media, cloud technologies, service oriented architectures, machine learning, IoT, the millennial demographic effect, slow wage growth, skeptical electorates, and innovative sales models have shattered the one time distinction between the physical and the virtual world. A very real example is the shift seen in the approach to the use of the World Wide Web for the sale of durable good products. From the midnineties, B2C organizations have shifted focus from online billboards 'measuring eyeballs' to funnel driven lead generation to the currently accepted model of the customer “journey”.

To make this shift, CIOs will become architects of commerical success challenging conventional models related to all aspects of the business

The subtle shift missed out by the marketing imagery of the journey, however, is that employee and consumer behavior is not linear in the “physical” environment with many inputs influencing the decisions. Some of these inputs are driven by the person while others are external, which the individual has no control over. Likewise, the virtual world has broken beyond the linear decision-making businesses that have historically imposed and spilled over into everyday interactions with no distinction of where the transaction is taking place. In the case of the B2C sales example, customers today are no longer on a journey to a destination, rather, they move in and out of the “Digital Ecosystems” they created around key areas of their life as they do in their communities. Many of these decisions involving daily, multiple, and often complex transactions are influenced, not only by the opinions of the shoppers, but also by the data sources and other inputs generated by previous interactions, third party information, and integrated devices. Clear commerce trends indicate the power of this transition as the media talks about the “brick and mortar apocalypse” while the Silicon Valley darlings no longer take the center stage in just introducing innovate technology solutions but also new paradigms for business transactions.

CIO’s, corporate technology teams, and the partner network that serve them are faced with radical and arcane shifts in operating models. The new mandate is to deliver a digital ecosystem interwoven into the fabric of the business that transcends technology stack and channel distinctions. While the underlying technologies will always have some lines of demarcation, the corporate operating system, the “Centralized Experience Platform (CEP)”, that serves the team member and the customer alike will meld into one environment. No longer is the idea of omnichannel a marketing outlet but instead a unified platform that distributes shared access to data, operations, unified collaboration, transactions, branding, and messaging. The CEP with its naturally occurring bidirectional flow of communication between the business and end user will generate self-determinate solutions.

To make this shift, CIOs will become architects of commerical success - challenging conventional models related to all aspects of the business. CIOs are challenged to assume the role of leading innovation in the business due to their deep understanding of technology and how it intersects with all the revenue and margin impact areas of the enterprise. In doing so, the CIO will work shoulder to shoulder with other business leaders to create environments where consumption behavior drives the business in dynamic, non-linear experiences. In the end, just as we see in other aspects of social, political, and economic areas, corporations and the technologies that they employ, will eventually evolve to be truly people driven, and not function driven. Technology is a primary component of the engine creating growth in all industries today and the CIO is orchestrating the transformation that creates new revenue streams, efficiency, value, and growth in this new world order.