Cloud with a silver lining for business collaboration - comment

Companies need to reimagine their technology infrastructure, says Hawkins. Picture: Shutterstock.
Companies need to reimagine their technology infrastructure, says Hawkins. Picture: Shutterstock.
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As we approach the end of 2019, we’re seeing no slowdown in the rate of technological change.

But are businesses fully ­realising the value of the opportunities that the ­latest technologies present?

The Accenture executive also says companies must design adaptable systems by applying a uniform approach. Picture: contributed.

The Accenture executive also says companies must design adaptable systems by applying a uniform approach. Picture: contributed.

Consider, in the food industry, rivals ­Nestlé, Unilever, Tyson, Kroger and ­Walmart – they have come together to solve a problem common to all: ensuring food safety within their highly complex supply chains. In creating a secure blockchain-based system for sharing data, they’re improving transparency and tracking food products far more efficiently.

This ­new-found collaboration is proof that the barriers existing in many firms can be ­broken down by engineering ­systems in a different way – as one system, not a collection of many. The reasons to adopt such an approach are compelling. Accenture’s Future Systems study found a high correlation between technology adoption and revenue growth.

We predict that by 2023 the gap between the revenue growth rate of leaders and that of laggards could widen to as much as 46 per cent.

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The fundamental challenge for most businesses trying to squeeze value out of existing technology is that the ­conventional IT stack of hardware and software applications has reached its practical ­limit. It simply wasn’t built for today’s ­complex, ever-changing world. Companies need to ­reimagine their technology infrastructure as a boundary-less system of machine, employee, consumer, and partner connections.

Harnessing technology

This is part of what Accenture calls Living Systems. By aligning IT with business goals, encouraging continuous innovation, and developing talent and technology in harmony, organisations can harness technology to deliver value streams that keep pace with the rate of business change.

Stripe is a payment processing start-up that has established new standards to ­handle the complexities of its infrastructure. But how does an organisation begin to attain the agility of a company like Stripe, when it operates patchwork ways of working and applications built for another era?

The first step is to maximise the ­transformative potential of cloud services. Market intelligence firm IDC predicts that, by 2021, 80 per cent of application development will take place on cloud platforms using micro-services and cloud functions.

Secondly, with disruption now a constant factor of today’s business landscape, companies must design adaptable systems by applying a uniform approach to data, security and governance. This will ­insulate against change and ensure technology investments keep returning value.

Decoupling the IT stack is the next step towards boundary-less systems. By going modular and decoupling infrastructure, data, architecture and applications, companies can remove unnecessary dependencies. It paves the way for innovation at scale by building more links between core and new digital ­systems.

Adapting

We have also found that transformational technology needs ­people and needs to be radically human. This will ensure systems adapt to human needs, rather than humans having to adapt to systems.

Achieving boundary-less expansion requires companies to scrutinise their own organisational and cultural boundaries to ensure staff are an integral part of any technology development.

There needs to be an embedded end-to-end ownership culture from initial idea through to user experience to promote trust and ­overcome any inherent anxiety about new technologies, especially with respect to job security.

What companies do with technology really matters – to their people and to their bottom line. When boundaries disappear, new space opens up. In whatever industry or sector, this creates a different landscape where new ideas and unconventional partnerships can flourish and where business value can be achieved.

Michelle Hawkins is the joint managing director for Accenture in Scotland.