Many companies want to do things better but are hit with obstacles and blockers. ServiceNow's VP of innovation, Chris Pope, is visiting Australia this week and I spoke with home about how Australia differs from other markets when it comes to trying new technology and what he sees as the blockers to process improvement.
ServiceNow's focus is on forms-based workflow. Data exists in form somewhere and it's processed to deliver an outcome. The source of the data is largely irrelevant - it can be typed in by a user or created automatically by an IoT device or some other system. The idea is that the process is automated, thus freeing people up to work on higher-value activities, rather than pushing papers around.
"Machine learning, big data - these are interesting things but they are all activity on some data that they're catching to drive a process. A lot of what we do is bring that Amazon-seque experience inside the organisation," said Pope.
However, some businesses are much better at embracing these changes than others. Pope says the age of the organisation is an indicator of how receptive they might be change. In his experience, banking and the public sector tend to be more resistant. Often, this is tied to the presence of long-term staff who are comfortable doing things in a particular way.
Companies that are open to new ways of doing things tend to be more outcome focussed and see the cloud as a way of buying commodity services. Then, the focus moves away from building everything to integration.
"You can be quite fickle and go al-la-carte from a menu," he said.
That also allows greater flexibility. If a new service arrives, it's possible to quickly move to a newer and better way of doing things. As the API economy grows, so does the ability for businesses to pick and choose services they want with limited impact on users, said Pope.
This is creating businesses that are more outcome, than product, focussed. Enterprise IT is not dissimilar to consumer markets like the mobile phone business. It is now relatively easy to switch carriers. Similarly, the consumerisation and commoditisation of IT services has made it easy for businesses to choose and change their tools.
"The heady days of big enterprise IT shops are getting less," he said. "The days of IT brokers are coming in".
One of the realisations many businesses need to reach is that they are not really unique. Although they may offer a unique product or service, many of their processes are common to all businesses. Where we are now is to look for ways to do things faster and better by leveraging existing tools.
Pope said that one of the big differences is the reduction in implantation times for new projects. For example, he noted that one major client in the resources sector was seeing new services deployed in days and weeks, rather than months or years.
When it comes to different parts of the world, Pope said Australian companies, such as a major financial services client, took a very pragmatic approach. Whereas clients in the US, particularly the West Coast, jumped at every new product of service, Australian companies, large and small, preferred to move to a new technology once the benefit case was demonstrated.
For example, Pope said developing a proof of concept, something his team can do in a few hours in many cases, was often a critical step for local companies looking at new technology. This resulted in a longer runway to get new products online but "when they go, they go big".
A financial services client, said Pope, was about six weeks away from going live with ServiceNow but wanted to baseline their current performance so they properly understand the benefits after go-live. This is a more conservative and measured approach to what Pope sees in the US but more like the European approach, he added.
Even when the best technology is available, Pope says, some businesses aren't ready from a process and culture standpoint.
Once companies make the leap to smaller, more nimble software solutions and move away from monolithic applications, they are able to channel their focus on bigger challenges within the business - issues that have often been backburnered while personnel have been focussed on routine tasks and maintaining large applications.
This is one of the big challenges companies face culturally when they introduce new products and increased automation. Many people see their expertise in a specific system or proces being threatened. But Pope says the reality is those people tend to have very valuable and deep knowledge and understanding of the business. They can channel that experience into higher value tasks and projects.
Another benefit that comes from deploying more modular systems is the focus moves away from the software, said Pope, and towards people and processes. The old days, of blaming IT when a business project is in progress are falling away according to Pope. The focus moves towards the problem being solved rather than the solution being delivered.
That's a transaction that is happening but some sectors such as government and finance have been slower to move. But that's changing as more people from the commercial world move into government roles and slowly change the culture.
"Once you pick apart the problem, you realise the technology isn't really the limiting factor or blocker; it's just the way they get things done and they don't realise what's at their disposal and that, if they want to change it, they can," said Pope.