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From crisis to brave new world

Operating in the new normal is now a common mantra, but what does it mean? It is only through viewing people, processes, and technology together that decisions should be made about what to keep, what to discard, and what to re-engineer.

This article was first published in The new IT playbook, a report that explores what it means to be resilient and adaptable in the face of disruption.

The storm has subsided, and all the indicators suggest it is time to leave being in the moment and set a course for the future.

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune …
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

―From William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar"

Out of great adversity comes great opportunity, or so historians—and playwrights—have recorded. During the course of managing the crisis, organizations apply brute force and high levels of adrenalin to solve problems and adapt to rapidly changing conditions. As the dust settles and an interim sense of stability is formulated, strong leaders:

  • Trust management to move ahead and keep the ship on even keel in the interim.
  • Take a virtual step back, take a deep breath, and think systemically about the future.

Real-time data is flowing in abundance as a crisis subsides, foretelling of revolutionary changes that are sweeping through the world as a result of the crisis―literally and figuratively. What insights enterprising leaders formulate from that data, what direction they choose, and what actions they take defines the future. Not just a single organization's future, but that of a broader community. Will the new world be "brave" enough?

By taking in the broad perspective of the impacts of a crisis, organizational leadership will consider these leading questions:

  • Based on the perceived impact on markets and on our customer base, what adaptations in our processes and values should be retained moving forward?
  • Which of those adaptations should be discarded?
  • And in keeping or discarding them, do we return to the former ways of work?
  • Does the changing landscape of our industry suggest that we re-engineer?

Global crises imply a wide-ranging and deeper impact on all aspects of an organization and its industry, clients, and employees. That raises the broadest possible question: What should the enterprise be in the evolving future?

Perhaps more daunting: To what degree does the organization wish, by virtue of new insights and knowledge, to help contribute to the future?

When the answer to the latter is an affirmation of a desire to lead, the response to the former is likely to be visionary. A call to lead will be a call to align people, process, and technology from the perspective that success in the past is not a basis for success in the brave new world.

Enterprise engineering is an integrated set of disciplines for building or changing an enterprise and its processes and systems. The goal is a human-technological partnership of maximum efficiency in which change takes place at every level.


People and culture development

During the crisis, it is likely that business and IT teams worked together differently from general patterns of engagement. The result, hopefully, was faster time to solution with greater accuracy in addressing the problems and challenges. Urgency, a sense of high risk, clearer communications, shared understanding, and a common goal broke down barriers that formerly seemed the only way of doing things. Two key questions are:

  • Can the organization leverage this mental model shift on the part of both the business and IT?
  • What are the insights gathered from data, listening to customers, and observing the market?

Best practice: Build a culture focused on value, with people empowered to think end to end

Organizations with greater value generation (that is, greater percentage of profit and revenue than the competition) are architected as a collection of value streams. Value streams are individual end-to-end sets of activities that collectively create value for a customer.

Value stream teams are concerned with all of the activities and resources that, from start to finish, enable delivery of results and confirmation of met expectations.

Value stream designers search for ways of achieving "outrageous" improvements in critical measures such as speed, cost, quality, and service.

Both teams are intensely focused outside-in, on the expectations of the external customer and the eternal market. Business knowledge and digital information technology expertise is integrated to produce the best designs, influencing the most appropriate processes (workflow) to deliver them.

During the pandemic, a client was observed to behave in just such a partnership―creating value streams to maintain the business. This style of cooperation is known as boundary-less-ness, which requires a different state of mind, as does working within the constraints of a crisis. It will only sustain in a culture of openness and collaboration. The challenge for organizations that have worked boundary-less during the crisis is to find a means to leverage the achieved breakdown in barriers, open new mental models, and devise a means of engineering the organization to the new mode of thinking.

Cultural anthropologists observe that cultures change because the stories change. Crises result in changed stories. The future will evolve with the changing stories, and leaders have the opportunity to boldly contribute to the storytelling influencing a preferred future.

Disciple of changing processes

Value streams are not processes. A value stream is a collection of activities that function together with a clear goal of delivering a product or service to the expectations of the external customer. They have a business outcome.

The word process causes misunderstandings. Business refers to the process of accounts payable, order entry processes, or the process of preparing an invoice. IT professionals draw data flow diagrams and procedure runbooks labeling them as processes, which is not to suggest that these activities are not important. Clarity in what is understood as a process is critical to an organization in pursuit of transforming itself for the future. For a future-focused enterprise leveraging a value stream culture, assigning a label of workflow adds clarity.

Workflows (processes) defined systemically are standardized methods of compressing work steps. Ideally, the processes/workflows result in minimum time needed to achieve maximum quality output (service or product) of the value stream. Quality is always defined by the external expectations of the consumer. When observed within a value stream, processes should be seen to eliminate unnecessary work and exemplify pull rather than push handovers between groups.

Best practice: Apply process thinking to value streams to achieve results

Recently, an award-winning service provider adopted the concept of value streams while pursuing a means of adding cloud services to its portfolio. Simultaneously designing the value stream for a proposed service and thinking about workflow from both the demand (client) side and supplier side of the equation netted unexpected benefits. Expecting to add a new platform to its existing customer-applauded delivery model, leaders were surprised to realize a change to the delivery model instead. The service provider's clients were surprised to experience unexpected higher quality in existing services.

Digital technology development

As the power, capability, and infusion of digital technologies into business has increased over the past decades, replicated research acknowledges the simple fact that the adoption of new technologies alone fails to yield business value. The message: Do not apply technology without clearly defined value streams. Do not apply automation without totally redesigning processes around the end-to-end value streams.

MIT assigns the label of digital mastery to those organizations that have achieved significant value (significantly higher percentage of profit and revenue than the nearest competitor).

Best practice: Find the right mix of technologies aimed at appropriately automating value streams.

Best-practice organizations:

  • Build human and technology partnerships.
  • Build value streams that are fast, fluid, and flexible.
  • Use automation tools to:
  • Design and build effective systematic value stream resources
  • Provide the best information to value stream workers

Medium and small businesses are not exempt from taking a lead position in an industry. A midsize enterprise's IT organization saw great potential in replacing aging technology with a dynamic new digital platform. Business was unresponsive until IT helped redefine the business processes and workflows into value streams and translated the cost of unplanned downtime due to aging technology.

The goal: Move from crisis to brave new world

Leaders need to rebuild the organization to be highly responsive to the evolving new environment, while having a vision and architecture designed to maximize long-term opportunities. To retain, or gain, a lead position in the industry, an organization must be positioned to be supremely reactive to the fast-changing environment and strategically skilled in telling the new story, re-engineering around value, and learning digital choreography.

Themes for the future include:

  • Fundamental uncertainty
  • Radical changes in how people work
  • Explosive changes in the digital landscape―technology
  • Renewed focus on humanity
  • Continued acceleration in the rate of change

Are you ready to meet the challenges of creating a brave new world?

Related reading:

Nine steps to the new normal

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.