The "Nexus of Forces" grips business

Ian Gotts

The "perfect storm" of technology changes is coming together and will reshape every business on the planet, writes Ian Gotts. Is yours ready for it?

The key theme for Gartner’s annual Symposium IT Expo was the "Nexus of Forces".

A Nexus of converging forces — social, mobile, cloud and information — is building upon and transforming user behavior while creating new business opportunities. Research over the past several years has identified the independent evolution of four powerful forces: social, mobile, cloud and information. As a result of consumerization and the ubiquity of connected smart devices, people's behavior has caused a convergence of these forces." Source: Gartner

Image courtesy Tibco

Whilst most people recognise these forces at work in their personal and business lives, it is the implications that are either liberating or terrifying. For those business leaders looking to leapfrog their competition or a nimble start-up looking to wrong foot an incumbent it is an exciting time. However, Gartner raised a warning to senior IT leaders: "Existing architectures are becoming obsolete."

But there is another group of people who need to be aware of the coming forces. The COO and their operational team. Why? Because these forces are dramatically changing business operations. In some cases destroying the current business model causing a complete reinvention. Think about the music, media and publishing industries. But every business model is at risk.

Forrester has described the impact of these business trends as "Digital Disruption". The key principles behind digital disruption are that it creates new business models, changes value streams, and is faster, more disruptive and more pervasive than any earlier change driver. Why? Because it is digital. And Forrester says that for those thinking that hunkering down and letting it blow past, as with previous trends – forget it. This is not a trend. It is a permanent shift.

Where does the process professional fit in?

There are a number of different responses to these forces:

Conscientious objector: You can fight the forces to maintain the status quo to keep the business that you understand and fit in. This enables you to stay inside your comfort zone. Sadly, as many, many industries have discovered that is unlikely to be a good long term strategy. These forces are too pervasive and powerful. You will lose.

Innocent bystander: You can sit and wonder as the forces amass and change the company you work in day to day. But you are too busy with your day job to be engaged. Or maybe you are happy to play with whatever cards that you are dealt. This approach is fine if you are happy with the consequences and that you are part of someone else’s plan. You need to be comfortable with the excitement of what life may bring. The flotsam and jetsam approach.

Enabler: You can put your hand up and ask to be part of the teams thinking about how the forces change the business and the implications on the operation. This is of course requires someone in the company to be thinking about the forces. But you will have a critical role as the forces change entire business models, and the root of any business model is a robust process or operational model. That model will enable the impact to be analysed financially and also from an HR/skills and business change perspective. I remember just after University I was a graduate trainee for British Rail Engineering. There was a headquarters team reinventing the entire maintenance strategy for the whole UK. I was bright, PC literate and willing. I volunteered to help them on the modelling side. Sure, I was junior dogsbody, so it was easy to decide who made the tea. But I got to attend senior meetings and was at the heart of a critical project that did my career no end of good, and it was also brilliant fun.

Innovator: In some businesses the senior management are unaware of the implications of the Nexus of Forces. They recognise that things are changing, but it hasn’t been spelt out quite so explicitly. Rather than simply being an enabler you can catapult yourself into the upper echelons of the senior management by raising their awareness of the forces, then explaining the implications for your industry and specifically your company. And then suggest that you work with a key individual on a think tank to "reimagine the business". The person to lead the think tank should report to the CEO, should be open minded and courageous, and should by tech savvy. If there is no-one at Board level with all these skills then it should be the most open minded person who forms a team with people who collectively have the right skills. This is the greatest opportunity that you will ever get in your career to get real Board level visibility.


The perfect storm

This may all feel like scaremongering, but the Nexus of Forces is the "perfect storm" of technology changes coming together which will reshape every business on the planet.

Each individual force is powerful. I am sure you can see how mobile can transform elements of your business. But it is how the different forces - cloud social, mobile, information - combine that enables entire industries to be reinvented and new industries to emerge.

A simple example: Smart parking meters

Every parking meter streams data to the cloud with a digital recognition of the number plate of the car parked in the space or that the space is free.

What are the implications? Firstly, every car that is parked when the meter runs out is automatically fined. This eliminates the need for parking attendants. But then it opens up the opportunity for a new business which is a mobile app that combines the parking data with geo location data from the phone to help people find the nearest parking space. Perhaps for premium users it gives them the best spaces or the ability to pre-reserve a parking space. That same service can allow payment of parking online, so no searching for the right coins. Finally smart meters allows for differential parking rates with higher rates at peak times potentially changing people’s parking behaviour and helps optimises park space utilisation. Using parking data, town planners have more insights into the design of roads and parking to make for cleaner and safer towns.

All the technology is already in existence. But think of how the business processes of councils parking departments, parking ticket collections, parking attendant teams, those that empty parking meters and even town planners have changed.

Turbulence ahead

Hold on, strap yourself in. The next few years are going to be a wild ride as we fly through the turbulence of the Nexus of Forces.