The Start-Up Enterprise: Step One
There’s been a lot of industry buzz about digital transformation but little clear information about what it means. What does it mean to be “digital?” How different is it from what we do today? How much of a transformation does going “digital” require? What is clear is that the pace of innovation, change, and disruption is continuing to escalate, and if your organization is not embracing change, there is real risk of becoming the next Blockbuster.
We live in a different world from fifteen, ten, or even five years ago. Every aspect of the customer experience is being influenced—if not reimagined—through the creative use of technology. Your employees’ expectations, too, have changed in terms of how and where they work and what enables them to get work done. Technology is often better at home than it is at work, and organizations need to adapt. Enterprises must have a plan for a digital future.
Your enterprise needs a digital strategy that will enable it to operate like a start-up enterprise, keeping what is great about the company while creating competitive advantage through new opportunities. The first step in that journey is to create the space necessary for the new opportunities to take root, and that requires some significant spring cleaning—decluttering your current environment is well worth the effort, as I can attest to from my own experience, and it must be paired with encouraging culture change.
The Digital Transformation Culture Shift
At The Coca-Cola Company, I was the Corporate CIO, which means I had global responsibility for the technology strategy and solution delivery for our critical business functions, including marketing, product development, equipment, and packaging, as well as many of our enabling functions such as human resource, legal, strategic security, public affairs, and sustainability. Along with my business team colleagues, we were asked by the CEO to define the digital strategy for Coca-Cola. That strategy involved solving a wide range of business and technology challenges, including getting the “right message to the right person at the right moment;” digitizing our many physical assets, like trucks and vending equipment; and enabling our local markets to quickly capitalize on new opportunities.
For a large enterprise, it is difficult to define a coherent strategy and even more difficult to decide where to begin.Should we move from legacy technology to more modern infrastructure models, like the cloud? What about big data? Are we digitally transformed if we don’t have some big data in there somewhere? What about AI and ML?The nature of innovation and technology is that it is always changing and evolving; therefore, digital transformation is not a discrete activity. There’s good news and bad news in that. The bad news: our work will never be done (okay, that’s kind of good news). The good news: it’s never too late to start, because each day presents new opportunities to do something better.
So as tempting (or scary) as it is to look at all the change and wonder how you’ll transform, the reality is much of what matters to you and your customers is the same. You don’t need to completely rewrite your mission. You don’t become a large, successful enterprise without innovating at some point. And so, the question becomes how to keep what endures about your companie while incorporating the amazing innovations are at our disposal today? If your enterprise IT has spent its entire life doing one thing—namely, growing its own data centers—then this type of evolution requires a culture change.
At AWS, my role affords me the opportunity to speak to hundreds of executives from the world’s largest organizations in order to help them transform their people, processes, and technology using the cloud. These conversations often start withquestions around digital transformation, what the future of enterprise IT will be, how to build a better place to work, or how to be more customer-centric, but they almost always boil down to the pursuit of a culture that allows for innovation at scale.
At Amazon, our unique culture is codified in the Amazon Leadership Principles. These “LPs,” as they are commonly referred to by Amazonians, guide our decision making—they are the contract by which Amazonians work with one another and they have helped Amazon pioneer a number of diverse businesses. The most crucial LP is customer obsession. At Amazon, every new product service or idea starts with defining a customer need and working backwards from that need. Often the first step is to write a press release for the capability you are imagining, which helps to crystalize your idea in terms of how it would be received by customers.
These LPs define Amazon’s culture. To be a start-up enterprise you need to define your culture and ensure that you have values and practices that make your culture core to how you get work done and go to market. Once the culture is in place, the next barrier to the agility and innovation we seek is simple: it’s time to declutter your technology.
Technology Spring Cleaning
Humans love stuff. Inundated with things, buried by our possessions, still we want more, more, more! Ownership makes us feel successful, and accumulation is inevitable. It’s hard to say goodbye to things that we’ve owned for years or decades. Some things we keep because they provide real value; however, the vast majority of our stuff sits in the garage, on shelves, or in closets because of nostalgia and habit. As a result, our homes—and our lives—become crowded, heavy, and cluttered. We love our stuff, but our stuff doesn’t love us.
Now think about your enterprise and the clutter it has amassed over the years. Old processes and physical assets become part of your enterprise just like possessions become part of the people who own them. They make you heavy and drag you down, but you keep them out of habit and nostalgia, and because change is scary and hard.
Technology is a particularly sticky type of clutter—messy and tangled. It’s hard to move on from an old process when there are huge investments in people and technology that support it. Even consideringa change can feel daunting. But in order to succeed in this new digital world, you have to reassess what is core to your business and what you can let go of. Your legacy technology clutter is slowing your enterprise down, keeping it from being its best self: slow when it should be fast, heavy when it should be light, expensive when you need cost effective efficiency. Outdated in every way, it makes innovation hard—if not impossible. You might love your data center, but it doesn’t love you.
There are countless methods for decluttering your home, but they all boil down to a simple idea: get rid of stuff you don’t need, even if it’s hard, and you will become a lighter, faster, healthier version of yourself. Just because your enterprise has always grown its own data centers doesn’t mean that’s the only way. The cloud eliminates clutter. The cloud frees the enterprise from the obligations of hardware maintenance and undifferentiated work. The cloud allows you to say goodbye to the decades-old possessions, processes, and technologies that are slowing you down.
Just like decluttering a home can make a person healthier by eliminating stress, decluttering an enterprise can make it work better, more efficiently, cleaner. It’s more agile and more innovative. There’s less dead weight, fewer obstacles. With cloud technology, your enterprise is finally free to be the best version of itself.
The cloud also changes the way your enterprise feels. Replacing your old technology and processes with cloud solutions makes it easier for you to use, deploy, and scale your needs. Instead of a focus on ownership of physical assets and processes that require energy, time, and resources, the focus shifts to customers and owning the data that improves their experience and your bottom line.
Migrating to the cloud can be hard to do on your own. At Coke we needed a partner to free up our critical resources so we could migrate to the cloud. AWS has fifteen years’ experience helping massive organizations shift their IT operations to the cloud, and the wisdom that comes from this experience is invaluable. AWS can help your enterprise move past data center ownership and all the myriad associated responsibilities and stressors and enable your team to focus on the technology that differentiates your business.
This post introduces a new series focusing on how to become a start-up enterprise: what does it mean and where do you start? I will elaborate on the personal experiences I touched upon above, ask others to talk about their own experiences, and highlight what we’ve learned from talking to executives who are driving toward becoming a start-up enterprise. Hopefully, along the way I will say something you’ll find useful as you lead your organization.
Finally, nothing would be more powerful than hearing from your experiences. If you’ve got a strong culture or transformation story to tell — good or bad — please let me know, and let’s talk about posting it here!