The Modern Enterprise is Agile by Design

Michael Wolf, Managing Director, KPMG
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Over the past five years, the enterprise landscape has shifted dramatically. Digital and mobile experiences, the increase in customer expectation, the rise of true enterprise web tools, automation and the increase in digital labor, and the commoditization of IT has upshifted the concept of enterprise digital enablement. CIOs must move at the pace of innovation of the market and business needs or they will be avoided at all costs and relegated to only keeping the lights on.

We live and work in a digital world where mobile and rich web experiences are no longer an exception to meeting business needs, but a rule. Great customer experiences that happen quickly and with quality are now the price of entry. The organizations who will not just survive but thrive and grow in this new world are ones who think and act more like a customer-focused product company (think Google, Netflix, Facebook…) and a little less like a classic enterprise. Think of employees as your No. 1 customer, enablement as your product and speed-to-market with agility of the business. In order to be at the forefront of this deep shift, agile product design, development and operations methods must not only be things you train on or methodologies you follow, but also at the heart of your organization. Leading CIOs need to consider how to shift their organizations to become modern agile enterprise and steer their organization to be “agile by design” like a consumer-focused product company. When considering how to make this shift, there are some key trends and traits of these organizations every CIO should be considering.

  ​The organizations who will not simply just survive but who will thrive and grow in this new world are the ones who think and act more like a customer-focused product company and a little less like a classic enterprise 

Design-Thinking Methods &Agility by Design

Today’s modern enterprise is the one powered by innovative ideas which can be validated, tested, and refined quickly. To do this, CIOs should consider adopting design-thinking approaches and methods from UX and product design disciplines such as rapid prototyping oruser testing to evaluate concepts and drive business value to the enterprise. Gone should be the days of long project-driven requirements where the users are kept at arm’s length until a system is “ready”. Instead, adopt MVP-driven approaches and changing expectations to foster quick user feedback and iteration cycles. Design-thinking techniques popularized in the digital consumer products world, fit very nicely into the enterprise. Ethnographic research methods that involve field-based user research to understand the needs and motivations of the user base, coupled with design-thinking processes like journey-mapping, allow organizations to gain a deep understanding of their employees. Knowing your employees and what they need and mapping these personas across a user’s journey should be the de facto behaviors for enterprise technology development. Reducing costs and risks by knowing the users’ needs, while also establishing a library of these known traits about employees’ needs, will make every team more efficient and agile.

KPMG has invested in journey-mapping for all facets of employee journeys and has a dedicated tool (KPMG Cycle) for allowing the entire enterprise to define its own employee journeys. Using rapid prototyping and design sprints, teams can be take concepts from the business and bring them to life quickly and cost effectively, testing and refining these ideas with the business before a single line of code is written. Recently, one of our UX designers commented to me: “Earlier, we had to use code to prove some things’ feasibility. Now, it’s no longer ‘Can we?’ but ‘Should we?’”This concept has never been truer. With the advent of rapid prototyping tools, combined with the ever-evolving innovation of the web, ideas can be quickly validated with users with comfortable knowledge that what they see what they really will get. In addition to prototyping tools, the industry is quickly growing to fill the gap around designer developer workflows, creating a seamless flow from idea to prototype to exported assets and CSS. If agile was about failing fast, adopting designing-thinking methods is about learning and adapting at scale to do it right. Design-thinking and focusing on UX are crucial components to adopting an overall enterprise shift toward agility.

Microservices and Modern UI for Business Agility

Progressively,web UI technology has become more modern and loosely coupled in the industry broadly. With the advent of enterprise-ready JavaScript frameworks like Angular and React, the past several years have truly brought this approach to the forefront of the enterprise. While this has accelerated developer productivity and increased quality of enterprise applications, it didn't greatly improve the agility of the business. The back end of these new user experiences were still being developed as thick monolithic applications full of tightly coupled dependencies, complications, and rigidity. In the efforts for organizations to decrease cost and gain perceived flexibility, they would enforce stringent technology standards that would consolidate in single technology streams and create broad silos even across technology groups. To solve brittleness and dependencies, many organizations would scale their agile processes using methods like SAFe or even more recently LeSS, and instead of seeing an increase in velocity, they saw an increase in process and decrease in meeting employee needs. Leading CIOs are now looking to the “microservices” pattern to crack this nut. Instead of scaling up the monolith, with its associated dependencies and thick processes, you break it down into smaller pieces that can independently increase autonomy and velocity. By breaking up the monolithic application and aligning end-to-end product focused microservices teams, the loosely coupled UI brings the speed and agility it promises. This will allow for progressively constructing an API ecosystem that enables quickly building what you need today while knowing you can compose what the business will need tomorrow from your microservices ecosystem.

Microservices by their nature can be the great application rationalization, decreasing redundancies and increasing scalability at the same time. Further, we are increasingly seeing organizations look to the microservices architecture as a potential tool to increase the efficiency in working with a portfolio of vendors. However, this shift for the enterprise does not come without its own complex infrastructure and new governance considerations which need to be thought through. While the enterprise can be lean and aligned around microservices like a product company, its unique silos and needs aren't minimized simply by making back-end components smaller. Taking a leap into microservices without a targeted model, organizational strategy, infrastructure, and governance can often replace a lack of agility with a fast-moving but unwieldy problem. Further, by taking this approach teams are freed to choose the right technologies to solve each problem, which by its nature attracts stronger, more dedicated, modern talent back to the enterprise, talent the previously moved on as the enterprise became more known for stability and minimal innovation in the 2000s.  

DevOps and Enabling a Dev Innovation Factory

If ever there was an area that has gone through the most evolution around the enterprise web development field, it has been infrastructure and operations. One of the biggest hurdles for enterprise development has always been the release process. Often between silos between teams and the complicated compliance rules around release and deployment cycle, the agility of a team was only as effective as its ability to release to its user base. Between the increased acceptance of the cloud and evolving DevOps culture, practices and tools, the enterprise is primed to break down this wall. Leading innovative CIOs are those who jump into this revolution full-force on all levels. The tooling shift towards a new stack of continuous delivery and deployment platforms not only enables the agility of dev, but can also simplify and reduce the long-term cost of complex infrastructure.  

One of the classic issues with enterprise software development is creating consistent and accurate dev and staging environments. The shift towards DevOps tooling can force substantial improvements in this area, which is often a time, resource, and budget drain in many organizations. In addition to this improved agility, DevOps also can be the doorway to move from applications to dev platforms which satisfy not just a single solution but allow developers and designers to innovate and move faster. This platform more easily enables the use of contractors, vendors, and offshore teams to collaborate as one with repeatable trusted environments, further reducing the friction which will often stop an idea with serious business benefits from even taking off.

While this is a major transformation that effects people, tools and infrastructure, it’s coming at just the right moment. Increasingly, organizations are considering rationalization of their legacy data centers and shift towards the cloud to reduce costs and work more efficiently. This scenario is the prime time to design how DevOps could be the catalyst to not only get this done, but get done right in a way that enables the business for years to come.  

Auditable, Traceable, Agile by Design

One of the hurdles with the enterprise development is always the required level of documentation and auditability, in particular in regulated industries where the process needs to be monitored and controls continually tested. These controls and processes are often manual in nature and must be audited to ensure they are being followed. In the real world, this often leads to controls not being enforced or not followed, leaving the organization at risk, or equally as concerning, a cumbersome, lengthy process that holds back the business instead of protecting it. One of the great opportunities in the modern agile enterprise is to automate these processes and add a level of trace ability previously not available. Part of these transformations is injecting agile tools for task tracking, sprint planning, code reviews, static analysis, continuous integration, automated unit and end-to-end test, and even down to logs and tests of the deployments in each of these environments. This tracking and automation is crucial to the collaboration and velocity needed in the process, but the side effect is the system is auditable by design. Further, the processes’ controls are constantly analyzed and tested by design. While innovative CIOs are looking to consider agile, DevOps and microservices to increase agility they can also use it as a method to enforce controls and reduce risks to the organization. This side benefit of reduction in risks and increase in quality is the sugar that helps the medicine go down for the business to jump into this modern, agile web world.

CIOs Who Power the Future

We are at a unique juncture in the enterprise software development world. We are truly at a point where software is the light showing the path forward in the business, and IT organizations need to decide if they are at the forefront of this revolution or simply there to keep the lights on. These are CIOs who consider how not only to operate with increasing efficiencies, but can do so in a repeatable agile manner. They see agile not just as a method or practice but an industrialized approach that moves at the pace of the businesses’ ideas.

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