As QuickBase gears up for another MidTech Midmarket IT Summit, I recently had the pleasure of garnering insights on the democratization of technology and the transition to cloud from Rohit Lal, Director of Enterprise Architecture of CONA (Coke One North America) Services LLC. CONA is a recent spin-off of The Coca-Cola Company responsible for a common set of processes, data standards, manufacturing and customer solutions tailored for North America. The focus is on enabling a superior customer experience and furthering digital business innovation for Coca-Cola Bottlers. Rohit has spoken at industry events, such as MidTech, on the journey to cloud and organizational challenges for CIOs around technology innovation.
Rohit was fortunate to have worked at some of the world's leading Consumer Products and manufacturing companies. It was there that he honed his understanding of business processes and IT to accelerate the pace of innovation, collaborating in lockstep with senior leadership to transform the business to survive in the Digital Age.
How the Cloud Has Transformed Business Processes
Rohit says the cloud has been a game-changer for accelerating innovation. When asked how the cloud has improved the way IT and business users collaborate to transform business processes, he added, "On one hand, it has allowed companies to free their resources from the mundane tasks of patching, managing and monitoring infrastructure and allowing them to focus on adding value to the business. On the other hand, the elasticity and quick provisioning capability of the cloud has given IT and business users a platform for quick proof of concept. It used to take weeks to provision a new server. Now, infrastructure is almost a non-issue, and this flexibility is invaluable for collaborating on ways to transform the business."
Rapidly Developing and Deploying Innovative Solutions
As more organizations face the challenges of aging legacy applications, and process improvement initiatives move from strictly IT to the lines of business, many are beginning to replace outdated BPM software or integrate with more nimble low-code platforms - all to meet the requirements of an agile business.
Speaking to the common challenges organizations must overcome to be successful in rapidly developing and deploying innovative solutions across the company, Rohit says, "I read somewhere that it is not the fear of failure that stifles progress, but the fear of what will happen if you fail. The shift in mindset is to try new things rapidly, and be prepared to fail often, fail quick, and fail cheap. The messaging from leadership is that innovation is encouraged, and it’s OK to fail. The other thing is getting past analysis paralysis. Innovation is nebulous and you can’t wait for the perfect design. We have multiple proofs of concept underway in multiple areas at the same time. There is comfort in getting a consulting firm to 'innovate' for us, but we’ve been trying to enter new areas ourselves so we can learn as we go along."
Democratization of Technology
Advances in technology systems and low-code application development platforms have led to a democratization of IT, where central IT departments clear their backlog of projects by empowering business users or "citizen developers" who find and build their own solutions. Rohit believes the consumerization of technology has blurred the separation between technology and business.
Sharing lessons learned related to this trend from his experiences at The Coca-Cola Company Rohit shared, "We, in IT, used to think we had a monopoly on technology. Smart phones and other devices have become ubiquitous, and everybody is a user and has expectations - even if it is as simple as wanting to make an experience as easy as using Uber or Facebook. We are rolling out a CRM tool, and our most valuable input on new functionality, and even screen design, comes from the sales leadership. Once your business partners with you, they are also vested in making the project succeed."
The people aspect of any technology innovation project is among the top challenges folks like Rohit face week in and week out. Rohit's advice for other technology leaders managing cross-functional teams?
"First of all, you need to think of yourself as a business person who happens to be a technologist. We used to have a leader who said there are only two roles in a company – to sell, and to help sell. So it means understanding what will help the business; figuring out how you can use technology to solve the need; and communicating it in a non-technical fashion. Some people get it; others are slower either because they resist change or they have other priorities. Most people want to do the right thing. The trick is to bring them along in the journey. This takes patience, tact, and a willingness to evolve your own ideas, but once you have a shared vision, you can do wonders."
Business Process Improvement
As technology becomes ever more strategic to organizations, business is increasingly responsible for technology decisions and budgets. Business leaders are seeing technology as an enabler that makes it possible to innovate processes, products and services; rethink the business model; create a compelling competitive advantage; and ultimately disrupt their industry.
Business applications that are more mission critical in nature are typically assigned to professional developers with programming experience using Java, .NET, AWS, etc., while less critical applications and processes may be managed by line of business, no-code citizen developers who typically have basic to advanced Excel skills (like macros) but cannot code.
Despite the range of challenges different coding languages and applications running an organization entail, we both agreed that one thing unites business and IT: the business processes these apps enable.
"The business process is the one common language that both business users and IT understand," said Rohit. "Within our organization, we have mapped business processes (the entire market to order process for example) down to the detailed sub-process (telemarketing, for instance). This helps identify the applications being used in a particular process - and where the gaps are." According to Rohit, since a process-based approach provides a platform for IT and non-IT business users to collaborate. This becomes particularly useful when innovating, especially where new process flows could introduce new gaps in the application portfolio, and joint decisions must to be taken on how (or if) those gaps need to be filled.
When asked if there was anything else Rohit would like to leave us with, it was: "There is no monopoly on innovation. With business people becoming more IT-savvy, IT needs to be willing to embrace ideas from everywhere, even if it feels like others are stepping into your territory. If you don't, your competitors will!"
Attending MIDTECH Fall in Chicago?
For those attending MIDTECH Fall September 25-27 in Chicago, drop by the QuickBase booth, #303, or attend the presentation, "Is Low-Code Development Part of Your Digital Strategy," at 12:00 to hear how forward-thinking digital leaders are collaborating with business to drive impressive results utilizing low-code platforms.