Digitalisation – Building the needed capabilities

Some 20 years ago was I called to help two researchers, a physicist and a medical doctor with a poorly written C++ computer program at their hands. As the three of us sat and peered on the code the medic said: «You know, what happens now is rare phenomena here in Norway. Here we are, three professions working on a common problem as a team of equals».

That day I learnt a few things about tumours and magnetic tomography, they a few things on how to write faster and better C++ programs, but all of us learnt that solving a difficult problem benefits from a multi disciplined team.

Yesterday I wrote that digitalisation requires organisations to adopt Internet thinking and begin developing their digital capabilities and asset. The first capability they need to leverage is multi disciplined teams. In a true multi disciplined team all participants acknowledge the other disciplines and respect their uniqueness. It´s not about a customer / vendor or master / servant relationships,  its about peers working to solve a common problem.

Creating multi disciplined teams is hard, because most businesses are built around what is perceived as the most valuable discipline. Within healthcare and hospitals the medical doctor is at the top of the food chain. In oil companies geologists and geophysicists are the ones that rules the exploration department. Drillers and drilling engineers the drilling department and so on. In these type of cultures the final decision power is allocated to the what is perceived as the «leading» discipline. To succeed with digitalisation this kind of culture must come to and end.

Why must it come to and end, you now might ask? The answer to that is that digitalisation implies that the function or role of disciplines are changed. Digitalisation forces disciplines to create tools or services that make their skills and insights available in new ways. The geophysicist is not interpreting seismic images any more, their skills are needed to create software that interpret images. The same happens with any other discipline, it be medical doctor or a civil engineer.

With the multi disciplined team in place, whats next? Sustainable funding, as teams and digital assets eat money for breakfast. Compared with physical assets, that have a lifespan measured in years, a digital asset (in terms of software) need continuous investments to stay healthy and competitive. You are very much in a climate where «Who dares win» to quote David Sterling, the founder of the British SAS forces.

The practical consequence of this is less upfront work on formal business cases, but an adaptive learning approach where we want to fail early to make sure that good ideas are separated from the bad ones before the cost of failure skyrockets.

The third ingredient needed is adequate digital (software engineering) competence. You need software developers and software engineers. Here most companies faces another challenge, the good ones are rare. The one you need are the ones who can envision new capabilities and put in place the process, tools and team to make it fly.

Finally, what does Internet thinking mean? It boils down to a culture of sharing. Open source software. Create a community to solve the problem. This is how you scale the multi disciplinary team globally. The Internet is built on the simple belief that sharing is the fastest and most efficient way to create business. In this respect open source software does not mean free software, it mean that monetisation is done by other means than sale of licenses.

So summarised digitalisation depends on three things, multi disciplined teams, adequate funding, software engineering skills all wrapped into a sharing culture in line with the spirit of the Internet.

Good luck with your digitalisation journey.

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