Communicate to innovate and evolve

By Jan Wildeboer

Jan Wildeboer, Red Hat’s EMEA Evangelist, discusses the importance of communication for innovation and evolution.

A recent IDC study estimates that digital transformation spend will account for 53% of enterprise IT budgets over the next few years. Despite the investment, many new technologies are rolled out without consulting the end-users themselves. Even in-house, new applications are designed and built without the input of other stakeholders in the business. However, the fault doesn't lie solely with the IT department. This is a systemic issue, rooted in a lack of communication between all parties and reluctance to learn from one another. 

So how can businesses bring IT into the fold and encourage a culture of shared accountability and collective responsibility? The answer lies in having an open and honest framework that facilitates discussion and collaboration to deliver the changes that really matter.

We often talk about communities, with developer communities on the ground level driving the creativity that leads to new ideas, new applications and solutions. The truth of the matter is, a business is a community that has been brought together to achieve a common goal, whether that is to build cars, sell groceries or financial services. However, rather than working together the community often finds itself divided, working to achieve separate goals. This is inherent in almost every large business as teams and departments are encouraged to be competitive, but this can be detrimental.

There are methods that businesses can employ to bring the community together. Methods that have been used to great effect at a software development level but can be applied to address any technical domain or business issue. Integral to this process is a group modelling technique known as ‘event storming’, which brings people together to get to grips with complex issues. It accelerates learning and generates new ideas. Crucially, it allows the group to work together to come up with a resolution, creating a common understanding of how software should be applied to address specific business needs.

This is an example of a new organisational philosophy and strategic process known as Culture-as-a- Service (CaaS).

We’re now accustomed to terms and acronyms that detail various cloud computing ‘as-a-service’ models. CaaS covers off the practical implementation of these technologies to provide a holistic framework that facilitates inclusion, discussion, knowledge sharing and best practice. CaaS helps to create an open organisation where ideas flourish and collaboration becomes the norm.

CaaS also finally puts paid to the perception that IT is nothing more than a cost centre. IT is core to absolutely every function within a modern business. An organisation wouldn’t survive without the support of its IT department. CaaS can help the IT department to truly reach its potential and become a centre for innovation. However, attitudes need to change on both sides of the fence. Business unit heads need to be willing to collaborate with their IT colleagues, while developers and technical teams need to be less introverted and embrace a more open culture.

The practical application of this would be for IT to involve their business colleagues in the software development process, employing the group modelling methods outlined earlier. The result is that equal credit is given to both parties for developing a solution that will drive a new business process. This has a miraculous effect. The business stakeholder, or in effect, the customer, feels so invested in the new process that they evangelise about it and promote it across the business. This new approach is underpinned by closed feedback loops and decentralised systems, which maintain a constant flow of ideas.


Furthermore, it enables businesses to become a hotbed of innovation, using feedback loops to ensure that knowledge remains inside the walls of the organisation. In many instances, businesses invest large amounts of money into new software solutions with the intention of driving the business forward, but in doing so lose valuable knowledge to third parties.

Organisations will always have a need to invest in third-party solutions. Many proprietary applications and services are ubiquitous. However, the majority of these are appropriate for basic tasks, so businesses should give more consideration to designing and building business specific applications in-house. Or augment solutions with compatible features designed in-house that benefit all stakeholders. 

Using CaaS principles, organisations can better analyse the impact of third-party proprietary systems and then use the data to develop new features and eventually a new breed of services, all based on open standards. This allows them to select open source development tools that suit their requirements and provide the necessary foundation and infrastructure to create new applications. The decentralised system and closed feedback loops ensure lots of different voices from across the business are heard. Successes and failures can be discussed in equal measure. The performance of specific processes and applications can be measured. Projects can be cancelled, new ones implemented, older ones revived - but with a fresh perspective. In addition, businesses should always be aware of what the younger members of the team are doing. An organisation can learn so much from the younger generation, they set the tone for the future and help to identify new technologies businesses should be investing in.

CaaS takes process management and people management to a whole new level. It outlines clear goals more effectively, helping to facilitate change and create a new philosophy.

The culture of an organisation is never set in stone, but to survive and remain competitive a business should be constantly reinventing the wheel, it shouldn’t stand still. Otherwise, it will risk falling behind. Constant evolution, driven by communication and collaboration will keep the business at the cutting edge. This should be driven from the ground up. Subsequently, senior management will be encouraged to take a deeper view of what is going on across the organisation. Once they understand the benefits of a holistic approach it will become ingrained in the fabric of the organisation.

For more information on business topics in Africa, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief Africa.

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