Inspired by self-learning machines, at university Jay Gandhi studied artificial intelligence (AI) specialising in machine learning (ML) and data mining. At the time, he had to write his own machine learning algorithms, but today, you can simply select-and-run ML and other AI capabilities through powerful clouds such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. Because AI had very few commercial applications in the late nineties, post-graduation Jay worked as an IT consultant for a variety of organisations such as Exxon, MoneyExtra.com, and Shell.
Since specialising in project management for more than ten years’ successfully using PRINCE2 waterfall methodology, in 2010 Jay transformed himself into a Cloud SME. He has held numerous cloud leadership roles at Vodafone, The Foreign Office, Rackspace and Three mobile. However, his passion is to blend cloud, data-based insights and automation using lean and agile to transform today’s enterprises into digital, continually innovating and disruptive, customer-driven organisations.
‘The digital way of life’
According to Gandhi, digital has completely revolutionised the way we live our lives, and this is the start of a journey that will undoubtedly increase in importance, impact and velocity as we further embrace the digital way of life.
“The range of products and services which can be ordered literally from the tips of our fingers is already staggering. From everyday items on Amazon, to food from Just Eat, to cleaners on HouseKeep.com – most of us already believe there are very few problems that cannot be solved by an app,” says Gandhi.
“Delivery times for many of these products and services has reduced significantly – not by a percentage improvement – but by a magnitude. For example, not so long ago Amazon Prime was game-changing by offering same-day delivery, but already, we have Amazon Prime Now, HomeRun and McDelivery all offering a within-the-hour service. It won’t be long before we have real-time delivery options.”
Gandhi believes that, with almost zero effort required to exercise your freedom of choice, this is the final nail in the coffin for brand loyalty. Consumers may continue to do business with you for the long term but, only if your organisation continually meets the needs and exceeds expectations. For example, many of us regard Amazon.com as the default, go-to app for all consumer goods (perhaps as we believe scale implies the lowest prices) but the moment you perceive it to fail, you will without hesitation find an alternative.
So, how has so much progress been made in such a relatively short amount of time and why are we just at the start of this digital revolution?
“Many born-in-the-cloud organisations started life knowing they must delight their customers and the only way to achieve this was by continually innovating in order to meet the ever changing needs and expectations.
“This mindset has now been adopted by many traditional enterprise organisations – albeit with mixed success rates,” continues Gandhi.
“Creating a culture of continuous innovation is super complex as it requires wholesale change across an organisation from leadership, governance, skills, expertise, creativity and autonomy to reward structure – but for now – we should focus on some of the key technical delivery ingredients such as methodology, insights, cloud, automation and how they complement one another.”
In order to continually meet the needs and expectations of customers (and even prospects), Gandhi advises businesses receive insights via data.
Gandhi adds: “We know insight is a hot topic but at a high level, it is not the volume, velocity or variety that you should obsess over. Instead, it is the relevancy of your data. Relevant data will allow your organisation to glean vital insights such as: what are key issues with your existing products? What improvements do customers want to see to existing products and services? And what new products and services would your customers (and prospects) like you to develop?
“If you have a healthy digital relationship with your customers and prospects, your business decisions will be guided based on evidence – this will help your organisation to become customer driven.”
There’s no doubt many of today’s organisations have successfully delivered projects/programmes using traditional waterfall methodologies e.g., PRINCE2 but as Gandhi described earlier, the needs and expectations of consumers today is all about choice, quickness, and low costs.
“In my previous life when I was a Project Manager for 10 years, I utilised waterfall to successfully delivering many complex projects, so I fully appreciate its merits. However, knowing the velocity of consumer demand, I can also see that a traditional waterfall model is simply not fit-for-purpose in terms of timescales, frequency, approach, techniques and quality,” comments Gandhi.
“It is analogous to using the old paper-based, London street map. Sure you can still use it today to navigate the streets but many people prefer a digital format which is, compact, kept up-to-date and through crowd-power can highlight the best route based on real-time traffic information.”
If waterfall is adopted to successfully deliver a new application/functionality but takes 3 months, then is it a failure? Gandhi believes consumers in an on-demand world expect things now, and if not, expect early sight (such as a beta release).
Adopting a lean approach
Gandhi continues: “Delivery times in the order of months is simply no longer feasible. Furthermore, in those 3 months, there is every chance the original needs to have either branched off, advanced or discontinued.
“Consumers nowadays would rather have an early release within days/weeks so they can ‘get a feel’ and provide early feedback rather than wait for the [perceived to be] finished product many weeks later. This implies a more lean approach is necessary where the bare minimum is implemented to prove a simple or part of the overall concept (aka Minimum Viable Product (MVP)).
“Adopting a lean approach focuses the stakeholders on proving the intended concept which reduces complexity and thus delivery timescales. The most important thing is to prove the concept as quickly as possible and obtain invaluable learnings as they help you determine whether you should progress or ‘pivot’ direction.”
Gandhi recommends that building in manageable chunks/iterations/cycles and using the learnings each time to steer you towards the target outcome is representative of today’s consumer habits and this delivery approach is called agile. Because lean and agile allow you to continuously deliver, your delivery teams can build momentum and confidence. Furthermore, not only can you close the gap in meeting consumer needs today, but also in the future as expectations change.
Cloud & automation
As Michael Dell once quoted “ideas are a commodity, delivery is not”. Delivery is a complex business comprising controlled cycles of build, measure and learn. The more the cycles the more you build momentum and learn.
“If lean and agile methodology enables continual innovation, then cloud infrastructure and automation, in turn, support the methodology. We all appreciate public IaaS clouds i.e., Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are platforms comprising some very powerful tools but in this context, the key attributes required for developing in a Lean and Agile manner are choice, freedom and fairness,” Gandhi adds.
“Choice in terms of the countless programming languages, operating systems, database flavours and server a and storage specifications. Freedom to move between these tools at any time without lock-in and fairness, because public clouds only charge you for the resources you consume. Furthermore, build-measure-learn cycles can significantly improve in speed and quality if automation tools are used to support continuous integration, testing, configuration and deployment.”
Gandhi concludes that the success of your business rests in meeting the ever-changing and increasing needs of your customers. “Organisations which transform into digital, continually innovating, customer-driven businesses will positively disrupt (take market share away from their competitors) and thrive,” according to Gandhi.
He also notes that transforming an enterprise organisation will require a strong vision of the future supported by delivery methodologies and technology strategies.
Written by Leah Alger