From our perspective as consumers, perhaps the best thing about digital transformation is how consumerization is making technology so much easier to use. Sure, our television remote controls still have too many buttons, and I have yet to figure out the digital display in my Honda, but all in all, tech is getting easier for everybody.
Within companies – even very large ones – the consumerization of technology is gradually taking hold as well. There are now simple mobile apps for a wide range of big company tasks, ranging from changing your benefits to replacing a security badge.
As enterprise denizens know all too well, however, there is still plenty of technology that’s too hard to use. For every intuitive, AI-driven user interface, there are dozens of arcane, menu or tab-driven monstrosities from the last millennium, raising our blood pressure and slowing us down.
Take a moment, sit back, and ask yourself why we still have this sad state of affairs. With all the wonderfully simple consumer tech all around us, why hasn’t all the corporate tech followed suit?
The sad answer: there are people both in your organization and out dead set on making or keeping technology difficult to use on purpose.
And until we turn over every stone so that they can all scurry away, they will continue to make tech intentionally hard to use. So let’s flip some rocks and shine some light on this problem.
I might as well state the obvious reason for why tech is often so difficult to deal with: money. After all, if technology is a bear to install, configure, and use, then all your techies will have built-in job security, and even then, the poor end-customer may have no choice but to spend the big bucks on consultants to get everything to work.
In the early, ‘data processing’ days of enterprise tech, wrestling with the systems of the time was necessarily challenging. When the early enterprise apps came on the scene, they also had a steep learning curve, both for the techies responsible for installing and customizing them and the end-users with the thankless job of using them.
Over the years, the incumbent software vendors and system integrators (SIs) realized just what a cash cow difficult technology had become, and were only too happy to keep peddling it to frustrated but resigned enterprise customers.
In fact, until the rise of cloud computing in the mid-2000s, all aspects of enterprise tech had graduated from the must-be-difficult phase to the difficult-on-purpose era. Every corner of IT was affected, from networks to middleware to data center technology to applications to user interfaces.
The rise of the Web helped simplify enterprise tech to some extent – but in retrospect was little more than lipstick on a pig. A very expensive pig.
Then along came the cloud, and everything changed – except when it didn’t. True, the AWS interface was far simpler than the manual provisioning and configuration monstrosities that had come before. Salesforce was correspondingly easier to install, configure, and use than Siebel, the previous CRM leader. And where AWS and Salesforce went, so too did the rest of the cloud.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of counterexamples to this trend. Take OpenStack, for example. The original vision for OpenStack was a simple collection of open source modules for building a complete private cloud environment, all the way up from bare metal.
However, as I wrote about all the way back in 2015, OpenStack soon became a monstrosity of complexity – nowhere near the paragon of simplicity its original creators had envisioned. At the time, in fact, I predicted the demise of the project, expecting participants to chalk it up to a learning experience and move on.
Yet, while the excitement around OpenStack has died down, largely shifting to the now-exploding world of containers, the project continues to soldier on, perhaps somewhat easier to use than in its early days, but still a notoriously complex bear to deal with.
OpenStack aficionados, you see, are fine with this state of affairs. Their skills are all the more valuable the harder the technology is to deal with. If it were too easy, the reasoning goes, then anyone could do it – and they’d be out of a job.
If you read my recent Forbes article on the pushback low-code/no-code platforms are getting, you’ll see a clear pattern here. In fact, the point of this Cortex is to take the lessons of low-code/no-code I discussed in that Forbes article and recognize that they are special cases of a much broader trend across IT and beyond – to how businesses leverage technology throughout their organizations.
What’s happening in the low-code/no-code world, you see, is more than simply increased ease of use. The real story here is how this emerging market is disrupting the entire hard-on-purpose worldview we’ve been saddled with since the dawn of enterprise computing. You could even call this trend the ‘easy revolution.’
And not a moment too soon.
Once you recognize the pattern, you can spot it in other places as well. Take enterprise integration. We’ve evolved from proprietary, coded APIs to Web Services to RESTful APIs, which are far simpler than earlier approaches to integration, but still harder than they should be.
But now we’re making the leap to no-code integration, and all the RESTafarians are crying foul. It’s too simple, they say – you must be missing something important. As the tools mature, however, we won’t need to deal with even the most RESTful of APIs the hard way, when the easy way will do.
In fact, the entire consumerization of technology trend that is so integral to digital transformation itself is all part of this easy revolution. We’re not just making simple tasks available via consumerized interfaces – we’re now taking previously difficult activities that had always required skilled people and making them dead simple.
The easy revolution isn’t really about technology, of course – it’s about people.
Making technology easier to use doesn’t really put people out of work, or at least, not the people you want in your organization anyway.
To mix apt but confusing metaphors, we’re not simply moving from hard to easy, we’re moving from hard to soft – which is actually hard.
Here’s what I mean: the easy revolution doesn’t simply take hard tasks off of people’s plates only to replace them with nothing useful to do.
Instead, by making individuals’ hard tasks easier, we open up their time for other types of activities – ones that we can’t simplify by building easier technology.
In other words, we’re shifting from hard (i.e. ‘technical’) to soft (‘human’) skills. After all, while the vendors and SIs want technical work to be difficult because it’s more lucrative that way, from the techie’s perspective, not only does hard technical work give them permanent employment, but some techies may also want difficult tasks because dealing with all the ‘soft’ complexities of the human side of business is in reality more difficult for them than even the most challenging technical duties.
Whether they like it or not, stepping away from the keyboard to participate in DevOps-style, customer-focused, cross-functional teams that require soft skills is essential to digital transformation. And in the final analysis, these are the techies you’d prefer to have in your organization in any case.
The easy revolution, in fact, is really nothing more than the digital transformation we’ve been writing about all along. And if you want to see the easy revolution in action, look no further than the progress we’ve made with DevOps.
Enterprises must reorganize to better meet the needs of customers, driving the need to make technology easier for everyone to use, and furthermore, requiring soft skills more than hard ones from everyone in the organization – despite the pushback from the hard-on-purpose establishment.
That’s not too hard, right?
Copyright © Intellyx LLC. Intellyx publishes the Agile Digital Transformation Roadmap poster, advises companies on their digital transformation initiatives, and helps vendors communicate their agility stories. As of the time of writing, none of the organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx customers. Image credit: Heather Katsoulis.