What Is Digital?

If I had been given a pound for every time I’ve been asked ”what is digital?”, I probably wouldn’t be able to afford the latest iPhone, but I might be able to afford a decent case.

I’m lucky to work in a digital team, but where does that leave my non-digital colleagues? Someone made a good point recently that just because they are not the digital team doesn’t mean they are analogue! Very true. When did any of us deliver an analogue solution in our career?

So, What Exactly Is Digital?

There is much debate in the industry about what digital actually is.

For some it’s all about a new style of technology, scripting language or tooling. For others it’s about how we work and the processes and techniques. For some it’s about how business is conducted, in particular using online channels to buy and sell.

All of these and more are correct. For me, it’s all about

  • the type of work we do,
  • doing things differently and
  • creating an environment and culture to enable everyone to be their best.

A Different Type Of Work Takes A Different Type Of Person

The technologies we use now are certainly different to a few years ago. When I started in IT, Cobol was still the language of choice and Java was just starting to make a difference. We have evolved so much in the last 20 years.

Most of our work is cloud hosted and it’s a rare occasion that on premise is the first choice. Dev Ops, Agile, automation, robotics, platforms, containers, microservices amongst other buzz words are talked about and worked on in the team.

Open source software and tooling are positively encouraged and names like Gherkin, Cucumber, Chef, Puppet, Ansible, Chocolatey, Balsamic, Hadoop, Python, UX and Service Design can be overhead in discussions around the teams.

We have been so fortunate to realise early on, that things were changing and we recognised the need to evolve and re-invent our programmers into multi-skilled engineers, where tooling rather than native code is king.

Previously the type of person who would have made a good programmer might not be the ideal candidate today as an engineer. I’ve had many CVs on my desk that would have ticked every box a few years ago, but now the first thing we look at is will they fit into the team and do they have a high level of learnability.

The autocratic management style that was so familiar a few short years ago, can no longer be found in my team. I see myself as an enabler of the teams rather than managing them. As Steve Jobs said (not exactly verbatim, but you get the picture) ”We don’t hire clever people to tell them what to do, we expect them to tell us what to do”. When the team make suggestions, I take them seriously and try to make things happen for them whether that is training, having a relationship with a technology partner, getting licenses for a particular tool or giving them time to work on some innovation outside of their regular work.

The New Team Mindset

One of the first things we did as part of our cultural shift was to remove the hierarchies. We rationalised the roles within the teams. Everything is delivered using an Agile approach. We now have scrum masters and team members which includes everyone from apprentice engineers to architects.

Our people and their team have a number of attributes and characteristics…

  • No hierarchy – badges are left at the door
  • Everyone is equal
  • Everyone mentors and coaches each other
  • Transparency is a given – we don’t want secrets or hidden agendas
  • We don’t fail, we learn lessons
  • We share our blockers and issues and resolve them together
  • We solve problems
  • We have time to innovate, learn and develop
  • We remember and nurture our passion for IT
  • We celebrate and recognise achievements and successes
  • We have fun!

Speedboats over Supertankers

Working in a mega corporation the deals that previously were common were the multi billion 15 year outsourcing deals. This does seem to be changing and rather than the huge mega deal, clients seem very interested in breaking down their big challenges into smaller discreet problems. From which we develop a minimum viable product or do some digital experimentation. Using agile techniques of constant feedback loops means we can very easily change direction where we need to. Starting small or ”not boiling the ocean” has allowed us to reinvent our reputation as an innovative, digital partner to our clients. Where we have started small with maybe 2 or 3 people, inevitably turns into 2 or 3 scrum team’s solving more and more problems.

Digital Is Binary

There are many definitions of what digital is. Everything from cutting edge technologies, online business transactions, even legacy mainframe application development using agile, dev ops and automation.

One thing that can’t be debated, every digital application whether it is written in Cobol or any of today’s tools, it is still only 1s and 0s.

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