Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Microsoft, Nokia, Convergence and You

There has been a lot of discussion about Microsoft's takeover of Nokia's handset business and what that means for the respective companies and the industry as whole. One way of thinking about the deal is that these two former giants have been losing stature, market share and value because they have been behind the curve on the big thematic trend of  "Convergence". It's this trend that is killing the PC, and laptop business and has already done for the phone handset firms that didn't catch the smart phone wave.

What's this got to do with Process Transformation? Well, it got me thinking how the theme of Convergence (in a much more general sense) is often present in projects aiming to improve processes. It's about breaking down single function silos and putting them together in a way that is seamless, convenient and easy to use.

Previously, PCs and Software, Phones, Cameras, Games Consoles were all considered a separate and highly specialised products - not because the customers for these products necessarily wanted them to be separate, but because the state of technology at the time would have made such an idea preposterous. As technology improved, miniaturised and became connected over mobile internet, product visionaries such as Steve Jobs were able to re-imagine these products in terms of how people would like to use them and even combine them, rather than just in terms of incremental improvements to separate technologies. Now, and it's almost banal to state as it's so common, but you can take a highly quality photo or video on your mobile phone, crop it add a filter or effect and uploaded it to a social media site such as Facebook to share with all your friends or contacts in a matter of seconds - and be reading their reactions a few seconds later. That is the extent of the convergence that has already happened in consumer technology.

Similarly, business functions are usually separated into departments of specialised skills, or silos, with their own culture, IT systems and even jargon. There is often little understanding or appreciation of what goes in departments other than their own. But business processes by their very nature cut across these functions and pull data and expertise from the entire organisation. So what does convergence mean in this respect? Well, it is the move towards looking at how customers, prinicipally, but also the key process participants want to use the process - what's the use or purpose of this process? This trend is driven by many of the same factors that we've seen in the consumer electronics convergence: improved technology and a customer expectation of "ease of use" and faster turn-around times. It's also the need to handle multiple (and proliferating) channels of communication in a consistent fashion, as well as what we can describe as "don't make me repeat myself.."

The lesson for us all here is that we don't want to end up like Nokia or Blackberry, that were so stuck in a silo view of the world that they didn't see how much their own customers were going to love the iPhone and all that it inspired before it was way too late. Process improvement is always about understanding the use or purpose of the process and trying to make that as seamless, convenient and easy to use as possible.

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