Why You Should Be Thinking About Distributed 4.0

A new approach to how we think about our people, processes and technology

Nearly all companies have been forced to wake up to the distributed workforce model over the past 6 months. However, the word ‘distributed’ is far more encompassing than simply having your team join the monthly management meeting from their breakfast table. 

My prediction is that ‘distributed’ will become a more prominent buzzword over the next couple of years as it begins to bring about a new approach to how we think about our people, processes and technology. Through the adoption of distributed models; teams, systems and businesses we’ll be able to work more autonomously, accelerate initiatives and provide organisations with the ability to rapidly pivot and change, whether that is a reaction to industry disruption, such as COVID-19, or to exploit new business opportunities.

What does distributed mean right now?

If you google ‘distributed business models’, you will get mostly 2 results:

  1. How to get the best out of your employees when they are working from home
  2. How to create a distribution business

Within tech, there are already a number of established terminologies such as:

  • Distributed systems: Cloud, Microservices etc. that enable organisations to shift towards a platform mindset that delivers with pace and assurance
  • Distributed data: The API economy where businesses can implement approaches such as event stream processing to make rapid data driven decision to generate more revenue or react to change, in collaboration with wider ecosystems
  • Distributed Teams:  Software development has benefited from distributed teams for many years where it has been the norm to have teams working on the same thing, dotted around the globe. However, it’s still hard to operate this at scale!

Outside of development, perhaps the only other job role that is distributed is that of the salesman. This needs to change.

Distributed needs to be a guiding principle for your business strategy and an enabling force behind people, process and technology.

The issues we are facing today

Right now, there are a number of challenges that hinder the ability to become distributed, these include:

  • Too many companies are wasting their shareholders/investors/owners’ money on maintaining and developing monolithic legacy applications that should have died years ago. This is poor practice and the knock on effect on the wider business is significant. Enterprises need to think about a ‘small pieces loosely joined’ approach where they focus on building and supporting the systems that strategically differentiate the business and partner/buy the systems that are generalist and then optimise how these systems talk to each other and share data.
  • Just being able to simply access a secure and stable working environment has proven to be a huge challenge and will continue to be so. I suspect that over the coming year or so, we are going to hear about some troubling data breach issues. We’ll see whether all that money spent on GDPR was worth it…

Security seems to be a responsibility that is put upon the few specialists. I remember an old company value that read ‘the reputation of the entire company lies in the hands of each and every individual’. Never has this been so true and it’s about time companies started investing in their people to give them the tools they need to protect the business and customer.

  • Tedious time consuming manual tasks are a mental and emotional drain for many people. It’s even worse if you’re having to do them in isolation. Over the past few years there has been a lot of noise around how automation will kill jobs when in fact it is repetitive jobs that will cause more harm to our mental and physical health in the long run.

Even though many companies are investing in things such as RPA / Intelligent Automation, it’s very much driven from the ground up, a tactical approach to save effort and money as opposed to thinking about the bigger picture. So yes, a few bots could save ££££££s, but getting rid of your awful ERP and then embracing the cloud with an architecture that supports forward thinking partner collaboration, could multiply those savings and open up new opportunities.

The distributed operating model of the future

Distributed operating models need to encompass everything within the organisation, not just desks. This is a big change but a few things can be done right now right now to help start that journey:

  • Technology practices such as serverless, microservices, data driven decision making, event stream processing, ‘as-a-service’ platforms, intelligent process automation and the API economy 
  • Re-inventing the way in which companies contract, engage and work with suppliers, partners and collaborators through outcomes based projects, OKRs, connected but decoupled systems, open ecosystems and networks of connected teams
  • Quite a lot has been written about the project to product mindset, next will be the platform mindset where everything within the business should be an enabler for both the known and unknown

If you can start to fix these, then the cultural changes become easier as you will have solved a lot of pain for your internal and external users.