Clinton Bonner: Little Cyndi Lauper here, a little Time After Time, Nate.
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Clinton: Welcome to Catalyst, the Launch by NTT Data podcast. Catalyst is an ongoing discussion for digital leaders dissatisfied with the status quo, and yet optimistic about what’s possible through smart technology and great people. Today’s topic hits squarely at why so many technology leaders are not satisfied, and the power of the platform paradigm in helping enterprises get to smooth. We’ll be taking a trip in the wayback machine to visit three stories from our past that changed the course of humanity that are great illustrations of the power of platforms and how they apply to modern technology challenges. Joining me in studio to go back in time in order to help shape our future is VP of Engineering at Launch by NTT Data, Nate Berent-Spillson. Nate, very good morning to you, I hope you’re fired up, bud. I’m excited to chat.
Nate Berent-Spillson: Yeah, thanks, Clinton, and thanks for having me on, it’s great to be here. I’m very excited to talk about this, it’s something that’s very near and dear to my heart and is very exciting for me.
Clinton: Yeah. I know it is. We met about a year ago now when I took a new role, and I came over to Nexient, which then helped, we were shaping up Launch by NTT Data, putting a lot of amazing companies into a good kind of blender, if you will. And it’s been one of the relationships I’ve cherished the most is getting to know you more, and really getting to understand your philosophies. And, super excited about the work we’re doing, which is bringing some of these things to light. We’ll talk about that in a bit. One of the ways in which we kicked it off together was at Nexus 23, which is, we debuted Launch by NTT Data to the world, and it’s a flagship show that Nexient had put on every single year, and it really is a show for change agents. For those disruptors, for those, just, technology leaders who know there’s a better way to do things. And you had a keynote that you titled “Get Good at Change,” and had several concepts we’ll be discussing today and in future visits to the studio, and today’s focus, we are going to talk about the power of the platform. And before we look back at these great stories and how they apply to the future, we’re gonna hone in on the present right now with you. So, before we get to the stories, before we get to the powers of platform, why are so many in technology - we’re talking really smart people, very capable people, big budgets, big teams, smart teams around them - why are they so dissatisfied and why are they struggling?
Nate: They’re struggling to generate momentum. I think that’s really what it boils down to, and there’s really three things that contribute to it. There’s organizational muscle memory that’s just built into… this structural friction is what’s created by it. And then you’ve got a lot of legacy technical debt. And… in the form of a lot of legacy systems that are being used to run the business, and very important and crucial to the business. But bringing those up and getting those modernized, and getting them to the point where they can evolve at the same speed that the business is trying to evolve? Those three things coming together makes it really difficult to generate momentum. You have this constant friction that’s bringing you back to a state of rest, rather than allowing you to have this perpetual momentum that you generated, that you can just keep perturbing forward, that helps you then build for the future.
Clinton: So, why should enterprises… let’s now switch over to the platforms, right?
Clinton: We’re talking about the power of platforms, we’ll get into these vignettes that are really, really cool, and some great human stories that I think folks will really enjoy listening to, so, you know, stay with us for those. But why should the average enterprise - they might not see themselves as a “platform business,” you know, put that in air quotes if you want to. They might not look at themselves as a platform operation. However, you’re coming to the table and saying “Hey, look, regardless of your industry, regardless of your business and who you serve, you actually ought to look at yourself as a platform.” What do you mean?
Nate: It’s a very overloaded term in the industry, for sure. You hear it all the time, and people are like “Okay, well what do you mean by platform?” It’s more of a platform way of thinking, really. And it is, platform is a concept that once you really understand it, it’s hard to unsee it once you see it. And, in organizations, we… it’s an overloaded term, so we use it all the time, but really I think of it as a technology platform. You have your operating platform, and you have your software delivery platform. And each one of those is unique, and the, what you’re trying to achieve with it ultimately, and what it’s getting you to. But, that… it’s that state of mind. Of thinking about it in terms of platforms, your organization then helps you really visualize, okay, so now, how can I get the most bang for the buck? So once you start to think about your organization as more of a platform company, you just think about the way that you actually operate as more of a platform, that offers you this opportunity to amortize out a lot of those construction costs for those foundational pieces across a lot of different products, rather than taking this very big-bang monolithic, you know, frankly, it came into being because of the structure of capital funding, and that’s where a lot of it comes from. Just because, software construction is very different than a physical asset.
Nate: Or actual physical construction. But we’re using the same financial mechanisms to create software.
Clinton: One of the ways I like to look at what you were saying there about the amortizing of the assets is, you know, for those who like, trade stocks, right? Like, if you just keep buying a stock you really love, they call it like, dollar cost averaging, right? The next slice you buy, the next piece you buy, over time it costs you less per average because you’re doing… basically doing the same thing, you’re taking a bet. Like, if you love Amazon, just keep on buying Amazon, you can dollar cost average your way up and down.
Clinton: Is that the goal? Like, you’re… we want to produce products, and we want to get to a point where we are more free, more frictionless. But it’s not just about doing it quickly, but it’s about doing it a lot more, a lot more efficiently as well. Is that a fair metaphor over to the software world for you?
Nate: It’s similar in concept. I think of it more in terms of, the majority of what you have, you have really, like, these different categories of supporting capabilities within your organization. And once upon a time, you probably needed to go build that from scratch.
Nate: You have so many things now that are available as a service. You can go get that solved problem as a service. So you really want to lean into that portion of it, because you get it much more cheaply. But again, it’s coming out of a different part of the budget, ‘cause you’ve gotta pay that SaaS cost every month. What you’re really trying to do is have these reusable building blocks that allows you to tap into core functionality that you need to power products. And then whenever you just… really, what you’re looking for is the gap. Find the gap in functionality that you have, and then build just that piece. So you don’t have to go build the entire structure every time you’re building a new product. And, we made several attempts at this. You know, you had the SO movement, and moving more towards services, like, that was a good first step. We got through, you know, a certain level of maturity with that, and took it sometimes in the wrong direction, and overengineered on that front. But it was a similar concept. The idea was that we’re going to have these reusable building blocks, some of those we build internally, some of those we buy and get in a SaaS model. And some of those we may build ourselves, but we’re building it from the perspective of that I want to have a high level of reuse in the organization for this. So that really what you’re trying to do is drive your product teams to be looking at it from the perspective of, what do I have to work with for this idea? To bring this idea to reality? And then fill in the gaps. And that filling in the gaps is usually a much smaller spend than having to go and build everything from scratch every single time.
Clinton: Yeah, and I think some of the things that I’ve heard you talk about, too, that tie to that, are the idea of, there’s this concept and maybe even a bit of a misnomer out there that’s like, hey, this “fail fast” mentality. Like, we gotta fail fast, we gotta fail fast. And I always try to juxtapose startup life versus enterprise reality life. Where in a startup, the fail fast mantra certainly can live on and be important. Velocity’s there, you want to be first to market, or usually breaking a new market or creating a new market. In the enterprise, it could be a lot different. So what’s the changeover from a fail fast mentality? Instead of “fail fast,” what could enterprise technology leaders look for instead, if they were looking for, like, a phrase to kind of latch onto?
Nate: Instead of fail fast, fail small. In enterprise, failure’s not tolerated, because you have an existing run the business. You can’t put the business at risk. So, there was something that got you there today that’s… at some point, every organization was a startup, probably. At some point you were founded, there was a good idea, it took root, you built it, you nurtured it, it was successful in the market. And now you’re trying to protect that. You protect it with a moat, you protect it through innovation. And organizations, then, are very hesitant for anything that comes in and starts to threaten that. Because structurally, usually, the organization is actually structured around that existing model. But at some point, you have to continue to disrupt it and transform it, especially if that particular model is under threat. So, making a big bet in enterprise, and that’s usually what enterprises do, you see it. So, enterprises are like “Oh, we gotta have the new version of our software, so we’re gonna do the grand rewrite of everything,” and boy, everyone shows up, and every feature that’s ever been dreamt of gets tacked on there, and it becomes into a big, bloated, convoluted mess, which then goes into production in a big bang approach. And we cut all the clients over, and none of their existing stuff that there are good portions of it doesn’t work anymore, or it doesn’t work the way that they were used to working with it, and now you’ve broken your special sauce with your grand rewrite. And the cost of failure there is huge, because you not only have, then, made a huge investment in it, but you’ve also then put all of your existing, you know, your existing customers, you put that at risk. In alienating them. And now you’re stuck. I’ve seen instances where companies have done that, they’ve made the big bet, they tried to move clients to it, clients roundly rejected it. And then they’re forced to stay in the old version, which they’ve neglected for some number of years now, and now this tech debt has piled up there, and you’ve got all your clients, you’re just trying to protect your existing customer base, and now you spent all your money on innovation. So instead of that, instead of going that big bang route, try to go smaller. Much smaller bang route. Make smaller bets. Get them out and measure them, and iterate on them until you find that new thing, that new special sauce that you’re ready to push hard in the market. So that’s the “fail small” part. And then you couple that with getting to the change, when you’re able to change and adopt that, and know that yeah, maybe I’m gonna cannibalize some of my existing customer base, but I’m gonna be attracting a lot of new customers. So it’s not a threatening thing, it’s just a change thing. These things can coexist with each other. And then if one starts to take off in the market, that one becomes the new growth engine. And then you repeat that cycle. And so you see companies who are very good at doing that, they are incredibly dominant in the market. They are constantly transforming themself over and over and over again. And they have a lot of failures behind the scenes that you might not see, but they’re failing small in ways that, that doesn’t put their main business at risk, until they’re sure that this thing is going to have legs and be able to drive forward.
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Clinton: Hey, Catalyst podcast listeners, we’ve got some big news! You may have heard a new voice on the podcast recently, Nate Berent-Spillson, VP of Engineering with us at Launch by NTT Data. Nate has authored a new book called “Frictionless Enterprise.” The book is for dissatisfied technology leaders who know there’s a better way to set their organization free, shred the tech baggage and create perpetual momentum, so they can continuously innovate and release successful products and experiences. Head to launch.nttdata.com/frictionless to explore the book’s concepts in more detail, and to get your free digital copy. That’s launch.nttdata.com/frictionless. Go there, get your free copy of Frictionless Enterprise, we know you’ll find a lot of value in it.
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Clinton: So, we’re starting to build a, you know, a model here. So we’re talking about reuse and not building things that don’t need to be built, like, don’t go solving solved problems, as you say.
Clinton: Reusing things, you get that amortization we talked about earlier. Removing friction in the system as best you possibly can, really scrutinizing and getting rid of those things, so that you can take those swings and fail small as opposed to just being obsessed with velocity, that you’re not really mitigating any sort of risk. And again, in the enterprise world it’s not tolerated. So as we, as we put these things together in this smoothie, if you will, and if we’re not obsessed with going fast, if that’s not it, then what is the feel that they should be going for? If it’s not fast, then what is it?
Nate: Smooth. You gotta start with smooth. And fast will follow. Smooth is about taking all of the friction out of your processes, and it’s about eliminating those break points where you have weight that’s gonna slow you down, those handoffs. I talked about, earlier, the structure, that siloed structure, often… when we have these organizational gaps where you have a handoff, that’s an opportunity for a loss of information. It’s an opportunity for weight and inefficiency. And so, it makes it difficult, then, for someone to keep the focus on moving value through the organization, because they’re like “Well, I did my thing and then I handed it off to the next silo.” And at that point it’s like, “My work is done, it’s their problem now.” It removes the individuals in the company from having the focus on what they’re really trying to do there. And then you fall into this trap. I call it the activity trap. You know, where you’re just measuring activity, and you’re just talking about activity. True velocity, when we talk about measuring of velocity, I mean, we’re in the business of software development…
Nate: You know what, you want to know what the velocity is of your teams. You want to know how well they’re executing and how fast they’re moving and everything else. Organizations get over-rotated on that, and like, obsess over this velocity number, if you will, rather than the value that’s being delivered. And how smooth was it, and how easy was it for us to deliver that value? And rather, they’re focused on just the activity, and then, again, you fall into this activity trap, and then people are gaming the system, essentially, to just demonstrate - “Well, here’s all my activity, here’s all the things that I’m doing. I’m busy every day.”
Clinton: Yep. Yep.
Nate: What value are you delivering? And the executives, their focus is on the value. But at some point, that breaks down as you’re trying to break down this work and organize the work. So, coming all the way back to the smooth part of this is, focus on the value. And look at the value stream for getting things from idea to the hands of your users. That flow, that value stream, you’ve gotta look at the thing that you’re using to run that, and the thing you’re using to deliver that, as platforms. And when you do that, and you start to take all the friction out of that process and get that nice laminar flow of value all the way through, then the organization itself, the muscle memory of the organization, aligns itself toward “We’re just used to delivering value all the time. We see ideas, we make them reality, we get them out in the hands of users, we measure it, and then we feed that back into our idea factory.” And start cranking in that dimension. Where now, everyone’s aligned with that, and now you avoid all those handoffs and those silos and the, you know, tracking of activity, and now you’re just talking about, like, excitement around ideas and value, and what are we doing next?
Clinton: Yeah. And from a cultural perspective, whether that’s the I.T. team or the whole organization, that’s something that surely will… ends up being felt. And it produces the top winning organizations out there that just keep knocking it out of the park. And so, Nate, I think the things you set out earlier, when I asked you about… should companies think of themselves as platforms? You said they should have platform thinking. And I think you illustrated that in those last couple of points there. So tell, tell us all more about… when you’ve got that paradigm, you’ve got that big disruption. So, juxtapose for us, when you are thinking and acting like a platform, versus when you’re not. When that cataclysm hits the enterprise, what’s different for both sides of the coin?
Nate: There are these disruptive shifts that happen all the time. I mean, our organizations, while we get to a good model and we want them to be static, something externally is gonna come in and disrupt that. Probably coming from another company who’s now stumbled upon something that allows them to disrupt part of what and how you’ve been running your business. And that’s, that’s the cycle that repeats itself over and over. What you have to watch out for there is, whenever one of those paradigm shifts happen, that you are actually understanding why it’s a disruptive paradigm shift, and looking at, how do I adopt it, and how do I capture the real value, the disruptive value, that’s here? Not just give it a surface-level treatment and check the box. So that’s this concept that I talk about, false equivalence. So, watching out for false equivalence, where you’re like “Yep, we’re doing the stuff,” because when you actually have to lean in to that paradigm shift, when you’re under threat of disruption, and it’s not there, you’re gonna find yourself in trouble. And I go back to look at, you know, history is actually great for harvesting examples of this, because it’s been happening over and over for, you know, all of human history.
Nate: Something comes in and is disruptive. The railroad was a massively disruptive technology force platform. It was massively disruptive when it came into being. It was a confluence of events. You know, things that were happening, the Industrial Revolution, the advances in manufacturing, the advances in steel production. All of those things came together to be able to create this platform for moving goods and people much more quickly. The way that that railroad was adopted, though, was very different in the United States between the North and the South, based on the economies at the time. And the structure of the platform, or the… one having a platform and another not, was actually a contributing factor to the South losing the war. The Civil War. So rewind now to 18, mid-1800s, and you have two very different industrial economic bases. So, the North - very industrialized. You’ve got a, you know, steel production in Pennsylvania, you’ve got coal coming out of West Virginia, you’ve got iron ore, you know, being shipped to the Great Lakes, and all of those things coming together to produce steel to build railroads. And then you’ve got, now, all of these goods that can come from the Plains and farms, and able to bring those to the major markets. So you’ve got this, this lateral platform now, in the North, where you’re actually, like, being able to move things laterally across the country. And it was very much aligned around the more industrial North. In the South, they had railroads as well, and the railroads in the South were very much more oriented towards getting raw goods, raw materials from the plantations and farms to port. To get them, then, to the mills, where they were going to be turned into actual products. So it was a bit of a different model in the South, it was just, get it from the point where it’s produced to the point where I can get it on a ship, and then it goes out in raw material form. So now, as the Civil War starts, the North and the South have to lean into that part of the infrastructure. Now, on paper, both of ‘em have railroads.
Clinton: Right. Two railroads. Yeah.
Nate: Okay. Cool. Like, yeah. Two railroads, check the box, no big deal. But the North, because they were moving goods laterally across, all the time, even though they had a lot of different rail operators, they had standardized on a gauge, the distance between the wheels of the car, and the distance between the tracks. It didn’t matter what car it was or what operator it was, you could move across from one to the other as part of the whole network. That was a true platform. In the South, because of the orientation from the plantation to the port, they didn’t standardize on a gauge, because it wasn’t important. You didn’t often go from one to the other, and so they had a bunch of different gauges. And a lot of times it wasn’t even all connected together. When it came time to lean in, now, the North is able to move goods and people across with no friction, at speed. The South, now, has to spend a lot of activity at those boundaries, whenever there’s a gauge change, they can only go fast when they’re all in the same gauge. When it gets to a point where there’s a gauge change, they have to stop. Then they have to wait, and make sure that they’ve got a train with the correct gauge to pick up all of the goods, all of the people, and then they’ve gotta move it from one place to another. That’s the perfect example of activity over outcomes. It didn’t help anything. All of that activity was completely wasted. Because really, what it was about was speed and, like, the least amount of activity possible to get to the outcome, which is getting from point A to point B. And they can’t do point A to point B, they’ve gotta do A to B, B to C, C to D, you know, to then make it across all of those gaps.
Nate: So, tremendous amount of inefficiency, tremendous amount of wasted time and effort. All because it wasn’t a true platform. It was false equivalence. So it’s a nice way of illustrating, like, how that friction can just eat you up. When you’re trying to compete against someone who’s not, doesn’t have to deal with that same amount of friction.
Clinton: Yeah, absolutely. And again, you can have all the busy bees claiming that they’re doing their job, right? ‘Cause somebody at the checkpoint, if you will - yeah, they were doing the job they had to go do, but to your point, valueless when compared to what could be, and that’s the entire point of that platform thinking. One part I want to poke at a bit deeper is, you know, we talked at the top, there was organizational muscle memory, technical debt and structural friction that slows things down. So, that example - sounds like friction to me. Is that the story?
Nate: Mostly friction. It also, it’s a great, it’s a physical example of the creation of silos. Like, you see that silo in action there, where you’ve got one silo and then there’s a handoff to the other silo, and then there’s all this activity that has to happen at that handoff point. Instead of just moving, you know, moving across, in between silos. And then there’s tech debt. Whether they realized it or not, that difference in gauge is actually tech debt. After the war, when they got into reconstruction, it was so crucial to take that friction out of the system that they went and re-gauged all of the rails in the South over a very short period of time, to create that frictionless network, so that they could now move the goods and people in to aid in reconstruction.
Clinton: Yeah, and I bet there’s listeners now that can take that story and very rapidly apply it to something, some large thing they had to go do, in order to get to parity, in order to have a fighting chance against some of the ways they see other organizations operate, and their ability to get to market. So it’s really, really kind of a fascinating… one of the vignettes we wanted to tap into. A second one that we looked at together, too, that really was interesting, revolves around this gentleman I would call Malcom McLean, maybe that’s because of my bias towards Die Hard, I heard you say Mc-Clean, not sure which one’s right. But Malcom McLean was a truck driver, and back in 1937 he had a little downtime, and he’s sitting at some of the ports in America, and he’s scratching his head being like, “Well, what I see is kind of dumb, and I think there’s a better way.” Love for you to take it from there, and also I want to make sure we talk about, what did he do, but also, like, how and why did it take so long to catch on when obviously it was better?
Nate: Yeah. Good ideas, disruptive ideas, disruptive paradigm shifts, often take time to actually take root. It’s not because it’s not a good idea, it’s because there’s not a disruptive event that really galvanizes and makes it that much more advantageous. And this was no different. So, McLean is, you know, looking at the… he was actually looking similarly, you’re looking at a point, a handoff point, between ships, unloading of ships, and getting that onto ground transport, and that might have been truck, or it could have been rail. So I like how the rail comes back into this as well, because again, it’s such a crucial platform component in our country, infrastructure platform, and it’s one that continued to be part of a destructive wave. Actually, what I like about this, too, is it’s the meta-platform. You know, it’s the platform of platforms, essentially. Like, going from rail and shipping to transportation and logistics. So, he’s looking at the inefficiency with unloading all this… all these goods and barrels and boxes and everything at the dock.
Clinton: Everything a different shape. Everything bespoke, right?
Clinton: Big crates, big barrels, big, just… some huge, some tiny, and one by one by one they’re being unloaded from these ships in these…
Clinton: …and they’re going, like, well, this just seems a little insane. Because every single day he’s a truck driver, so he has this bit of an a-ha, so what does he take from his, like, near-field experience, and say “Look, if it’s good on the roads,” essentially, “Why the heck can’t we apply it here?” So what was that a-ha?
Nate: Yeah. That’s the… the semi truck. You know, that’s the trailer, the semi truck. And what if we just, you know, without the wheels, just looked at taking that container and using that as the thing that we move from point A to point B. And now I created an interchangeable system where, instead of moving the individual goods, I put them inside of this container, and I have this standardized container, and a standard way that it can lock onto the trailer of a semi truck, or I can put it on a ship, or I can take that container and put it on a train car. So now I’ve got an interchangeable unit, the shipping container, that I can put on any one of these transportation, you know, vehicles, to get from point A to point B, and I don’t have to go touch everything that’s inside the container, only at the point of loading, and only at the point when I finally unload it. So now you can standardize a whole bunch of other things in and around that. And again, coming back to, just like the gauge, you come back to standardization. The dimensions, the, you know, the little holes, you know, where it locks in on the trailer, or the ability for a crane to pick it up. And so, you standardize on all of that stuff, and now it’s like, wow, this really powerful concept of the shipping container. But at first it didn’t, it didn’t take off. It wasn’t until you had a disruptive event.
Clinton: So again, just to put the timeline back out there for folks, mentally, he’s sitting there thinking about this in 1937, and he’s prototyping, and he’s building a small business and getting people interested. And it really doesn’t take legit… like, even to start to get decent adoption, until the late 1950s. But even then, it really wasn’t full-on, and what’s credited is, when the Vietnam war broke out. And they had to go that much faster, and now, and now ship these things globally, that all of a sudden there was this gigantic disruption, and the system was stressed. And they’re like, oh, there is something here. This guy McLean, this truck driver, this high-school-graduated truck driver, has been, you know, making some noise for about 20 years now, and maybe we want to listen to him 25 years on. And then it finally caught, you know, caught fire and caught on, and it got the right gravity around it. And then it became standard.
Clinton: And one of the things that I saw, Nate, that blew my mind, was that the estimate on shipping a ton of goods, the cost of shipping it, cargo-wise, when this was instituted, dropped 90%. From, at that point, $5.86 a ton down to 16 cents for that same ton. And I’d love for you to, you know, if there are parallels back to technology where we’ve seen those kinds of shifts, is that what cloud did, or the promise of cloud? And is that in itself a false equivalency that I might be drumming up?
Nate: Cloud is part of it. At the heart of cloud is really, it’s all about DevOps, and moving to infrastructure as code, and automation and standardization. Even the concept, we have the concept of a container, a containerized app that you can plug in to that infrastructure to be able to run it. And so, cloud ended up becoming, you know, its own platform and movement and paradigm shift that was powered by a lot of that same thinking. So it was looking at all of the inefficiencies of manual provisioning of hardware, bespoke hardware. You know, anytime you have a huge amount of manual activity by a human doing something that’s not repeatable every single time, automatable, it’s an opportunity for you to, you know, disrupt that by applying that pattern to it. And so we’ve seen this play out in manufacturing, you know, starting with what Toyota was doing in the ‘60s, and how disruptive that was in the ‘70s and ‘80s, all the way up through current, and then taking that same, those same concepts, and then applying that to technology with Agile and the DevOps movement. And then the organizations who really turned things on their head, and those are the tech giants of today, mostly the early pioneers of that, Google and Amazon, in just saying, you know, I don’t have to go out and buy, you know, a really expensive server and have that as something I do a lot of care and feeding for. I’m just going to go and get commodity stuff, but it’s going to be redundant and easily replaceable. I’m going to run a lot of these using automation, so I get a huge amount of scale. You know, one individual, a handful of individuals, in comparison to the dozens that would be needed to run this bespoke infra. Again, like, then you have this disruptive event. Like, you couple that ability to run this massive infrastructure very frictionlessly at a very low cost, and then you couple that with a product that’s very disruptive in the market and figure out how to monetize that. You put those combinations together. You know, with Google it was the search engine. I mean, really, it wasn’t what made all the money, it was the ads. Adwords. You know, AWS was created out of necessity. For them to be able to just run the infrastructure, to run all of the servers and services and everything else that they had on the backend a lot more cost-effectively, and at some point, they were like “Why don’t we just sell this?”
Clinton: Yeah. This is the thing that… yeah.
Nate: And Microsoft realizing - now, Microsoft’s a great company that’s just able to make that transformative pivot, as well, and realizing the opportunity, the transformative opportunity for it, and going in hard on creating Azure. You know, so, different part of the model, but following the same thing. Like, realizing the transformative paradigm shift, there’s organizations then, who, you know, you could’ve stuck your head in the sand and just said nope, we’re going to keep doing things the way we’ve been doing it, only to realize too late that, like, once the disruption happens, you can’t compete anymore with those companies who have adopted that.
Nate: But that same false equivalence plays out. You know, leaders are like okay, well, we gotta get to the cloud, and that gets translated to, okay, we gotta get out to the data center, we gotta get to the cloud. And they do a whole bunch of lift and shift from data center to cloud, and like, it’s a different model. It’s a different paradigm, running in the cloud. So you have to be cloud native if you really want to capture the value of it. So people run to do a lift and shift, they move all these workloads brute-force out of the data center into the cloud, and they find then that their cloud bill is astronomical, and it’s actually costing them a lot more to run in the cloud than it was running on premise. And you see the articles now that are coming out, and people are talking about it and companies are like “We’re going back to the data center.” Like…
Clinton: We’re going back.
Nate: Yeah. Okay, I mean, you can, but understand, like, it wasn’t the cloud’s fault. You know? (Laughs) Like, it’s not like you’re… everyone’s having a bad time in the cloud.
Clinton: Right. They’re changing gauges back for some reason. Like, oh, you know what, the smooth gauge to the cloud was dumb anyway, let’s make ‘em all bespoke again and go back to all these physical things. And instead, really, what you’re describing is like, well, they’ve just fallen into the same ex… a different version of it. But it’s the same activity trap.
Clinton: Like, they’ve just fallen into another activity trap. It’s like, check the box, we did the thing and did not realize the value. Didn’t focus on the value, to say, what’s now possible? Because we’re doing, we’re going cloud native. And that’s probably the missed opportunity for so many, and I would think any CIO out there, that’s… I can’t speak for every single one, but if that’s the thing you’re championing, which is like, getting back to physical, then you probably just missed the opportunity from jump street and then continued to not look at it strategically. And that’s the difference.
Nate: Yeah, it is. Like, it’s well-intended, and usually, again, there’s some disruptive event, like, in the data center, a bunch of their hardware and maybe their software is getting to the point where it’s going to be out, it’s going to be unsupported, it’s going out of warranty. You know, and so now they’ve gotta refresh it. And so that’s, like, the catalyzing event, and they’re like, we’ve gotta get out. And so they’re like, well, this is the time, we better do it. But now they’re under pressure to do it, they can’t do it, you know, more intentionally, and adopt those patterns. And then the structural thing, the organizational muscle memory’s also hurting you there, because you’ve got an existing organizational structure that needs to change to adopt the new paradigm, and you’ve got a behavior change. And behavior is way harder to change than a lot of people expect, for individuals. And it’s not because they’re necessarily, like, actively resistant to it, it’s just that we’re creatures of habit. So, whenever you’re trying to unlearn something, you’ve ever tried to, I mean, any type of sport or game or activity where you develop muscle memory, and then you’re trying to correct it, like correct a golf swing, or correct a backhand in tennis, or anything similar to that? Once you’ve developed the motion that you shouldn’t be doing, you’re trying to break it and pattern toward around the one you should be doing, it is really hard to do. And you have to unlearn, do a lot of unlearning. And that, again, bringing it a full circle - like, starting with slow and working on smooth, and then, over time, once you get the feel for it, then working on fast. Fast will follow.
Clinton: Yeah, and I love that we’re talking slow versus fast, ‘cause that of course can equate to time. And we have one more vignette that shows the, from history, the power of platforms, and this one is a bit more conceptual versus physical. The disruptive event in this one was something we already talked about, we’re going to go back to the railroads, this was a situation where, not all that long ago, we’re talking, like, late 19th century, right? So, 1880s and such, things like that. The world had a… very different parts of the world were regionalized with how they told time. And most of them at that point were looking at, alright, well, the sun sets in Baltimore at this time today. So therefore, that’s the time. And the sun sets in, let’s say, eastern Michigan at this time today, and therefore we’re gonna base our time on that. But when they had trains that could, that could easily flow back and forth, and you had business that had to keep time and standardize time, well, you had challenges, right?
Clinton: You would go from one stop to the next, you’re supposed to be there at 9:12, but my 9:12 is your 9:18.
Clinton: But how do you take that lesson in time, and how did humanity kind of get around it to say wait a second, we’ve gotta standardize here?
Nate: Again, you know, like you said, a lot of it was catalyzed by just the improvements in transportation and rail and telegraph. And so now, when you’re trying to coordinate the movement across those times, local time now is not as useful. Because every point on the earth has the midpoint of the day, when the sun is at its zenith. But that doesn’t work that well when you’re trying to coordinate across a vast swath of geography. So you’ve gotta have some mechanism. And they tried moving in that direction, the railroads actually led the way, where having their railroad time zones, you know, and they had like 100 of them. Still too many. And then finally, getting to the point of standardized time zones. Or it was at least close enough, as far as sunrise, sunset and the midpoint of the day, but now you have a whole block of the country that can just count on, okay, this is the time crossing this block of geography. And standardizing on that, then, so that now it can be very predictive. So now I can set, you know, we can set our watches and we know that we’re going to be off by, you know, a unit, an hour unit, you know, that’s much easier to work with than individual minutes of unit. And some even like, today, China, I mean, they still only have one time zone for the entirety of the country.
Clinton: It’s a take, right? So, it’s just… it’s a different one from what… the majority of the world has done at this point. However, I thought it was a really nice, another crisp example of, folks had to get together and standardize so that, so you could achieve smooth.
Clinton: So that you can go faster. And I love that activity trap. You will just continuously be there. I mean, think about if regionalized time zones still existed, and you had that challenge where my 9:18 is your 9:12, and we were running stuff on a railroad. Well then we would need people to be, like, whisperers, between there. Like, well, where are you in your timeline? Because I’m here, and our times don’t sync. And that would be activity that would be quote-unquote “necessary” for that, for that system, but again, juxtaposed versus what’s possible, providing no value whatsoever. In fact, it would actually increase things such as error.
Clinton: Right? ‘Cause, because a lot of human error could happen in a system like that where, where you’re relying on one person, a single point of failure, to carry a really critical piece of information so that we’re all on time together. So, just a nice example of how that one also bred, again, that standardization, so we can progress and be smoother.
Nate: Now, there’s one last point on that, which is that as we continue to move more quickly as far as the way that we transmit information and everything else, we’ve had to get more and more precise on our measurement and standardization of time as well. You know, moving to…
Nate: …atomic clocks, and GPS that we count on. Like, that’s… we have to have geosynchronous time to be able to make that stuff all work. So, we’ve continued to hone that. Like, time zones was just the first step.
Nate: And, you know, there’ll be steps again as we continue to advance in space travel and things like that. Again, we’re going to have to revisit that. Like, we’re not done with time, we’re not done with any of these shifts. It’s gonna be constantly shifting, constantly changing the paradigm on us, and we have to make sure that we’re good at change so we can adapt.
Clinton: Awesome place to end it today. So, big thanks to Nate Berent-Spillson for sharing his wisdom with us today. And if you’d like more on this topic, well, you're in luck, ‘cause Nate just wrote a book about it, and you can go grab your free digital copy. We’re calling it “The Frictionless Enterprise,” Nate calls it “The Frictionless Enterprise.” Check out the links below, we’ll make sure you know where to go get it. What I love about it, Nate, is that it’s a, it is part philosophy, it is putting these things all out there for folks to think about, so it’s got the theoretical aspect, and it has lots of the “Well, yeah, cool, here’s how you can apply it.” And I really, really appreciate that you took that, that point of view, so it becomes a rather useful book for folks to go check out, too, and we’re giving it away for free, so we encourage folks to go grab that. So, go get your free copy of “The Frictionless Enterprise,” we think you’ll enjoy it, because in this studio, we believe in shipping software over slideware, that fast will follow smooth, and aiming to create digital experiences that move millions is a very worthy pursuit. Join us next time as the pursuit continues on Catalyst, the Launch by NTT Data podcast.
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