Charting The Business Bottleneck

September 4, 2019 Michael Coté

Organizations' digital strategies are at a crucial point. While IT is well along the path of improving how they operate, especially how they create and run custom written software, the rest of the business isn't taking advantage of improved capabilities. IT has been removing process bottlenecks for years now, speeding up delivery cycles. In the Pivotal community, organizations increase their delivery to product by 82% on average: that reduces time to market, often allowing them to deliver new software weekly. Given the ability to change your software weekly, you can change how your business operates, improving existing features and adding new features - that is, you can start to evolve how your business works, you can program your business.

While I see organizations in the Pivotal community taking advantage of this ability to develop their businesses, surveys like this one from Pivotal's partner Wipro Digital show that there's a lot of room left for improvement. There's now a Business Bottleneck. Let's take a look.

Moderate ambitions, moderate results

A couple of questions gauge the ambitions of respondent's digital transformation programs. The first question asks respondents to rate their current ambitions:

The read is that most organizations aren't pushing themselves to create new business models, to do more than incremental improvements. They're not trying to be those "high performers" of the DevOps reports.

Looking at a related question, as respondents chug along, deepening into their programs, they don't increase their ambitions much. Here are the US respondents:


For all the table pounding about "existential" threats from "tech companies," organizations don't seem to have high ambitions to dramatically respond and change. This matches up to another question asking respondents to rank their "top drivers of your company’s digital transformation strategy": 

Accessing new markets comes in at 8%, operating model change at 9%, and business transformation at 8%. Driving revenue growth is the highest at 21%, followed by increasing agility and speed to market at 14%.

I read this as saying that organizations want to improve their existing businesses and capabilities, which is certainly needed when most organizations take a year or more to deliver applications to production. But, as it shows, transforming the business isn't currently a major focus of digital transformation.

This moderate focus has moderate results. When asked how they think their digital transformation programs are going, 75% of respondents said "somewhat successful."

Looking at the margins is interesting, the rating of "very successful" and the somewhat ambiguous "somewhat successful" - I would have had respondents rate their success on a range of 1 to 5, at the very least, adding the category "very unsuccessful." That middle number is so huge, I'd just focus on it.

The blockers

So, what do people believe is holding their companies' digital transformation programs from being "very successful"?

Well, to the read the summary slide of barriers, everything:

Let's look at the types of barriers across people, process, and technology:

As in the summary chart, everything is a problem, mostly evenly. The top responses are business related, though: poor alignment with business leaders and the inability to change how line of business people operate. There are other business related barriers as well, like keeping business models static.

Again, the barriers are spread across IT and the business, but what stands out to me is that there are business barriers at all. All that tub-thumping from executives, all the way up to the board, is one thing. But outside of IT it looks like the rest of the organization isn't equally ready to change. This makes sense, of course: in IT we see the same problem, all the time. While management and even individual contributors are eager to change how they work, the so-called frozen middle is slow to change and plenty of "frozen bottoms." People and culture change consistently rank high as problem in surveys, and the DevOps world focuses most of its own tub-thumping and change imperatives around people and process.

Still, looking over this survey, one important insight is that it's time for the business side of the house to change how it operates. We've been doing so in IT and, don't get me wrong, there's still much, much work to do. But if IT gets really good at delivering high quality, rapid software, bringing down that time to's all going to be gold plating if the business side doesn't do something with that new capability. Over the next few years, I'd suggest organizations that are looking to executive a digital transformation strategy widen their focus beyond IT and start asking the lines of business management what they're doing to transform.

About the Author

Michael Coté

Michael Coté works on the advocates team for VMware Tanzu. See @cote for more.

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