Make the Tech Invisible
You know what really grinds my gears? Excessive focus on what technical products are being adopted by organizations “transforming.” It is all a schtick and nonsense fueled by product sales and taking advantage of lack of knowledge in the customer base. Focusing on the tech creates a myopic focus on the Lego blocks. We need to be thinking about building the $850 Star Destroyer set, not worrying about the red bricks that are the interior structure. Product sales teams, services consulting teams, and the customers need to better align on outcomes. They all have to align in how their efforts and objectives fit together so the emphasis is on making the tech invisible to the end user by reducing issues and bugs.\
Asking more questions to better understand each other is crucial. How does the tech work together to achieve the organization’s objectives? Do the teams get support to improve the operational performance, over the buzzword bingo? What does the customer aim to achieve, and does tech assist in achieving that? If the answers are not clear, it is best not to make a purchase of both the products and the services.
It’s time to put an end to tech consulting boondoggles. As consultants, it is time for us to start prioritizing real solutions that actually benefit our clients. For customers, take the time to identify the mission outcomes. Thoroughly analyze the presented options and investigate how they move the effort forward.
We must hold ourselves accountable and others must hold us accountable for outcomes. Both are equally important. The selling and delivery efforts must drive a new paradigm. We’re calling this Outcome as a Service (OaaS). This shifts the focus from just technical implementations and arbitrary claims of mission accomplished. NOTE: This also applies to internal/organic engineering services and capabilities within the traditional “customer organization”
Changing the Dynamic
We have to move the industry towards a more outcome-based approach. We need to stop selling specific software or other technologies on their own as the solution. Working with customers to move beyond shiny objects with fun product names is essential. Business/mission outcomes need to be the aligning force for trying, selecting, and adopting new components of the technical architecture to continuously improve how the organization performs.
Let’s use Kubernetes as an example, because there is so much across the DoD and Federal government about Kubernetes. Kubernetes lets you scale your operational systems and add in resiliency and security when properly configured. These are key to distributed operations and providing mission services for end users. Kubernetes is not worth a damn thing on it’s own. Please stop talking about Kubernetes as if it was the end state. Does the commander of a Navy DDG class ship care about K8s distribution? No. They want resilient software that increases their decision speed and target engagement. They want updates completed rapidly while connected to communications systems, and full functionality when disconnected. Operational forces should not think about technical tool chain decisions within the organizations and teams that are supporting them.
Chick-fil-A as the exemplar
I am not saying that the decisions and implementation of the tooling is not essential. The engineering teams must be skilled and knowledgeable about how the products work together and what it takes to make them function. Again, back to the Lego analogy, these are the bricks and you cannot build the set without all of them, but you have to keep the focus on the Star Destroyer.
Brian Chambers, Chief Architect at Chick-Fil-A gave a great summary of how they think through technical solutions – with a focus on continuously improving store operations and customer experiences at the fast food restaurant:
Any time we build or buy, we assume responsibility for several buckets of knowledge…
- Product knowledge: what the product is supposed to do, why it was created, and where it is headed in the future.
- Architecture knowledge: how the discreet parts of the solution and all of its supporting pieces fit together. This could include cloud infrastructure, data and CI/CD pipelines, microservices orchestration, messaging services, databases, metrics / log collection and analysis, etc.
- Implementation knowledge: what the code is supposed to do and how it works. I’ll put project structure and programming / testing approaches in this bucket, too.
- Operational knowledge: what issues can / have occurred and how we respond to them.
- Enterprise Architecture knowledge: how the application / product fits into the larger enterprise.
What is also part of this example, as indicated in his other writings, is a complete focus on how the technology enables the business outcomes.
Outcome as a Service (OaaS): The future of technical services consulting
The OaaS model has to be the future of technical services consulting. I recognize that this is not easy. The market remains rife with high demand (and high willingness to pay) for tech implementation projects. That is a problem. This is continuing to cost businesses and the taxpaying public ungodly amounts of money with very little return on investment.
They (the customers) and us (tech industry/ consultants) need to approach the mission collaboratively with a focus on outcomes. We will then be partners helping one another with valuable insights and skills that align towards a shared objective outcome. We must stop pushing knee-jerk technology-of-the-day implementations. They also need to do their homework and stop asking for them. We move forward by tying tech to outcomes, providing an OaaS delivery model, and holding one another accountable.
Making Tech Invisible – The Ultimate Goal of OaaS
If you want to treat your infrastructure as “cattle”, your tool chain has to be your processing plant. That is something that most of us would rather not have to deal with, but we know it is essential. There are a whole lot of people screaming to be tech-agnostic. The focus needs to go further. It needs to be tech invisible. Solutions must center on delivering capabilities without end users worrying about how it got there.
Do we as customers ask what Apple uses for software updates? Do we ask how Disney Pixar supports movie production? If we’re curious tech geeks, sure. But a majority of us just want to the experience outcomes as consumers. Leaders – we call on you to ask deeper questions before procuring or investing in tech products or services. Tech investments have to improve the process all the way to the end user without being seen, not an additional burden or concern for them.
Making tech invisible has to be the goal. Most importantly, tech solutions cannot have any negative impact on the end user. When you work with partners in an OaaS approach, this inherently allows flexibility in the execution.
How does OaaS achieve tech invisibility?
This approach emphasizes focus on outcomes and adaptability in working towards them. This does not mean that technical decisions in the architecture or tool chains are not essential. They are made through the lens of outcomes to be achieved vs. technologies themselves. This is the concept of Mission Command applied to technical delivery and continuous improvement. This is actually working to adopt the Three Ways of DevOps from the Phoenix Project and The DevOps Handbook and the Five Ideals from the Unicorn Project. This involves a focus on the user experience, a deep understanding of business needs, and a commitment to delivering outcomes that meet those needs. Unfortunately, there are several early efforts across the DoD, Federal government, and large businesses that took the opposite approach.
Benefits of making tech invisible
Making tech invisible has several benefits. Firstly, it makes services easier to use. Clients do not need to have technical knowledge or expertise to perform their business functions, and end-users will have more streamlined experiences. This results in a better user experience and higher satisfaction levels.
Chick-Fil-A kicking technical ass for our benefit
Think about the investment in edge Kubernetes at Chick-Fil-A. Does that technical solution matter to the teams working across the stores interacting with the customers? No. Does it matter to us when we purchase nuggets and waffle fries? No. However, the reliability of their point of sale (PoS) systems and the integrated data that help improve logistics and other business services are crucial. They ensure that the employees can focus on helping the customers and that the customers at Chick-Fil-A have the same industry-leading positive customer experience time and again. For more info on this check out Brian Chamber’s Substack Chamber of Tech Secrets and the Chick-Fil-A Technology Blog: https://medium.com/chick-fil-atech (if you know them, help them migrate over here to our platform at https://averagegeniuses.com )
Making tech invisible so customers can focus
Firstly, teams are empowered to continuously improve the architecture systems. This makes it easier for users to access services seamlessly. Additionally, they’re not stuck on a single product. Instead, product decisions are made based on how they will improve the outcomes of the integrated system.
To further illustrate, let’s go back to the meat processing plant analogy. Outside the operations and engineers, most people do not want to know how the sausage is made. In the same way, users should not have to worry about the complexities of technology. It is our responsibility to make technology seamless and deliver exceptional outcomes.
Tech that is invisible can enhance efficiency and effectiveness of services and business operations. Our clients’ members must be empowered to focus on their business goals instead of dealing with software glitches and constant workarounds. This leads to increased productivity, better mission outcomes, and an improved work-life balance. The #fixourcomputers movement has not slowed down on LinkedIn and internal networks within the Department of Defense. Servicemembers, DoD civilians, and contractor workforces are all grappling with outdated hardware, dysfunctional IT functions, and terrible GOTS software systems. It’s surreal to see LinkedIn full of programs discussing Kubernetes, AI/ML, and other systems when core capabilities remain a challenge for all.
Challenges in making tech invisible
Implementing invisible technology poses significant challenges. Firstly, invisible technology can be challenging to implement, but it is essential for businesses to remain competitive. Secondly, leaders often prioritize visible technology projects for recognition, but this mindset is changing. Thirdly, success is now measured by business outcomes, which means that both visible and invisible technology projects need to be given equal importance.
Technical and organizational debts can pose significant challenges in making tech invisible in a business, manifesting in system instability, poor data quality, siloed systems, and limited interoperability. Addressing tech debt requires a significant investment of time, resources, and money, and improved understanding and communication between technical and non-technical teams. However, making tech invisible does not mean engineering teams should be invisible too. Engineering teams’ skills, dedication to continuous improvement and learning, and alignment to business/mission outcomes make it all possible.
Pithy bullets to remember
Keep these points in mind:
- Implementing invisible technology is challenging.
- Leaders prioritize visible technology projects to gain recognition, but this mindset is changing.
- CIOs, CTOs, and CDOs are evaluated based on outcomes over tech projects and products.
- Success should be measured by business outcomes rather than buzzwords.
- Technical and organizational debts can pose significant challenges.
- Debts can manifest in system instability, poor data quality, siloed systems, and limited interoperability.
- Addressing tech debt requires significant investment of time, resources, and money.
- Lack of understanding and communication between technical and non-technical teams makes it difficult to address these issues effectively.
- Making tech invisible can mean engineering teams are also invisible, which is a problem.
- Engineering teams’ skills, dedication to continuous improvement and learning, and alignment to business/mission outcomes make it all possible.
I will emphasize this again. It is crucial not to disregard your engineering teams. Concealing the technology is a challenging task, and any achievement in that direction should be acknowledged. The success with OaaS is heavily reliant on the technology department’s profound knowledge, expertise, adaptability, and eagerness to experiment. It is essential to recognize the significance of the previously neglected, under-funded, and undervalued services that play a vital role in business and mission outcomes.
The future of technical services consulting is Outcome as a Service (OaaS). The OaaS model is more efficient and effective than traditional consulting services, and it ensures that clients get what they pay for. Making tech invisible is the ultimate goal of technical services consulting, as it ensures that clients can focus on their business objectives rather than on the technology behind the services. While there are challenges in making tech invisible, the benefits far outweigh the challenges. As an IT architecture consulting professional, I strongly believe that the OaaS model and making tech invisible are the future of technical services consulting.