How VUCA & Digital Platform Conductors make sense of today’s technology world
The term VUCA has been around for a while, neatly encapsulating the sense that the world around business leaders is becoming, well, crazier. VUCA is a useful way of viewing our increasingly complex and seemingly uncontrollable technology landscapes through understanding Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. A new breed of tools that Gartner calls Digital Platform Conductors (DPC’s) is helping leaders manage today’s VUCA technology world counteracting:
Cloudsoft’s AMP software is representative of this new breed; amplifying and orchestrating your preferred, best in class tools.
Volatility in our tech space emerges when ‘the challenge is unexpected or unstable and maybe of unknown duration but it’s not necessarily hard to understand; knowledge about it is often available’
2020 is perhaps the year that we all got to experience this at its extreme in our technology landscapes. Covid19, a terrible and frightening global pandemic unprecedented in terms of scale and devastating in impact, was a challenge, which at certain points, felt without end. Yet simultaneously it was also inherently ‘graspable’, with many businesses being able to take action in their technology worlds in defined and decisive ways - remote working being the most obvious example. What businesses craved was visibility of the risk which enabled it to be quantified: Government timelines, tiers and traffic light systems were all critical in this regard, enabling businesses to view risk and calm (some of) the volatility in their environments..
DPC’s like AMP take a similar approach to our technology environments - they don’t seek to replace the many good, optimised tool sets that we use to identify risks across our systems but conduct them to provide a more top down view. AMP, uniquely, invokes these often best of breed tools and harmonises the output from them. This enables you to effectively and simply state: ‘We tested X, in this subsystem Y, in this environment Z using this tool W’ and it passed with this output’.
In his Forbes article, Jeroen Kraaijenbrink, correlates uncertainty to ‘the extent to which we can confidently predict the future’. He neatly separates this into both not just uncertainty in terms of those things that objectively aren’t predictable on a statistical basis but also understanding in terms of perception; does the audience understand the detail of what’s been seen?
Many of our tools today can independently produce the output from testing. The reason this doesn't always lead to certainty is that you often need to have a high level of knowledge in the test(s) you are performing, the environment you are performing it in and what the output means for that particular element. You also often need the same detailed knowledge across multiple systems in connected or associated parts of the application to make sense of the real impact. This dilutes how certain I&O leaders are, and how convincingly I&O leaders can answer, more general questions from stakeholders and the C-suite on the impact or potential likelihood of recurring issues.
So how to gain a better understanding? DPC’s look at applications from a top down perspective, providing certainty in answering such questions. AMP, for example, allows you to conduct tests across all associated parts of the application and test this against a more commonly and more easily understood validation. AMP also allows you to roll up all parts of the testing of the application (across whichever tools or monitoring are deployed) to say "All parts of Application A have had validation X performed in the past <timeframe>", this can then be expanded to see the dates and tools for individual subsystems. This allows concrete answers to be given and visualised to more general and high level questions, giving much more understanding and certainty to stakeholders.
Visibility and understanding were critical counterpoints to the volatility and uncertainty of the pandemic. We all became deeply interested in measurements like R-number - where the ability to standardise transmission testing results in our area, within our country, and create a harmonised language, increased the ability for businesses to predict the likelihood of increased or reduced restrictions. Even more powerful was visualising the results against a validation range: on a map you could easily see red, amber or green areas. AMP can similarly help visualise your technology world, providing both contextualised and generalised understandable data for stakeholders and drilled-down testing output for every part of your application.
Complexity in VUCA describes the complexity that exists in the interconnectivity and interdependence of multiple components in a system. In the IT world complexity is likely to be born out of the desire for the best tools for a particular job. We want our teams to be able to use the best tools in their environments which means selecting from tools that range across:
- PaaS/ cloud native software tools (Cloud Foundry, Open Shift, Kubernetes)
- Cloud Platforms (AWS, Azure, Google)
- On-premises infrastructures (VMware, HyperV)
- Software tools (Ansible, Chef, Puppet, Salt)
- IaC tools (Terraform, Cloud Formation, etc).
- Containers (whether Docker or Kubernetes) and;
- Monitoring, logging and application tools (e.g. datadog, Splunk, Dynatrace).
DPC’s provide a response to complexity by allowing organisations to conduct these tools to play together. The only way to make sense of complexity is to have top down model. AMP uses blueprints that combine to orchestrate all of the tools in an automated fashion. AMP can, for instance, bring unique clarity in a resilience scenario by:
- aggregating multiple intrusion detection tools and identifying impacted applications and data quicker and better; and
- enabling failover (within or between different environments) or isolation of affected systems, coded as best practice policies on the application - to run much faster and more reliably to minimise impact;
- allowing comprehensive, and evidenced testing - AMP blueprints make fire drills much easier, and can standardise reporting of when tests were run.
This brings clarity to many stakeholders across the whole process, from identifying and restoring to being able, when the regulator asks, to deliver readily available, comprehensive information.
Ambiguity refers to a lack of clarity about how to interpret something. More generally it refers to fuzziness and vagueness in ideas and terminology. The more ambiguous the world is, the harder it is to interpret. However ambiguity can often be at the heart of innovation; DPC’s help to coordinate tools without placing on them the type of restrictions that impede the freedom for developers, and others to innovate. AMP, for example, harnesses agility by allowing teams to capture what they do as they reinvent solutions for their apps, use patterns (blueprints and policies) to let teams use shared best practices - wrapping Terraform, K8s, AWS, Azure, VMware, etc -- augmenting them to include compliance and resilience concerns -- and giving a common vocabulary understandable by humans and machines.
VUCA provides a framework to understand our increasingly confusing tech world. DPC tools, and particularly Cloudsoft AMP, allow us to successfully respond to it now, and for whatever it brings in the future.
 In their significant article on VUCA in the Harvard Business Review, Nathan Bennet & G. James Lemoine