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The Digital Adaptation Series

An Introduction to Digital Adaptation

The quest to embrace digital or "transform" has progressed from being an abstract concept to becoming a mandatory strategy. Some companies are moving quicker and more successfully than others. New businesses that are born "digital" may not have the luxury of an existing revenue stream, but they also do not suffer from commercial, cultural, and technical baggage. Established companies on the other hand are having to adapt existing processes and practices to defend or advance their existing revenue streams. According to Gartner, “two-thirds of all business leaders believe that their companies must pick up the pace of digitalization to remain competitive.” Essentially these lagging companies must move beyond the concept of digital transformation to the practice of continuous adaptation. Legacy businesses have legacy practices and systems that present different challenges than those faced by start-ups companies. It is with these businesses where adaptation is critical. Customers are more demanding, their experiences both good and bad are broadcast to the world, and competition appears from unexpected places. Entire industries are living in a constant state of change and the skilled resources to help sherpa companies through the process are scarce, meaning adaptation must become a way of life and that innovative behavior is now table stakes. So what exactly is digital adaptation? We define it as the ability to predict, or perceive, quickly evolving business needs, and adjust through new combinations of technology, process and workforce management. As digital reconfigures the business, it drives the need for new and adaptive approaches. It requires the use of new technologies; a willingness to adopt less familiar methods and the utilization of innovative workforce models. The goal is to create faster, more flexible solutions that simultaneously exceed user and consumer expectations while keeping competitors on their heels. So, how does the technology leadership achieve the speed required in software development to satisfy the evolving needs of the business? How do you adapt to the new dynamics of the labor market, appreciating the value of talent, while balancing “keeping the lights on” and innovation budgets? And, how do you couple the traditional style of workforce management with innovative labor engagements that reflect the desires of the new labor force and the dynamics of the digital world? These questions must be addressed with an open and adaptive mindset and an understanding of the four components that make up digital adaptation. Learn more in our next blog or download our digital adaptation white paper.

The Four Components of Digital Adaptation

As digital forces business to shift how they view themselves in a new world, it drives the need for new and adaptive approaches. It’s now about rethinking the concept of digital transformation as more of a continual adaptation to a constantly changing environment. In order to embrace this adaptation idea it is helpful to bucket the areas into the following four areas: managing the constantly evolving needs of customers, partners and employees; the willingness to consider original combinations of workforce models; meeting higher expectations of customers, prospects and employees; and the ability to leverage incumbent (legacy) assets into new revenue streams and competitive advantage. 1. Evolving Needs Today, success and survival results from being able to thrive among volatility and uncertainty, meaning that it's difficult to predict what your future needs will be other than that they will evolve... quickly. One challenge in digital adaptation is how to balance the cost of technical expertise with the standard of its output. Another is to possess and manage the variety of workforce models that enable you to match the best-suited development team, with the needs of the business providing speed, contextual understanding, innovation, and communication. 2.  Workforce Change As technologies evolve, companies are uncertain what exact skills they'll need and frankly, it changes daily requiring them to have an open mind to original workforce ideas beyond offshoring or staff augmentation. It’s a confusing time. Many companies are now declaring that they want to bring people back in-house, or at least closer to the business. Companies must appreciate that they have been sending mixed signals when it comes to talent management. In this era of technology skills shortages, they will have to be flexible and innovative. The people, and the models used to manage those people, are as important as the technology itself. To maximize the value of the technology being provisioned for the business, companies must simultaneously adapt their workforce thinking. 3. The Experience The consumerization of IT means that customers compare their digital experience with you against all their other digital experiences, not just those of your competitors. These expectations cross the borders that used to separate our work and private lives. These boundaries have melted away raising the expectations of customers. While it is essential, high-quality experiences should not be reserved exclusively for customers. Companies must enable their staff to deliver these great digital experiences. To succeed you should be putting your workforce in the best position to achieve this by providing progressive technologies, as well as, agile and DevOps methodologies which ultimately will enable them to deliver great experiences for your customers. 4. Competitive Threat Traditional barriers to market entry are extinct. Companies can no longer rely on the advantages they used to enjoy from being the industry dominant elephant because competitors are springing up overnight threatening the core of established organizations. And while these incumbent companies have assets at their disposal such as a proven business revenue streams, customer relationships and brand presence, they are not enough. The competition is coming from unlikely sources as vertical markets boundaries become blurred. For example, online retailers morph into insurance carriers and health care providers, as retailers and insurance companies merge to fight unforeseen rivals. All enabled by cheap, fast technology, vast processing powers, petabytes of data and AI’s relentless pursuit of pattern recognition. Digital has and continues to change the rules of business, and life. There’s no going back. Companies are seeing their foundations shaken by digital, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, etc. A series of company “re-orgs” won’t solve the problem, it’s a constant re-org. Consistent adaptation. Learn more in our next blog or download our digital adaptation white paper.

Balancing Cost with Speed and Quality is Key to Digital Adaptation and Transformation

In our last blog post, we broke digital adaptation down into four key areas: Evolving Needs, Workforce Change, The Consumerization of IT and Competitive Threats. This post, which focuses on Evolving Needs, will explain why balancing cost, speed and quality is vital as companies apply technology to solve business problems in the digital age. By definition, digital adaptation is at once disruptive and unpredictable. This fast-moving phenomenon forces companies to adjust on the fly to meet the demands of ever-changing markets, making digital transformation one of the most important movements to affect business in decades. Experts point out that today we operate in the era of “Digital Darwinism." Characterized by rapidly evolving technology and society needs that outpace business’ ability to keep up, companies that plan to survive, and even thrive, will need flexible leaders who take an “evolve or die” approach and can pivot quickly, according to Brian Solis of Altimeter Group. Clearly, there are economic rewards for companies that leverage digital adaptation to remake themselves and their processes from the inside out. Companies deemed to be digitally remade produce more revenue from their physical assets, generate more profit and command higher market evaluations according to CapGemini. However desirable these financial results are, the road to digital transformation is fraught with twists and turns. As technologies advance and capabilities expand, businesses have more options from which to choose and decide where to invest becomes more difficult. With more choices comes more risk, and the time lost to chasing a “wrong” choice can be devastating from a competitive standpoint. When it comes to acquiring the talent needed to succeed in this fluidity, the “multiple guess” influence is clearly seen. Effectively prospering and competing in this era of digital transformation means companies need to wage the war for talent using three distinct and inter-related strategies: Sourcing a wider range of skills and talent. Being able to navigate the nuances of agile. Using innovation to balance cost against speed and quality. Accurately forecasting the portfolio and corresponding volumes of skills and talent combinations needed to develop and deploy software makes up the first challenge companies need to address. While that is a tall order, the current environment of rapid change adds complexity to this mission. For example, the application development teams you have in place will see demand for their talents wane over time ─with some skills fading more rapidly than others and others enjoying heightened demand over time. What can you do today to predict the coming shakeup with confidence and actually plan for it? Once you’ve aligned that cube of possibilities, you’ll notice that the spectrum of skills you require is expanding exponentially. This expansion will most likely outpace your ability to find the talents you need at a reasonable price. This scenario is particularly relevant to companies that discover their needs have grown to encompass data scientists as well as mobile app developers. There is simply not enough money in corporate staffing budgets to afford the wide range of talent that is needed, especially in a hyper-competitive marketplace. Secondly, we know that it's no longer good enough for an organization to be able to leverage “standard” agile. You must "customize" it to fit your needs ─even as they evolve in real-time. To do that, you need to accumulate enough agile expertise to be able to spot the unintended consequences of clumsily applying this proven mindset. For example, the benefits of using a common language, sharing a time-zone, and commanding a familiarity with U.S. business culture are hugely important, particularly when projects move quickly. Sharing common ground eliminates the need to translate idioms, accommodate varying time zones and explain unfamiliar behavior. A shared perspective can enable a faster, more sustainable transition to a customized, thriving agile environment. Third, in this era when customers’ behaviors and expectations are shifting quickly, you need your development and deployment teams closer to your operation ─not geographically dispersed. The current prevalence of distributed workforces complicates the execution of a pivot, even as environmental factors call for acceleration. Creativity and innovation share two negative influences: distance and isolation. These barriers cause particular angst when speed and creativity are at a premium as they are today. Consider following the examples of noted remote work advocates IBM and Yahoo. Both companies have recently required workers to return to physical offices in an effort to regain the interaction and collaboration that accommodates change and fuels innovation. Despite this remote worker homecoming, budget constraints continue to prevent most companies from recruiting every professional they want to a staff position. Evolving needs demand that you apply a balanced model to hiring that balances three key influences at play in the talent landscape: quality, cost, and speed. However daunting this new environment may seem to be, it’s not as if business has been stagnant in the past. Companies have always adjusted their output and operations to evolving needs. Today’s challenges center on the unpredictable pace and unknown direction of those evolving needs. Those two characteristics add a new layer of complexity that makes it difficult for companies to go it alone and reduces the appeal of previously revered software development models. Offshoring development has proven to complicate the process with its “follow the sun” approach that, in the end, often delivered more complexity than the round-the-clock advantage. While it is likely that in-house teams, offshore resources, and staff augmentation will continue to fulfill specific skill needs, these options are not the answer to every phase of software development, especially those affected by the unpredictable disruption common to digital adaptation. Just as digital transformed the marketplace, it has altered the hiring environment as well. Digital adaptation requires flexibility. In these volatile times, companies that want to assure continued success will need to listen carefully to the whistling winds of change and adjust on the fly. To learn more about how to succeed as a Digirati in charge, watch for the next blog and download our digital adaptation white paper.

Workforce Changes of Digital Adaptation

The advent of technology-empowered global workforces fundamentally changed the way employees and employers engaged. Technology connected workers around the globe, dissolving geographical boundaries. Today, fast-moving markets and customers’ ever-changing needs are creating an almost relentless pressure for companies to reinvent themselves and their employee models ─ again and again. How Offshoring Lost its Luster Digital adaptation arose from two significant workforce changes: (1) technology-enabled global labor; and (2) a geographically distributed workforce. These two fundamental shifts created a category of worker known as the “offshored.” As the Internet-connected workers around the globe, companies gained access to an international workforce that performed like local employees. Often, “follow the sun” development teams fast-tracked projects at near warp speed as compared to domestic-only, traditional workforces. At first, offshoring saved a lot of money for US-based companies that were able to move work overseas, take advantage of labor arbitrage, end benefits programs and layoff layers of middle management. For many companies, offshoring was a beautiful thing until one day it wasn’t. What began as a move to more cost-effective, less management-intensive workforces quickly exposed unintended, negative consequences of offshoring on two highly desirable outputs of work: innovation and collaboration. Lack of business context, ineffective communications, and virtually non-existent creativity constrained offshoring. The desired collaboration, communication, and innovation US companies sought from their offshored workforces did not materialize from a raft of geographically separated, workforces. For some, offshoring has become categorized by an untenable disconnect with customer demands. While the sheer economics of maintaining urban offices doesn’t support bringing everyone back in-house, a compromise must be found that balances budgetary constraints against digital adaptation’s need for collaboration. In many cases, employees’ preference for working from their home offices using online collaboration tools is helping companies move closer to this balance. However, a lack of specialized talent continues to plague companies’ looking for experienced assistance. In these instances, the availability of niche talent prompts companies to accept assistance from specialists who are dispersed geographically. While companies pioneering digital adaptation may have to use some distributed workforces, partnership models need to promote vitally important communication, collaboration, and innovative thinking. Digital Adaptation Matches Teams to Projects In the digital age, scalability, the massive availability of skilled workers, gives way to teams comprised of workers with diverse skills and mindsets. These teams will be created to meet the specific requirements of the project at hand, and they will be disbanded at the project’s completion. The constant change characteristic of digital adaptation demands a flexible approach to skills acquisition. The ability to quickly construct, manage and get the team to full productivity will become a key requirement for corporations. Acquiring new skills and a dedication to lifelong learning will become table stakes for employees in every workforce, whether traditional, distributed, outsourced, or contingent. At its heart, digital adaptation requires more management, more communication, and more collaboration –not less. As Daniel Newman pointed out, traditional leaders quickly became stumped as to how to manage these diverse and divergent groups of individuals. That’s why new workforce models, while a good place to start, require new management models as well. Digital Success Depends on Effective Recombining of the Workforce Workforce models and effective management approaches for fluid teaming present two of the most perplexing challenges in digital adaptation. Simply put, the traditional workforce models and proven management approaches don’t work. How effectively you combine and recombine people will determine your success or failure in the digital world. Companies knee-deep in digital adaptation need to get comfortable with constant change and reinvention on the fly. To learn more about how to navigate this complex landscape, download our white paper on digital adaptation or read the blog series on this fundamental sea of change.

Four Trends Redefining the Workforce Model

As digital adaptation takes hold, four over-arching shifts are converging to change the way organizations build and evolve their workforces. 1. Access to Evolving Skills In this era of digital adaptation, organizations’ staffing needs change on a dime as they respond to evolving customer requirements. To react quickly, today’s workforce models need to combine in-house candidate identification, recruitment, and more thoughtful retention with precision-driven third-party staffing utilization. External staffing resources will need to meet the needs for specific technology domain expertise, industry experience, creative workforce models, innovative engagement structures, technical innovation and creativity, and much more. Hiring organizations will prefer third-party partners that can deliver on these increasingly complex staffing requirements while adding value in new and unexpected ways. 2. Need for Skill over Scale In the past, IT demands preferred scale above all else. That’s because the type of project being staffed required rote repetition of key tasks – an assignment perfectly suited to offshoring. Today’s technology projects demand a wider range of skills in smaller quantities, as well as a heightened need for collaboration and communication. The once-dominant waterfall approach to software development has been replaced with a more relevant Agile Methodology popularized by digital adaptation’s ebbing and flowing needs. Today, the skilled project team – one that has been created and staffed for a particular assignment able to cover everything from User Experience to backend database demands – dominates the workforce landscape. Agile teams are smaller, command a wider variety of technology skills, and require broader “soft” skills such as communication, real-time creative problem solving and collaboration. 3. Demand for Innovation, Collaboration Collaboration leads to better outcomes, and that’s true across all industries and markets. In acknowledgement of this widely held belief, market-leaders such as IBM and Yahoo are moving remote workers back into corporate offices. Why? It’s certainly not the opportunity to pay sky-high rent on urban offices. It’s an effort to reclaim the creativity and innovation that comes from sharing close quarters. While not every company can make such a significant investment in expensive office space, many companies are taking time to reevaluate and rebalance their approach to workforce building. Partners with innovative staffing delivery capabilities and those that adopt the latest communications tools and platforms to encourage collaboration are winning favor as hiring organizations seek expert help in balancing cost against the need for quality output, a chief motivator behind the “rehoming” trend. 4. Push to Expand Talent Pools Although the US technology-based talent pool dwindled as offshoring started to grow after 2001, efforts to promote STEM-based education have picked up in recent years. Despite that push, the slight uptick in STEM-based hiring that happened in 2016 came about because of foreign-born STEM-educated candidates. While STEM-based hiring is on the upswing, demand for technology skills continues to far outstrip supply. Today, public and private sector hiring organizations are competing with contracting firms, staff augmentation firms, and offshore companies for a limited number of STEM specialists. To rectify that imbalance, hiring organizations are partnering with high schools and universities to foster interest in and pursuit of STEM-based careers for US students.   To learn more about how organizations in the midst of digital reinvention utilize workforce partners to build out their staffs, download our white paper, "An Introduction to Digital Adaptation.”

Reengineering the Digital Experience

Today’s consumers apply the same digital experience standard to both their personal and professional lives. This merging of experiences, which calls for digital adaptation, has changed business forever. Even though each digital experience begins and ends with the customer driving the interaction, taking a customer experience (CX) only view short-changes digital adaptation’s potential to push business forward. Inside the whole of these transactions exists a multitude of opportunities to reengineer business operations from the inside out – in front office and back office, with partners and suppliers, and finally with our most important resource: our own people. Digital adaptation requires us to focus on ALL our stakeholders, especially the internal teams thinking, developing, testing, and provisioning digital capabilities for all the other stakeholders’ use. Taking a broad, sweeping view of digital adaptation enables revolutionary customer experiences, and it also helps us create a forward thinking company culture. This culture not only delights our customers, it can make our digitally adapted companies into destination employers for the talented people we need to succeed. The Back Office Experience The digital adaptation of business does not solely live in the customer experience. While it’s the digitally adapted customer experience that gets all the headlines, digital impacts all parts of the business, not just revenue. While these results are less visible, they are equally important from a competitive standpoint. Digital Adaptation serves two equally important constituencies: internal workforces and external customers. In the digitally adapted business, the term, "customers," refers to everyone involved in the purchase – the people and businesses that buy our products and services as well as the internal workgroups, teams and staff that create, deliver and support those offerings. Empower internal customers and they will look after your customers, as Richard Branson reminds us. That empowerment centers on access to the latest technologies and tools as we reengineer the customer experience. This consumerization of IT has an impactful spillover effect on our technological/digital experiences outside of "the office," which shapes our thinking "inside the office." Potential new hires assess an organization’s technological ambition and its current capabilities. Candidates don't want to work in companies that are technologically inept – refusing to adapt or failing to invest in ways that put them in the best place to succeed. This candidate and employee dilemma becomes a huge issue that sits at the intersection of culture and technology. An organization’s ability to harness the power of technology quickly becomes, from a staff perspective, personally impactful from a career standpoint. Technology moves so quickly that spending two or three years with a technologically backward company can damage an employee’s career – seriously. Not only can this time be “wasted” working on outdated technologies and methodologies, the time is lost in terms of acquiring new, more in-demand skills. In truth, this “double whammy” is more crippling to a career than the lost time itself. Digital adaptation is about more than saving money, improving operational efficiency and satisfying customer demand. It can also attract and retain the talent you need as you build your teams for the future. We do ourselves a disservice and miss out on opportunities if we restrict our thinking around "experience" to relate to the customer at the expense of considering its very real impact on our current and future employees. Thinking more broadly across the organization, from back office through the customer’s journey and back, can create an experience that makes a "destination company" for employees as well as customers. Experience tells us that companies will discover unexpected benefits in unlikely parts of the back office’s digital adaptation. Check out this case study to see how one leading beverage distributor used a single, new application to correct an order processing problem and discover an unexpected staff retention benefit. And, to learn more about digital adaptation, download our white paper.

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