An enduring dilemma for organisations is setting and holding their position on standards. Standards good vs. standards bad can and often does become an unhelpful debate. The focus can be on the narrative of the standard itself rather than the outcomes that they promote. This dilemma has many specific challenges in our work with clients as it impacts their ability to get the best value from digital technologies.
Current, critical complications are evident in many areas. These areas include: what the specific technology is able to do; the range and flexibility of business models for how that technology can be provided; what customers need and the ways that organisations deliver on those needs; notwithstanding the implications of the current disruption to where and how work is delivered prompted by the Covid 19 pandemic.
These complications and many others mean that there is not, and probably will never be, an axiomatic truth. Whilst recognising that the right place on standards for you and your organisation is and should be contingent, we do recommend moving to having a set of what we would call micro-standards. In our work on digital strategy and the development of Enterprise Architecture capability, we are concluding that rather than universally mandating a specific software solution or platform we recommend setting standards at a lower, micro, level in the hierarchy. Micro-standards that should ideally fit within an overarching architectural and operating framework.
We see this as a more effective and productive approach than taking time deciding for example, whether or not strategic business units are able to choose the “best” software for their needs or if a standard ERP should be introduced across the whole enterprise or having a programme of work to ensure that there is single, trusted view of the organisation and its performance for the Board.
We recommend that micro-standards should be developed within each of the five key architectural domains of busines, data, solution, technology and security based upon sound guiding principles. For example, in a ‘cloud first’ world, if your organisation has a principle dictating single-cloud as opposed to multi-cloud, then your business units can work within this standardised environment provided to rapidly implement change, whilst you can be comforted by the knowledge that they will not be building anything that fails to interoperate with the existing infrastructure. Noting that governance behaviour and process need to ensure the right standards are set and complied with.
The business benefits of standardisation are well rehearsed. Technology provision costs are lower with standardisation, standard software allows digital technology teams to focus and spend less money and time on integration; standard processes enable resources inside and outside your organisation to be more flexible. With the addition of micro-standards organisations can meet the needs of customers at pace. Rather than restricting innovation, micro standards enable the flexibility required to assemble and disassemble building blocks efficiently. You know they’ll fit together, you know the way that the process will be coded, tested and put into operation.