Could ‘Fusion Teams’ Be the Secret to Digital Success?

According to analyst firm IDC, global spend on digital transformation will top $6.8 trillion in the next two years. Digital business “fusion teams” are emerging as critical to success in digital transformation, suggest experts like Gartner. Multidisciplinary fusion teams can continually collaborate, adapt as priorities change, and learn new processes and tools as required.

Cross-functional team working is not new and has been delivering results for some years. However, there is a key difference between cross-functional teams and fusion teams. Traditionally, cross-functional teams focused on creating new ideas for products or services by bringing together people from the sales department, the marketing department, and the product department. Cross-functional teams did not usually take responsibility for actually deploying a software project.

In contrast, the core concept of the fusion team is that the team can independently develop something with a direct interface to the customer that creates a new customer experience. The concept of fusion teams mirrors the concept of macro and microservices. Every service has its own team. So, if you want to change search engine behavior on your website, for example, by adding suggested search terms or pictures, a fusion team consisting of a developer, a data person and the product manager would then develop and deploy the project. That way the fusion team can develop an enhanced website search function and get it live quickly so that customers using the website benefit in a matter of days or weeks, rather than months or years.

To build high-functioning fusion teams, the IT organization must allow teams to work independently on the tech stack. In many companies, there is a bottleneck where there is a weekly or monthly approved release. Ideally, the tech stack should allow fusion teams to deploy features directly onto the website, in the mobile app, the search engine, or the email engine.

New priorities — from risk to business value

It is quite possible that fusion teams will lead to the death of the middle management structure. The traditional and more centralized approach, which contains multiple middle management layers, leads to a situation where change is very difficult. If the process of gathering requirements takes 12 months, by the time it is complete the information will be out of date, and technology and customer requirements will have moved on.

In an environment where everything used to be planned over a period of a year or two, management tends to view mitigating risk as their main challenge. Managers would expect to be offered different options; let’s say, option A, option B, and option C. Option A, the most aggressive approach, would lead to bigger potential payback, but with lots of risks. This approach was possible when data for each option was so consistent and stable that managers were able to plan over a long period of time.

In digital environments, it is not possible to build such an option set. Requirements and preferences are changing all the time. Instead of presenting management with a PowerPoint of three options for development that may have been months in the making, now there may be six or more options, and the best way of finding out which option is best is simply to try them out.

Businesses just don’t know which feature will be most appealing to customers. When we don’t know in advance how a change will influence the behavior of the customer, there is much less opportunity to mitigate risks. So, the optimum approach is to create different features, products and services, and test them. The ones that resonate well and bring business value are the ones to focus on.

Transforming team structure and technology

The era where cross-functional teams worked on monolithic IBM or Microsoft solutions bought in to solve all IT problems is definitely over. A single platform approach won’t work in the new world of fusion teams, where flexibility is king. Now, there is a need to break down monoliths in a service-oriented infrastructure. Instead, the focus must be on creating an infrastructure where a team can deploy features, in the search engine, or the product management system, for example, without going through the bottleneck of the central IT process.

This usually leads to a world where old programming languages have no place. Java is a good example of a language that is not equipped for this environment. Technology to support fusion teams must be able to connect with multiple interfaces that often come with their own programming language or programming concept.

To build a technology framework for change, software architects are needed who understand the interdependencies between different services and the back end. The technology framework must drive the business and not be a bottleneck.

Everything must change— how you purchase IT, how you manage it, how you connect it, and how fast you are able to upgrade. This constant change leads to a situation where IT can no longer be managed as a cost center. A focus on containing costs is not appropriate. Today, IT delivers business value creation.

Supporting change

The extent of change that will be needed presents a human challenge that is bigger than the technology challenge. The people responsible for this change will be the same people who are no longer needed in their old function. Strong CIOs or CTOs, often supported by new types of external partners, are needed to lead the transformation process.

Organizations with true business-IT collaboration will be in a much better position to respond faster to unexpected challenges and will be the winners in digital transformation. A business based on fusion teams has a much-enhanced ability to test and learn, in order to drive up productivity and business results.

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Alexander Graf

Alexander Graf

Alexander Graf is cofounder & co-CEO of marketplace experts Spryker and author of The E-Commerce Book
Alexander Graf

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