A Closer Look at Transformation: Systems of Engagement

Next up in this transformation series is the fifth enabler: systems of engagement. Geoffrey Moore introduced the Systems of Engagement concept about two years ago. This vision for the future of Information Technology is gaining broader acceptance – but a surprising number of executives are blind to the coming sea change. Where current enterprise systems are designed around records (systems of record); these new systems are designed around interactions. Where technology investment in the last two decades enabled transaction workers and executives – these systems enable the middle of organizations with a focus on growth.

Blog - systems of engagement

In the next decade, systems of engagement will be the biggest factor in raising Digital DNA quotients by using consumer technology to make companies more effective. These systems will address the complexities of global business relationships and enable the middle of the organization to conduct business across emerging value ecosystems. They will sit on top of, and be in touch with systems of record in a way that maintains the stability and security requirements of the core, while enabling the Digital DNA required for future success. The drivers behind the move to systems of engagement are:

  • The middle of the organization is ill-equipped to operate in a connected world – companies have invested heavily in the core over the last two decades but have not enabled the edge. Edge interactions are handled by the middle of the company, and they are ill-equipped to deal with a highly connected world where more work is distributed and more stakeholders are involved in value creation
  • Consumerization has raised the bar for work place technology and stakeholder engagement – the shift in the origin of technology innovation that began with the growth of the Internet is widely referred to as consumerization. Innovation now comes from consumer markets first, reversing the decades old direction driven by business and government. This shift is a key driver behind the push towards systems of engagement, as the enterprise seeks to address the imbalance between the technologies we use in our personal versus work lives
  • External stakeholders are a bigger piece of value propositions – two distinct dynamics that are driving the need for systems of engagement are the distribution of work and the growing need to mobilize stakeholders that add value. Both require a robust platform for collaboration, communication and coordination
  • Experience is becoming the new differentiation battleground – as described in this post on Next Generation Experiences, 60 percent of companies intend to differentiate on customer experience – and that number is likely to grow. Engagement is becoming the experience foundation, and through engagement trust and customer advocacy are built. This drives the need for holistic systems of engagement that enable the delivery of next generation experiences
  • Digital DNA is required for future success – as described in this post on Digital DNA, the enterprise must embrace those characteristics that enable future success. Engagement excellence is a key driver of many characteristics. To deliver engagement excellence, companies will embark on a decade-long journey towards systems of engagement
  • Interaction points are proliferating – with the number of interaction points expanding rapidly, and Omni-channel strategies growing in importance, a holistic systems of engagement perspective is a key enabler
  • Technology is making engagement at scale viable – as it is with much of the disruption we are experiencing, technology from an innovation, price, performance, and scalability perspective is now a key enabler of engagement at scale. This becomes a key driver behind the systems of engagement movement

Ultimately, these systems become the platform for communication, collaboration, coordination and distributed problem solving, while enabling companies to eliminate industry and organizational boundaries. This socially enabled platform will become ubiquitous, driven by a comprehensive interaction history that enables each interaction along the customer journey. To get there, companies must include these tactics in their systems of engagement programs:

  • Start with a holistic strategy that looks across the entire value ecosystem – creating a platform for collaboration, communication and coordination starts with an outside-in view and looks across the entire ecosystem. Too many companies have disparate and isolated initiatives in place which have the potential to create more silos. Holistic systems of engagement should enable the elimination of silos and other barriers
  • Enable the edge with consumer technology and interaction histories – to enable the edge, context is required to support each interaction. Interaction histories, much like the Facebook timeline, form the foundation for systems of engagement and provide the enabling context. This is a challenge for most companies, as interaction fragmentation is a key obstacle. The use of pervasive social features and the movement towards mobile as the face of engagement effectively leverage consumer technology to support these systems of engagement
  • Move from transaction-orientation to interaction-orientation – our past was dominated by a transaction orientation; from back-office systems to transaction-based decision support. This world will always exist, but to be successful in the engagement era, a shift to an interaction-orientation is required. The key to future success in a highly connected world depends on this shift, along with supporting systems of engagement. Companies should emphasize and structure around the critical need to engage
  • Work from a stakeholder experience paradigm – an ecosystem of stakeholders (customer, partners, employees, citizens, etc.) are increasingly connected. Systems of engagement should work towards enabling this interconnected world through well designed experiences. Those experiences should be designed from an outside-in perspective
  • Initially focus on high-impact moments of engagement – holistic systems of engagement will not appear overnight, and we are likely looking at a decade or more of work. Companies should prioritize those critical moments of engagement that can be made more effective through the use of consumer technology and context
  • Deploy event-driven service oriented architectures – systems of engagement drive extreme agility – and event-driven SOA (also called SOA 2.0) creates this agility by combining service orientation and event processing with technologies such as business process management, business activity monitoring and enterprise service buses
  • Integrate with systems of record where necessary – aside from the cultural issues that organizations will face, this tactic seems the most difficult to me. It’s easy to draw a diagram that has systems of engagement (SOE) on top of systems of record (SOR) with middleware sitting in the middle. But when I think of enabling the edge, I think of empowering them with context, insight and capability at the right time. A framework is required to determine where systems of record are necessary to provide that empowerment, and when they are not. Again, it’s the tension that exists between the SOE and SOR environment that must be managed without negatively affecting the other. The winners are those that manage this tension effectively
  • Shift from the user learning the system to the system learning the user – one of the major benefits of consumer technology is its virtually non-existent learning curve. Our views of training to enable the users of a system are changing. So too is the Amazon-inspired move towards using analytics to learn about the user. The move towards systems of engagement should adopt both these principles
  • Establish Cloud as the core – with emphasis on Public Cloud – cloud computing should increasingly be used for consuming services in a consistent way, wherever the consumer may be, using whatever device they choose. The Cloud portfolio will expand over time to offload work associated with Systems of Record, focus on differentiating Systems of Engagement, and enable a hybrid environment

That’s a look at the fifth enabler. For a review of this transformation series to date, here are the links to each of the prior posts:

Forcing Functions:


Effectiveness and Efficiency


Societal Change

Digital DNA


Structural Change

Edge-Driven Design

Value Ecosystems

Next Generation Experiences

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