Making composability your ‘superpower’

Published on the 11/03/2022 | Written by Heather Wright

Modularity across your thinking, business architecture and technologies…

Australian and New Zealand businesses are missing a trick when it comes to dealing with volatility and uncertainty. At least that’s what Gartner says. 

In a recent webinar, Andy Rowsell-Jones, Gartner distinguished VP analyst, highlighted A/NZ enterprises’ poor ranking when it comes to being ‘highly composable’.

Gartner has been talking composability for several years now. It’s the concept of creating businesses from interchangeable building blocks across business architecture, thinking and technologies, and it is, Roswell-Jones says a story of agility.

“A composable business is an organisation that is architected for real-time adaptability and resilience in the face of uncertainty”

“It’s taking those ideas of modularity – the services composability or technology composability some of us are familiar with from 20 years ago – and applying them in a way that is more joined up so you have much more ability to change the direction your business is taking.

Rowsell-Jones argues that composability is a ‘superpower’.

“A composable business is an organisation that is architected for real-time adaptability and resilience in the face of uncertainty,” he says.

The approach applies modularity to any business assets – people, processes, technologies, even physical assets – so leaders can quickly, easily and safely recompose them and create new value in response to disruption.

“As a fitness superpower, composability delivers greater flexibility through modularity, more awareness through discovery, better adaptability through orchestration and more willingness through autonomy,” Rowsell-Jones says. 

Gartner research suggests the more composable an organisation is, the better its business performance.

But when it comes to the rubber hitting the road, just four percent of Australian and New Zealand businesses are rated as having high business composability, behind the global average of six percent. A further 78 percent of A/NZ businesses (and 81 percent globally) are rated as moderate business composability.

Rowsell-Jones says there are a host of factors which could be holding A/NZ back, including the region’s relatively low ranking in digitalisation. The IMD global digital competitive rankings saw Australia slump from 15th in 2020 to 20th in 2021. New Zealand dropped one place from 22 to 23. 

Heavy investment in cyber security – over and above that seen in other parts of the world – is also taking funding away from composability, he says. And while A/NZ’s 3.1 percent expected increase in IT budgets initially looks good – just behind the global average of 3.6 percent – much of that will be going towards wage inflation as companies desperately seek talent amid a ‘crushing talent shortage’.

But, composability is not an impossible challenge for A/NZ, or one that  that requires unique skills or unobtainable technologies. 

Instead, Rowsell-Jones says, it needs nurturing and commitment.

He says there are nine practices which can lift local companies into the highly business composable enterprise category.

Those practices are spread across composable thinking, composable business architecture and composable technologies.

“In cross country running you run the terrain ,not the map. You have to be really adaptable to be good. The same is true of high business composable enterprises – you have to be really good at running through the mud.

“That manifests itself into composable thinking: Leadership who understand and willing to prioritise and fund agility or flexibility over optimising. That’s the real tradeoff,” he says.

“Generally the high composable businesses have an attitude to risk that says ‘we can master this’.

“We can’t say causality – that you’re more composable so you’re more relaxed about risk, or whether organisations prepared to take risk have had their fingers burned so often that they have figured out they had to be more composable. 

“So we can’t prove causality, but it certainly starts with a mindset.”

Composable thinking requires businesses to practice adaptive strategy, moving away from annual strategy cycles and departmental budgets to shorter, integrated plans. Promoting a high trust culture that empowers employees to independently make decisions and empowering internal functions, product teams, external allies and/or business partnerships to work together through autonomous , self-organising networks is also required, he says. 

“These are the three major differences, the secret sauce.”

Key business architecture related practices to improve composability include shaping multi-disciplinary teams to align on value, promote transparency, drive accountability and collaborate on demand.

“One fascinating stat for me, is how many people who are’ IT people’ are not in IT,” he says. 

Forty-one percent of ‘technology workers’ are ‘business technologists’ – those who report outside of IT departments but create technology or analytics capabilities for internal or external use. Just 10 percent are IT staff, and 49 percent are technology end users.

“If you are thinking about how build business composable organisation, most of the talent, the capability building, is going to come from the business technologies. Guys in IT are important but there is an awful lot of talent out there and we have to figure out in building business composable models how we tap into that talent.”

The multidisciplinary team is one such way.

Designing business processes in parallel with technology capabilities and distributing accountability for digital outcomes beyond the traditional IT organisation to other business units/leaders are also part of building a composable business architecture.

The final pillar is composable technologies.

Rowsell-Jones says Gartner surveys show A/NZ organisations are likely to be spending more money on cybersecurity than the top performing composable organisations, and we’re less likely to be investing in areas including AI, hyperautomation and containerisation and orchestration, areas he dubs ‘a great way of making applications truly scale flexible and deployment flexible’.

“Generally this pattern is not one you would see with highly composable businesses.

And the key actions to drive composable technology?

Establishing iterative development techniques such as DevOps as the default approach to development – something just 32 percent of A/NZ organisations are doing, versus 60 percent of highly composable organisations – and establishing continuous and effortless sharing of ideas and access to platforms, tools and know-how across internal functions, product teams, external allies and/or business apartments.

Creating dynamic and easily deployable integration capabilities for connecting data, analytics and application components is also key he says.

“There are no real surprises in any of that. We are generally aware of the solutions, just struggling to make the investments.”

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