"Coding Power, the evolution of the species" mirrors our way of reading, interpreting, and pursuing technological innovation, ranging from bi-modal, passing through co-modal, up to Made in Italy Software.
A hybrid story open to contamination, in which fantasy, cyberpunk, postmodernism and cultural anthropology merge with data and software, to advocate the idea of innovation as a change of perspective and a wish for mixing heterogeneous elements to build new future worlds.
Almost three years have passed since we described our approach into "bi-modal" Information Technology, where the continuous fusion between traditional IT and Digital components, between evolution and innovation would be a breeding ground for new value creation (Dedagroup's Manifesto for Innovation). In the digital age the flow of time is no longer linear but exponential, surpassing models and patterns faster than in the past.
Bi-modal Information Technology envisaged "managing two separate but consistent working styles. One predictable, the other exploratory, both key factors for digital transformation" (Gartner). The challenge was to find a synthesis, a model of coexistence of two separate and different worlds: one solid, slow, reliable and very structured, the other intangible, agile, innovative, unstructured, but full of new developments and potential.
It meant combining a marathon runner with a sprinter and making them run a hybrid race, where neither of them could/should lose. A hybrid race for two different athletes who would remain as such, each with their own particular traits. But how do a sprinter and a long-distance runner compete yet reach the finish line together?
I think that a new paradigm is emerging, a scheme that goes beyond the coexistence and joining of two – apparently irreconcilable – worlds to make way for a more structural and profound integration based on a new application model. We're entering the co-modal age.
Co-modality is a term that is far removed from Information Technology. It was coined and introduced in 2006 by the European Union to define its approach to the totality of modes that characterise transport policy. Co-modal means intelligently using profoundly different "modes" (alone or in combination) so that the combination ensures an optimal, sustainable use of resources. "The only way to optimise [transport] in a natural way is through interoperability between the different modes. In reality there is only one service that is based on the best solutions (modes) available".
Now let's shift the concept from transport to information technology: Co-modal is a new layer, a "middle ground" populated by data and software coming from the bi-modal sphere (Traditional and Digital),
but which constitute a distinct ecosystem characterised by data and relationships interacting in a dense way, although with a high degree of independence and "identity".
We no longer have two athletes, the sprinter and the long-distance runner, but rather a new runner that looks more like a decathlete. A single athlete who combines particular traits and global skills, whose race – in the middle ground – is unique, even if it consists of many different disciplines.
The middle ground is the place where value is created from data and relationships, a layer that extends beyond the boundaries of the single organisation, where interactions descend to the fundamental level, the atomic level: data. The application layer is Co-developed and crosses disciplines, domains, markets and technologies. It is the result of a multidirectional transformation working through organisations inside out and vice versa.
Waterfall or Agile? Top-down or Bottom-up? Tightly Integrated o Loosely Integrated?
The answer is yes. We have been used to a "top-down" approach, designing complex software for decomposition, designing the architecture and defining interfaces and semantics in a precise, static and deterministic manner. The systems were defined by the interfaces: constant, stable and virtually unchangeable.
Then came the Digital age, a new generation of components that integrate non-deterministic and highly dynamic elements (like Machine Learning and genetic algorithms). Where data take a central role and algorithms form the cognitive layer.Interfaces are dynamic because they evolve as the whole system evolves, which itself becomes less deterministic.
It is now clear that the monolithic approach to software - and the illusion of linking all the operational processes of an organisation back to it - are outdated and anachronistic. This is true even because today an organization is increasingly an organization among other organizations, and therefore it must continuously reconfigure and adapt its digital processes in a dynamic, living and unpredictable ecosystem.
Three years ago, I used to be thinking that using a platform to connect the two different modes – yet keeping them separate and independent – would have been the correct choice to successfully deal with the bi-modal Information Technology. An interoperability layer that would make the data accessible and allow them to be processed by the new application components. This is how we set up the Co-Innovation Lab and developed a platform called "Digital Hub" that allows us to make available, integrate and analyse large amounts of data from diverse sources and subjects.
In the meantime, we have been working on more "digital" versions of our "monoliths". To open them up and facilitate their integration into wider, varied and dynamic application ecosystems. This is the case of Stealth, the leading software in the Fashion, Luxury and Retail world, which today is a real application platform that constitutes the vital system of fashion Made in Italy. We did so by redesigning Next, the Digital City operating system, to achieve the digital transformation of Local Public Administrations by bringing them to the cloud and natively integrating national intangible infrastructures.
These worlds converge, and their boundaries become more blurred. The interoperability platform is progressively extending its reach and becoming our "middle ground". A new lightweight, dynamically populated and integrated application layer, where both worlds (modes) integrate, connect and create a new digital ecosystem that is the result of elements of different origins (traditional, digital and Digital Hub).
It is an open layer that is enriched through co-development, co-innovation and cooperation. Where the basic components are freely usable and are released under an Open Source licence. Each element "contributes" to the ecosystem and characterises its evolution, which increasingly resembles that of an organism.
The context of co-evolution that animates development is characterised by new ways: Hackathons [Open Data HackaBot Trentino 2019, MISTRAL Hackathon (Meteo Italian Supercomputing Portal)], projects and partnerships with the world of research, with the start-up ecosystem, integration and sharing among our business units and experimentation with our customers.
For us, co-evolution means broadening the view and scope of development to an open, extended, interoperable and interdisciplinary context involving internal and external actors.
Integration and exchange are daily values that extend and amplify existing assets by transforming systems into platforms, into "systems of systems" able to interoperate and integrate, giving rise to the company's (organisation's) "augmented" digital vital system.
Digital Transformation is generating a "digital twin" of physical reality. Huge amounts of data and information will be a source of new information and knowledge in all sectors. It will be like switching from an optical microscope to an electron one. There will be a new level of knowledge of phenomena and processes, causes and effects of interactions. And if data are the "atoms" of the digital age, algorithms are the engine of competitiveness and innovation.
Data and software represent the archive and mine of knowledge and expertise of organisations. The "digital mind" of development and competitiveness, where the intersection of cultures, domains and knowledge are turned into a competitive advantage in an extended systemic vision of subjects and activities.
A "unified" vision of the activities where the unbundling and rebundling of internal and external processes, value chains, production, service are transformed thanks to the digital layer that represents and describes them.
We need new tools that allow the processing of quantities of data that were unimaginable just a few years ago. That's why Artificial Intelligence techniques are pervasively entering all fields of application. While in the past analysis and forecasting were done with statistical tools, today we must use more advanced approaches to deal with complexity, to identify phenomena and trends in a much more varied and articulated digital reality.
The data come from different sources, generated for different purposes, generally not compatible, but – once integrated – they provide a resource that we are able to extract new information and knowledge from thanks to Artificial Intelligence and the power of the Cloud.
Huge amounts of data, the ability to intercept and discover humanly invisible patterns, data processing, real-time processing and forecasting will be fundamental elements of the digital transformation. The evolution of the “middle ground” will make available new knowledge to improve operations and simplify and govern the complexity of organisations and ecosystems.
This sudden paradigm shift is made possible by several competing technologies: pervasive hyper-connectivity, cloud hyper-scalability, hyper-distributed systems, intelligent algorithms able to learn from experience. But compared to the past, we are experiencing an increasing centrality of the user and the user experience and a growing focus on the value delivered compared to merely technological aspects.
Our communities, those who design, write and operate the software, are mixing different professional skills, aware that specialisation, specificity, openness and integration are required in order to express a distinctive value and thus formalise a competitive advantage in the code.
The "Co-Modal Middle Ground" is a No Comfort Zone. A place that questions and tests models, principles and technologies. Where the pathways are multidimensional, parallel and competing. Where technology, processes, ecosystems, relationships and business models intersect. An inherently dynamic universe, where change and adaptation are the status quo, normality. Where the space for data and relations does not follow traditional patterns and requires new skills and new approaches. The "disruptions" of the system propagate snapshots with widespread and structural consequences, acting not only on the digital atoms that make up the system (the data), but on the operations of the system itself (algorithms, relations and data).
The technological challenges to face are important, but not the only important ones: cloud and multi-cloud, hyper-distributed, competitive, multi-service and "containerised" applications, APIs, pervasive and by-design security, sensors and data flows, "applied" Artificial Intelligence. These are just some of the terms that fill the media and captivate the attention in our sector, but Digital Transformation is a challenge that must be faced with a systemic approach, with an organisational and cultural process close to the concrete needs of the organisation concerned, be it a production company, a service company, a public body or a supply chain.
Co-Modal is therefore a multilingual ground where different subjects represent and express objectives and expectations with different and specific languages: sales, marketing, production, finance, engineering, customer experience. These needs intersect and develop relationships that find the digital weave of their new operational fabric in our technologies.
There is no gravitational centre, no more important element or language: the effects, the outputs are the yardstick, the common language, the synthesis of a transformation that starts from technology but that speaks the language of reality. Because the output is inclusive and clear, the technologies are not. Talking about hidden Markov chains does not benefit the system, just as performing a heart transplant while neglecting possible obstructions in the veins does not benefit the patient, even if the operation is successful.
Our task as developers and integrators of software and technologies of the Digital Age is to turn a deposit, data, into a mine, transforming different languages and objectives and encoding specific knowledge in its technological synthesis: software and algorithms.
Software that exists in a delicate balance between optimisation of standard components and specialisation of elements developed specifically for the peculiar characteristics that express the differentiating value of a process, an organisation, an operational or business model.
Facing this new complexity requires crossing markets and cultures – an approach that we have defined as Crossing Markets/Cultures – to transform the knowledge of the sectors we work in and the design experience we have gained in them into a platform. The sartorial choice of technologies and algorithm development reflects our model of a privileged relationship with the customer, just as the applicative intelligence of development communities reflects the ability to read the context – technological and business – and turn it into a platform.
Our DNA is the effect of cross-fertilisation of skills and an integration of knowledge and continuous change and is well suited to this dynamic context where specificity and specialisation become components of software, an unravelable combination of excellence in coding and attention to the concrete needs of customers.
This transformation, of which we are both creators and collaborators together with our clients and partners, passes through an increasingly open, widespread and interconnected Innovation Model and a determined Human Capital Strategy, which is not a fashionable operation for us but rather a necessity. We believe that these new lands should be explored together, developing technologies, not mirroring them. We do so, and we will do so by expanding our human capital enhancement and development initiatives – like our Build Y(Our) Future – and innovation activities aimed directly at moving from Open Innovation to Open Integration.
Our ambition is to codify in our software and its algorithms the specificity and industrial tailoring of excellence, a combination of tradition and innovation that is the founding heritage of Made in Italy products. And which we believe is the true differentiating aspect of the path of Digital Transformation we are facing together with our Customers and Partners.
Maybe Digital Transformation will not be characterised by a clear detachment from the past (the search for "disruption" at all costs) but by the transformation of our past thanks to digital technologies, in a path that enhances the creative complexity, craftsmanship excellence and organisational dynamism typical of Made in Italy products.
"We still have iron machines, but they obey the orders of weightless bits." Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium