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Coping with VUCA challenges

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(Image credit: Shutterstock.com / Pressmaster)

The term VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity – is an easy way to encapsulate the uncontrollability business leaders are facing these days. There are changing work models, rapid acceleration and advancements in technology, and increased interdependence of business-critical systems. These changes are compounded by an increase in more complex and distributed architectures, with a tangled web of integrations and dependencies. All these factors combined make it almost impossible to predict where the market will go. 

With a short, succinct acronym to define the four terms, it can be easy to lose sight of the four distinct types of challenges – each with its own solution. Modern challenges require modern solutions, and the technology sector is working hard to develop the tools to help. Gartner has described these tools as Digital Platform Conductors (DPCs).

DPCs are tools that help organizations manage operations across their infrastructure, regardless of environment or location. According to Gartner, they “coordinate the various infrastructure tools used to plan, implement, operate and monitor underpinning technology and services for applications and digital products. They support digital business, regardless of the environments used or who owns them. DPC tools provide a unified view of underpinning technologies and their connection to applications.”

Volatility 

In the technology sector, volatility emerges when, in the words of Nathan Bennet and G. James Lemoine, “the challenge is unexpected of unstable and maybe of unknown duration but it’s not necessarily hard to understand; knowledge about it is often available.” 

2020 – and, so far, 2021 – is perhaps the year that we all got to experience this at its most extreme in the technology sector. Covid-19 was unprecedented in terms of scale and impact, with no clear end in sight. Yet it was also inherently “graspable” with many businesses able to develop a response and take action in defined ways – remote working being the most obvious example. Business craved risk visibility, which enabled knowledge and expectations to be quantified. Government timelines, tiers, and traffic light systems were all critical in this regard; sharing knowledge helped reduce some of the volatility. 

DPCs take a similar approach to technology environments. They don’t seek to replace the many optimized tools we already use to identify risks across our systems, but rather help provide a top-down and harmonized view. This allows you to state: “We tested X, in system Y, in environment X, using tool W, and this was the output.” Clear, simple, and to the point.

Uncertainty 

Uncertainty is often defined as the extent to which we can confidently predict the future. This refers to both things that objectively aren’t predictable, as well as understanding in terms of perception: does the audience understand the detail of what’s been seen?

Many of today’s tools can independently produce the output from testing. To be certain the output is correct, though, you often need a high level of knowledge in the test you are performing, the environment in which it is being performed, and what the output means in that specific situation. Understanding the real-world impact can be even more challenging, as it often requires the same detail and knowledge across multiple connected systems. This dilutes the level of certainty around the impact or potential likelihood of recurring issues.

Because DPCs look at applications from a top-down perspective, it provides more certainty around these concerns. These tools can conduct tests across all associated parts of the application and against a more commonly and more easily understood validation. This allows concrete answers to be given and visualized to more general and high-level questions, providing a far greater level of understanding and certainty to stakeholders.

Complexity 

Complexity describes the convoluted state that can occur when multiple components of a system are interconnected and interdependent. In the IT world it is likely to be borne out of the desire to use the best tools for a particular job. 

Each team wants to use the best tools in their individual environments, however that can lead to a wide range of tools that need to work in harmony. This ranges from cloud platforms to infrastructures, and from software to containers, and much more. The more tools which are deployed, the more complex the system becomes. 

The only way to make sense of complexity is to use a top-down model – something which DPCs provide. Doing so brings unique clarity to what would otherwise be extremely difficult to understand. As a result, it increases transparency for many stakeholders across the whole process, from identifying and restoring to being able, when needed, to deliver comprehensive information.

Ambiguity 

Ambiguity is a lack of clarity about how to interpret something. More generally it refers to fuzziness and vagueness in ideas and terminology, especially due to a lack of precedent. The more ambiguous the world is, the harder it is to interpret. But somewhat ironically, ambiguity can often be at the heart of innovation. 

The best approach to overcoming ambiguity is to experiment and run tests. DPCs help to coordinate tools without impeding the freedom needed for innovation. They can harness agility by allowing teams to capture what they do as they reinvent solutions for their apps, use patterns to let teams use shared best practices and create a common vocabulary understandable by both humans and machines.

Preparing for a VUCA World 

When using the term VUCA there is a risk that some people will try to use it as an excuse to avoid preparation. As previously mentioned, “volatility” describes a challenge that is unknown in both type and duration – and it is difficult to prepare for the unknown. 

However, it is natural for people to cling to whatever security and knowledge they can find. Visibility and understanding were critical counterpoints to the volatility and uncertainty of the pandemic. We all became deeply interested in measurements like the ‘R-number’ – where the ability to standardize transmission testing results in our area, within our country, and create a harmonized language, increased the ability for businesses to predict the likelihood of increased or reduced restrictions. 

Even more powerful was visualizing the results against a validation range: on a map you could easily see red, amber or green areas. DPCs can similarly use visualizations, providing both contextualized and generalized understandable data for stakeholders and drilled-down testing output for every part of your application.

VUCA provides a framework to better understand our increasingly confusing tech world. DPCs enables businesses to better plan, implement, operate, and monitor. By combining the two, we can more successfully respond to challenges both now and in the future and create a genuine competitive edge.

Vicky Glynn, Head of Strategic Growth, Cloudsoft

Vicky is Product Manager at Brightsolid, with more than two decades of experience working across the public sector, energy and financial services industries.