How to Surf Across a Burning Platform


Succeeding in a world of impermanence, ubiquity, transparency, and competitiveness

While most of the planet is welcoming the advantages of a fully digital age, the seismic changes to our everyday lives, communities and organizations are generating a series of tsunamis that threaten to engulf those who are unwilling or too slow to adapt to change. It was just over 15 years ago that the first significant wave of internet technologies and services hit the marketplace. At the time industry resounded to cries of “burning platform”. Old school approaches to adaptation and improvement were ineffective in the face of a faster and more agile competition.

Despite (or because of) the warnings, the casualties were smaller as most established businesses adapted, albeit slightly slower than their marketing advocates would have preferred. The waves were also considerably small and less frequent then than the ones we see today, and minuscule compared to the ones on the horizon, each a tsunami in its own right, swelling the surface of the internet ocean. Cloud Services, Social, Mobile, and Big Data are all transforming the business landscape. Unlike the 90s, time is now compressed and survival less certain if the cautious or risk averse path is taken.

Business, but not as we know it

The signs are clear and there is no reason to doubt that the business world is in the midst of more than just a major disruption. Like King Canute, we will be unable to withstand the onslaught of the digital tides that will engulf the slower, more conservative enterprises and endeavors.

Enterprises are becoming leaner and more dependent on external resources and actions in their quest for agility. We – as CIOs of the Future – need to adapt our skill sets and intelligence to exploit the opportunities and build the foundations of sustainable growth.

Before we can agree on the necessary configurations and vital components of the new industrial environment, it is important to lay down some projections on the nature of this developing marketplace.

Four characteristics will predominate.


Enterprises are moving away from pyramid-like hierarchies to become slender columns of business development. Middle management, also known as the go-betweens, will all but disappear and most management functions will become temporary and fulfilled by external resources.

Permanent employment by a single large company will become rare. Executives will be retained for as long as they remain effective and current with new technologies, business models and, most important of all, fully aware of global market competition.

C-level salaries will be contractually determined and measured against specific deliverables, probably resulting in a re-adjustment of salaries to pre-internet boom levels. Executive expertise will become as itinerant as designers, scripters, and testers.


The work force will be globally diverse and distributed, available at any time of the day from any location that is connected to the internet. In other words almost anywhere.

Virtual teams will span geographies and cultures and may be the result of several layers of subcontracting. Even the traditional body shops will focus more on rapid resource identification and validation (skills, achievements and certifications) than building an army of contractors.

Expect gaming-type honor systems to emerge as the means of distinguishing skill sets and achievements.


Private storage of data will be minimized as more and more information will be stored and shared in network clouds.

Our most pertinent data will be strongly secured. However, the information needed to exercise enterprise vision and operation will be increasingly public or semi-public to allow external resources ready and rapid access to comprehend and deliver on contracted tasks.

Volume and velocity of data will continue to grow exponentially and new services will evolve to identify and predict meaningful volatility. As one wit observed the needles are much smaller and the haystacks immeasurably larger.


Innovation life-cycles will continue to shrink. The lifetime of new output will be measured in days and weeks rather than months and years.

We will move from a disposable culture to a constantly transient one.

Dealing with redundancy will become a major issue for governments and industry. However opportunities to compete will grow exponentially as entry barriers to any and every market will continue to be lowered.

Creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration may be key

While all of these characteristics may not play out exactly as defined, they are most surely harbingers of monumental change. Change at a rate that is unprecedented in human history.

This means that for every enterprise, every organization, and every individual the critical challenge is to thrive in an environment of continual change. This is the ability to transition from where they are today to where they need to be tomorrow, and begin the next day with the transition from where they have just arrived.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) is a US organization that advocates the need to move beyond the 3 R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic) of our established education in an effort to evolve towards a better equipped and contributing citizenry. They have identified 4 “C” skills that are essential for growth and survival in the coming decades: Creativity, Critical thinking, Communication, and Collaboration.

Image Source: P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning

The burning platforms, casualties of the burgeoning internet, and forecasts by pundits in the mid-nineties are a reality. It’s just that the first decade was more of a smouldering than a conflagration. By the end of this decade the fire will be all consuming, we need to adjust our thinking, our behaviors and the skills to use the much smaller platforms or surfboards that will enable us to ride the tides change.

Do we know how to recognize and develop these skills?

Share your thoughts and comments below on how they may be used to address the challenges of the digital global environment, or identify other skills that will be needed to succeed.