Digital.ai – A new Value Stream Management (VSM) platform

I’ve just been talking with Digital.ai, which sells “an intelligent value-stream management platform”. I found this after reading something on LinkedIn from its CEO, Ashok Reddy (who I’ve known for years, first at IBM Rational and then at CA/Broadcom). So, I like value-stream, Digital.ai already has lots of big customers, how come I hadn’t noticed it? Am I losing my touch?

Well, no more than usual, it’s a very new company but it has grown by acquisition out of Collabnet (which I last wrote about some six years ago), and which was responsible for Subversion.

Collabnet was sold to venture capitalist firm Vector, which transformed it into “a scaled, end-to-end player in the disruptive and rapidly growing DevOps marketplace”. It acquired VersionOne (for Agile management and collaboration), before Vector sold it to TPG Capital in Oct 2019.

It then acquired XebiaLabs (one of the pioneers of Release Orchestration and Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery) and Arxan Technologies (which provides multi-layer app security), before launching itself as Digital.ai in 2020 – although you’ll still find it in the Gartner Magic Quadrant as Collabnet, it’s that new. It also now includes Experitest (automation of mobile and web app testing) and Numerify (AI-assisted business analytics; see also its eBook on Artificial Intelligence in IT Service & Change Management.

I find this heritage rather reassuring as it implies a foundation in Configuration Management (which is more-or-less what Collabnet did originally) and I can’t see how the Agile production of desirable business outcomes (or the continual evolution of a Mutable Business) can work without the discipline of knowing what you have, where it is, who’s responsible for it, what business processes it impacts, etc. – and that is Configuration Management.

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But, what is new about Digital.ai (apart from a name, pronounced “digital-dot-a-i” which makes it quite hard to find on Google, since both “digital” and “ai” are rather common)? And, what is “value-stream management”?

Well, “value-stream management”, VS, is what is new in this product, and it derives from lean manufacturing practices, applied to the software delivery process. More than that, however, it implies a focus on the delivery of business outcomes, for all stakeholders. Think DevOps, but with a bigger feedback loop from design thinking around business strategy and focus, to delivery of business value, whether shareholder value or (more usefully these days) stakeholder value, including both shareholder and societal value. Its main competition, I think, will be from companies such as IBM and Tasktop.

VSM involves making an entire software pipeline transparent, with interoperable tools (including APIs for integration of existing tools from other vendors in an organisation) and is about tracking, measuring and optimising value delivery. Although I might query “optimising” these days, as McChrystal (in Team of Teams is convincing me that what matters, increasingly, for the Mutable Business today, is resilience (a broad capability regardless of changing conditions) rather than optimisation for a specific environment, that might change.

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Where Digital.ai claims to differentiate itself, it says, is that that it maintains its focus on business value beyond just its portfolio of “DevOps value streams” and into all applications that an organization uses to deliver a business service. This capability is enabled using automation and intelligent modelling, and promises to deliver results that are directly accountable to measurable business outcomes.

Digital.ai espouses the SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) principles for Agile at Scale, also followed by IBM. This, in my opinion, is a good basis to build on. It claims to provide a true value-stream management platform rather than just a simple set of tools:

Digital AI platform

That said, this is not the place for a full Digital.ai evaluation, although I will say that it offers a flexible and simplified licensing model (not the old-fashioned “shelf-ware” licensing, thank goodness).

So, we have a new VSM platform and I think that people really should be looking at value streams and the bigger feedback loop from design thinking to business outcomes – and for all stakeholders – these days. The components of this platform are not new, however, and have an established provenance and established customers. This gives me some confidence that this Digital.ai VSM platform will actually work.

David Norfolk

My current main client is Bloor Research International, where I am Practice Leader with responsibility for Development and Governance. I am also Executive Editor (on a freelance basis) for Croner's IT Policy and Procedures (a part-work on IT policies). I am also on the committee of the BCS Configuration Management Specialist Group (BCS-CMSG). I became Associate Editor with The Register online magazine – a courtesy title as I write on a freelance basis – in 2005. Register Developer, a spin-off title, started at the end of 2005, and I was launch editor for this (with Martin Banks). I helped plan, document and photograph the CMMI Made Practical conference at the IoD, London in 2005 (http://ww.cmminews.com). I have also written many research reports including one on IT Governance for Thorogood. I was freelance Co-Editor (and part owner) of Application Development Advisor (a magazine, www.appdevadvisor.co.uk, now defunct) for several years. Before I became a journalist in 1992, I worked for Swiss Bank Corporation (SBC). At various times I was responsible for Systems Development Method for the London operation, the Technical Risk Management framework in Internal Control, and was Network Manager for Corporate group. I carried out a major risk evaluation for PC systems connecting across the Bank’s perimeter to external systems and prioritised major security issues for resolution by the Bank’s top management in London. I also formulated a Security Policy for London Branch and designed a secure NetWare network for the Personnel Dept. Before 1988 I was an Advisory Systems Engineer in Bank of America, Croydon in database administration (DBA). on COBOL-based IMS business systems. Before 1982, I worked in the Australian Public Service, first as a DBA in the Dept of Health (responsible for IMS mainframe systems) and latterly as a Senior Rserach Officer 2 in the Bureau of Transport Economics. Specialties: I have the ability to extract the essence of significant technical developments and present it for general consumption, at various levels, without compromising the underlying technical truth.

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