Defender to Disruptor: Rethinking Scale

Posted by Merlin Beyts | 14-Nov-2019 17:07:43

Platform companies and digital innovators have redefined the concept of scale, enabling game-changing products and services to reach customers more rapidly than ever before.

Nimbus Ninety members gathered in the Lumiere, Southwark to discuss how established businesses can achieve rapid growth in response to their disruptive challengers.


The concept of growth has changed. Companies like Airbnb and Uber have rapidly scaled their businesses and are able to get their products into the hands of their users at unprecedented rates, leaving incumbent businesses with the challenge of “fighting for their right” in the market. 

Sunil Kumar, VP of Data at Barclays, discussed the new rules of growth which defenders should be adhering to. When considering a migration from a legacy system, a business must consider how the process will affect performance, security, manageability, maintenance, scalability, reliability, extensibility and availability (PSMMSREA). Once all of these have been taken into account, and the effects of implementing a new system - cloud-based for instance - the discussion can begin about how best to transform. 

Key to this process is that use cases are considered when applying new tools to a system. For example, it’s pointless to arbitrarily adopt cloud into one’s business to use it for everything; targeted integration may be the best solution. What’s more, immediate large-scale overhauls aren’t the answer. Take it step-by-step. Think about PSMMSREA and the associated KPIs. If nothing is missing, then you can proceed.

When implementing these systems, cost can be a huge factor in whether the transformation actually takes place. These processes need not be as expensive as once believed, however. Not only are there abundant open-source frameworks that can save vast sums of money, it is possible to scale using traditional systems. The challenge here is finding the talent with the knowledge of both the legacy technologies as well as the cutting-edge developments. Frankly, it’s proving difficult to marry those two together. As the demand for staff who are skilled in older technologies decreases, putting together smaller, more agile teams with a greater emphasis on customer ownership can go some way to tackling this situation. 


But technological innovation isn’t just left to the disruptors. Damian Smith, Head of IT at the England & Wales Cricket Board, proposed a fascinating solution to dealing with large scale data. He spoke of two problems: “The BI Problem” and “The IT Problem”. Previous BI methods were long and laborious involving retrieving data from sources, followed by extract, transform and load (ETL) processes into the enterprise data warehouse (EDW), and finally data discovery and analytics. That, combined with an unwillingness to use BI tools has led to very slow activity. Smith and his team have replaced this structure. They now use a data lake, using big data tools for analysis which, Smith estimated, “works nine times out of ten”. Having also built the BI tools into low-code apps, the team don’t have as much to them.

What really shocked the room, however, was the revelation that Smith’s team have gone a long way to solving the IT problem by building these low-code apps in the space of only a week. Previously, when projects started to take shape, the IT team would throw every requirement at it to try to develop a package solution. Now the process is more communal. They discuss their ideas before and if they decide that it’s worth developing, they spend a week trying to build it. If they’re unsuccessful, rather than stopping the project entirely, they put it to one side for later consideration. If it works, they scale it. Additionally, they ensure that the developer and the one in need of the app sit together to design something that is going to be genuinely useful to the business. .

These apps are both time and cost-efficient which means that quick access to the required data is available to all across the business. Access to that much data, with an innovative method of getting insights from it, leads to success. Nigel Moulton, CTO of Dell, put it to the room clearly and concisely: “Data plus software equals competitive advantage.” Essentially, find the data you need, develop the software accordingly and reap the benefits.  

But what are the technology choices to be made to target both innovation and growth? Well, a lot of these selections are outcome-led and sometimes the decisions get made for you. “The buzzwords are buzzwords for a reason; they get results,” Moulton claimed to the agreement of most in the room. “Figure out what the competitive edge is, compute to it and use your AI to get your results,” he continued.

Again, it seems as though the hard work has been done already. Kumar proposed that it is not always the concern of established businesses to think of new technologies to improve their systems. Modern innovation lies in incorporating the ground-breaking ideas into the right areas of the business. Not only is this quicker, but it is also far cheaper. 

For projects that are outsourced, often it can be tricky to bring suppliers round to new ways of thinking. Like most challenges, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, however larger businesses have found a certain measure of success in using their corporate weight to encourage cooperation from their vendors. In response to the contamination of their produce in 2018, Walmart have forced their produce suppliers to implement blockchain to increase transparency.1 Our panel agreed that if suppliers aren’t intent on getting on board with new technological practices then there’s little value to be gained by continuing a partnership with them. Moulton noted that it’s perhaps easier to achieve this in the e-commerce sector but that the principle still stands. It’s hard either way – but it works. 

With growth being a consistent necessity and disruption coming thick and fast from multiple directions, it is crucial that businesses focus on the areas they need to improve. Transforming legacy systems is a useful form of defence but not for transformation’s sake. By all means, adopt cloud, but don’t reinvent your business to fit around it. The innovations have already taken place, all that’s needed is to find the areas that are worth updating before the incorporating can begin.



  1. Dan, Ana, Walmart Forces Salad Suppliers to Use Blockchain. You Won’t Guess Why!, 25 September 2018,


This event was held in partnership with NTT, a technology services company that provides intelligent technology solutions across the globe. If you'd like to learn more about data strategy and , register for our upcoming NTT events, Datafication: Dealing with Data Proliferation on 3rd December or The Borderless Business on 29th January.


Topics: Event reports

Written by Merlin Beyts

Merlin is the Research and Events Producer at Nimbus Ninety.

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