Come and have a go, if you think you’re hard enough
Let’s start with what it is. In March, IDC published an HPE-sponsored document, called Digital Transformation in IT Services. The report defines it as technology and process innovation that leads to enterprise-wide change. To be truly impactful, IDC says that this change should revolve around technologies with long-term transformative potential.
IDC has those technologies already lined up, of course. It articulates digital transformation using what it calls the “third platform”. In case you’re wondering, the first platform was the mainframe, which bought us IT resources in the first place, while the second was the PC era, which distributed computing resources and made them more portable.
The third platform uses four technologies in concert as a basis for reinventing the business: cloud, mobile, big data/analytics, and social. Each of these technologies have already proven themselves as game changers on their own, but IDC sees them intertwined and stronger together. They’re a kind of digital rope, pulling your organization into the 21st century.
How do these technologies work together? They’re broad enough concepts that they’re bound to bleed into each other. For example, social networks are both consumers and producers of big data streams, which in turn use elastic cloud computing to crunch these huge datasets.
Modern AI has only been possible thanks to cloud computing, and so when IDC predicts that 40 per cent of ecommerce will be enabled by a mixture of “cognitive personal shoppers” and social networks, it demonstrates the interplay between these things.
Well, that all sounds hunky-dory, unless you’re an IT decision-maker trying to keep the lights on. The C-suite might be talking about reinventing the business, but you’re still trying to explain to them why sharing passwords and installing dodgy Flappy Bird knock-offs on their Android tablets is a bad idea. When you’re firefighting every-day problems, digital transformation can sound a lot like snake oil. How do you get from here to there?
It’s a journey, naturally, and IDC details five stages along the way. A quick look at these and some honest introspection will quickly tell you which level your organization is at.
This is the least mature stage of the transformation process. In truth, the digital resister hasn’t even started transforming. IT and business managers aren’t talking to each other, and when business does use technology, it’s only on an ad hoc basis. It might deploy a technology solution, but only to counter a clear and present threat. It isn’t baking technology into business processes to enhance the customer experience, which suffers as a result.
Digital explorers may not be adept at marrying business and technology, but at least they’re interested in doing so. The business understands the importance of digital transformation, but isn’t doing it systematically. This company restricts forward-thinking digital initiatives to pet projects that are neither predictable or repeatable.
Whereas digital explorers innovate sporadically, digital players deploy unimaginative technology projects systematically. Business and IT work together on digital strategies but they don’t take any risks. The technologies they’re using aren’t innovative, meaning that the customer experiences they’re creating aren’t particularly stellar, either. They’re not boiling the ocean, so much as making a nice, predictable cup of tea.
Now we’re talking. The clue is in the title. Digital transformers actually transform. Business and IT work hand in glove to continually deliver digital products and services that innovate and delight. This enables the business to be a market leader, boosting performance and keeping customers happy.
A digital disrupter is the crème de la crème in its sector, thanks to an aggressive use of digital technology that morphs the business models and affects markets. These companies are category-defining, continually using analytics to understand and refine their business direction using technology. Expect a company in this category to constantly surprise customers with new offerings that they can’t find elsewhere.
Moving between these stages involves some serious leaps of faith. Before they can help transform their businesses, many IT departments will have to transform themselves from within.
IT teams preparing for this journey need some skills and characteristics to see then on their way. Back in the day, corporate computing was reactive. Business managers would ask for something, and the reaction was generally “no”. Many IT departments still haven’t evolved, making digital transformation impossible.
Modern IT departments must be more responsive to user needs, seeing themselves as service providers. For many, that will mean a cultural and a technological change. Employees see highly responsive, user-centric consumer services every time they turn on their smartphones. Enterprise IT departments must emulate this, either with their own internal services, or by brokering external ones.
This requires a more agile approach to IT than computing departments may be used to. Creating the tools and techniques to respond more quickly to customer demands will be crucial as they drive digital transformation within the company.
Agility means accelerating the IT lifecycle. Digital transformation is a series of short sprints, rather than a marathon. IT departments are looking at many individual projects, each of which will do its own part to change the way that the company delivers products and services to customers. The ability to rapidly plan and execute these projects is key.
Cloud computing will help support DevOps methodologies that can help to speed up software delivery cycles, but this isn’t just a technology play; IT teams must be culturally prepared. too. Agile development means changing the way that software and operations teams work from the ground up.
Another aspect of agility involves simplifying IT infrastructure and workloads, shedding some of the complexity that bogs down IT departments and leaves them too busy firefighting to think strategically. This, too, goes beyond just technology, into other areas such as measuring performance, handling procurement, and managing everyday IT tasks behind the scenes.
Digital transformation is real. It promises to change the way that businesses develop and deliver services, opening up new revenue opportunities. But it won’t happen without IT departments that are mature enough to handle it.
While you’re mulling that, you’d better start getting read for IDC’s fourth platform. It sees technology moving onto our bodies, in the form of smartwatches that are actually useful, and virtual and augmented reality headsets that don’t give you a headache. That might take a while.