Tough Choices in Digital Transformation

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    The enterprise is caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to digital transformation. On the one hand, transition to an agile, scalable and highly virtualized data infrastructure is vital to future competitiveness, but on the other, there is still a massive investment in static legacy infrastructure that can’t be replaced at the drop of a hat.

    Managing this conversion is likely to occupy the majority of the CIO’s attention for the rest of the decade, with the added burden of not fully knowing what a digitally transformed data environment will look like or how it will function.

    The heaviest burden in all of this is the fact that infrastructure, applications, services, processes and a host of other elements must all transition in a coordinated fashion if the enterprise is to emerge intact on the other side. As tech consultant Andrew Froehlich notes on InformationWeek, IT executives will have to take a fine-toothed comb through virtually the entire data stack to determine what to keep and what to junk. Timing will also be a critical factor, as you don’t want to move forward too quickly and risk finding yourself in a technological dead-end, nor too slowly and lose out to a more nimble competitor. And it’s important not to overlook the human factor in all of this as well, particularly the need for retraining and the hiring of new skill sets.

    Most organizations view the cloud as a chance to make a fresh start in data infrastructure, but even this strategy has its pitfalls, says Google Cloud’s Loren Hudziak. In an interview with Diginomica, Hudziak points out that the temptation to simply recreate legacy data environments in the cloud is strong, but this should not become the ultimate goal. Instead, a cloud-native approach should be implemented across infrastructure, applications and services – essentially producing a complete operational make-over that is more in tune with the demands of a digital economy. Moving to the cloud, then, is a good time to assess whether past practices are necessary for business outcomes, or were simply instituted due to the limitations of available technology.

    In many cases, this may lead to the conclusion that certain applications are best left in the data center. So the question then becomes: How can they best be supported? According to Virtual Instruments CTO John Gentry, the answer is through convergence and software-definition. First, by shrinking the size of infrastructure and converting it to a modular footing, the enterprise lowers both capital and operational costs for its internal IT environment. Combined with the flexibility and automation capabilities of abstract resource management, the enterprise can quickly make the transition to digital processes and workflows.

    Of course, don’t expect this process to unfold in perfect order. So far, in fact, even leading companies are struggling with transformation, particularly when it comes with matching agile infrastructure to agile functions like DevOps. According to a recent survey by Red Hat, nearly 80 percent of companies are failing to align digital technologies with business outcomes, a fault that can largely be attributed to merely reacting to digital moves by competitors rather than accentuating their own strengths. Instead of focusing on broad themes like “digital transformation,” then, organizations would do better to focus on specific technologies, like containers, and deploy them with clear and measurable goals in mind, such as how they can boost product development or capitalize on new market opportunities.

    Change is never easy, and change of this magnitude is particularly troublesome because it hits on so many levels of the organizational and operational aspects of the enterprise. But maintaining the status quo is simply not an option. As new generations of data users come of age, the infrastructure that fulfilled their parents’ demands is proving to be woefully inadequate.

    In the coming years, failure to transform infrastructure will quickly lead to failure to engage with an increasingly tech-savvy world.

    Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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