It’s been amply demonstrated already that digital transformation is not merely a technology play but a top-to-bottom reimagining of systems, processes, relationships and business models.
But it is also fair to say that change of this magnitude cannot come about in an organization that is mired in legacy, silo-based infrastructure. So even while the front office is dreaming of a bright, profitable future, IT has to figure out how all of these new capabilities will be supported on a technology level.
According to Sanjay Zalavadia, vice president of client services at test management firm Zephyr, many of the key technologies supporting digital transformation are already familiar to the enterprise – they just need to be architected and orchestrated in a different way. The cloud, for example, must cease to be a means to merely lower the cost of infrastructure and become an engine of experimentation and innovation. Infrastructure and tools supporting advanced analytics, agile software development and automation, meanwhile, should be deployed with an eye toward supporting entirely new services and revenue streams, not improving the old ones.
If you look back over the past 20 years or so, you’ll see that the enterprise has in fact been digitally transforming itself this whole time, says Constellation Research founder Ray Wang. As he explained it to Business2Community, technologies like unified communications, mobile data and social media have remade the business process to a significant degree and have led to a wealth of new opportunities and even a few new industries. Going forward, he says, transformation will be driven by the Internet of Things, 3D printing, augmented and virtual reality, and artificial/cognitive intelligence.
For IT to capitalize on all these developments, it will have to transform itself first, says Baseline Magazine’s Eileen McCooey. A recent IDC survey conducted on behalf of Dimension Data pointed out a number of ways it is impeding transformation simply by failing to leverage the technologies already at hand. A key example is automation, which has been shown to improve the individual technician’s productivity 2.5-fold by reducing the time spent on mundane tasks like hardware/software management, troubleshooting and service requests. As well, many organizations report that, despite the architectural freedom that abstract, virtualized infrastructure represents, they generally alter infrastructure to suit the needs of current workloads, not to support new services.
None of this can happen without the backing of the front office, of course, and here, at least, there is some good news. According to a recent CIO survey by Gartner, about 18 percent of the average IT budget is now devoted to digital transformation, and that rate is expected to jump to 28 percent next year. Among top-performing organizations, the spend is already more than a third of the total budget and will increase to 44 percent in 2018. Perhaps more significantly, the momentum for digital transformation seems to be propelled by the business side of most organizations, which are coming to realize that they can get a lot more done and have greater flexibility to address customer concerns and drive sales if they have greater control over their own data ecosystems.
But perhaps the most important distinction between today’s digital transformation and the technology evolutions of the past is the fact that achieving the desired user outcome is now the driver of technology decisions, rather than the other way around. In the past, state-of-the-art technologies were deployed in the data center and it was up to IT and users to figure out the best way to employ them. In a digitally transformed enterprise, users define what they need first and then both the technology and the business processes needed to achieve those goals are created and continuously tweaked for optimum results.
Technology, then, is not the first thing to consider when embarking on digital transformation. In fact, it’s one of the last.
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.