Overcoming Analog Habits. Part 5: DX:IT Transforming enterprise IT for the digital world

For most of the past (pick a number) decades, corporate IT leaders have been forced into a balancing act. On the one hand, their business colleagues, increasingly dependent on automation to improve productivity, have insisted on stable, reliable, always available technology. On the other hand, those same colleagues want fast response to changing business conditions, new product ideas and competition. All within strict financial constraints, a constantly evolving technology landscape, new vendor strategies and a shortage of skilled technology talent. This has always been a tough balance to achieve and in most cases, corporate information systems haven’t kept up with the rapid evolution of hardware and software capabilities and, as a result, often can’t readily adapt to the new requirements of a digital world. 

The business response4 has all too often been to look outside – to outsourcing (until it became apparent that most outsources were no more flexible and efficient than in-house IT, and often no cheaper and less reliable); to software as a service, with its network reliability challenges and required but seldom anticipated investments; to “cloud” computing, with its security, availability and manageability challenges.  By now we should have learned that getting enterprise IT right in any circumstances isn’t easy, but in the digital world, it’s essential. So, if you need the right capabilities and decide to keep them in-house, what’s needed?

First, let’s admit that an instant wholesale makeover of enterprise IT isn’t going to happen. There’s too much legacy; too much need for stability and availability; too much potential for an adverse impact on the balance sheet. The disruption resulting from any large scale change over a short period of time would be disastrous for virtually any business. 

So the transformation will have to be progressive and carefully executed. At the same time, it can’t take too long, or you’ll be left so far behind that catching up may be impossible. That implies that there must be (a) priorities that you focus on to get started; (b) a road map to keep up the momentum needed to maintain progress and (c) a plan to sunset the technologies and skills that won’t be what you need in the digital future. The specific priorities will depend on where you are today, but in general, here’s what I expect you’ll need to focus on:

  •  Develop a “FAST IT” mindset and set of capabilities: It’s important to recognize that application delivery speed drives business success and speed requires a new level of agility. You’re going to need some flavor of Agile development process and be willing to adopt DevOps approaches, because it’s no good developing things quickly if you can’t get them into production just as fast. You’ll also need rapid scalability in capacity (both up and down) to take advantage of the ideas that succeed and to match actual variable business demand. That’s going to require a lot of automated management capabilities based on a very granular level of operational performance monitoring. The required tool chain will take time to assemble and learn to use well, but you’ll absolutely need it to meet or exceed your internal and external customers’ expectations and experience for availability and ease of use. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to encourage and reward continuous improvement and innovation ideas from both your staff d your customers.
  •  Adopt a “Bi-Model” operational approach: Balancing responsiveness and agility with reliability and high (probably continuous) availability requires a set of standardized, simplified, automated platforms and processes. Sure, you’ll have plans to sunset most of your legacy environments, but that’s no excuse for not becoming as efficient as possible in supporting them until they’re retired. You should look at implementing on-demand provisioning and dynamic capacity management capabilities – you’ll need them for emerging platforms and they can be a big help with legacy platforms too. Consider building a scalable “back office” platform for the smart products and services you’re introducing, including support for emerging ideas like IoT, and include capacity for big data and analytics. Aim to sunset platforms that can’t meet the needs of the digital enterprise within 3 years
  • Support Mobility: Digital omni channel requires you to provide support for secure access from and secure delivery to any device, anywhere, anytime, so build this in form the beginning for every new idea. Embrace Interoperability inside and outside the enterprise and adopt an “API Economy” architecture and appropriate data sharing strategies across all platforms. Create and evolve a “data blending capability” to leverage internal and external data sources and establish the governance that you’ll need to make this work seamlessly and securely.
  • Enhance Security: You’ll need an “open but secure” security architecture – you’ll have a lot more active connections to manage – that includes appropriate segmentation of assets and defense in depth. You’ll also need to avoid “weak links” in your ecosystem and have a way to verify that your partners’ security doesn’t leave you vulnerable.

See why you need priorities and a road map? There’s so much here that must eventually change and evolve that it can paralyze an organization that tries to do it all at once. Just as the business will become digital incrementally, so must enterprise It change incrementally to get ready the capabilities in place that will be needed, free up resources to work on new things and get the basics right. It won’t be easy, but it will be necessary.