Driving business value from a digital transformation

The term “digital transformation” is practically ubiquitous right now, widely affecting both corporations and consumers alike.

Take, for example, the shift in the nature of owning digital assets. Less and less do we buy physical DVDs, CDs or even music downloads, but instead access an almost unlimited supply of music, movies and TV programmes on demand via our Spotify and Netflix accounts.  The modern day challenge is to figure out where is the content you want to absorb.  Was the show on Sky On Demand, Sky on my DVR, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple movie library or my personal collection on a computer? 

This same shift can be seen in businesses who, rather than guard their in-house IT developments, or invest heavily in white-labelled solutions, are now increasingly operating in the cloud.

CenturyLink itself recently launched its Cloud Application Manager to ease application deployment and management across multiple clouds, both public and private.     

But, while the cloud doesn’t necessarily define digital transformation, it undeniably plays an important part.

Agility and flexibility

While everyone has their own definition of what the phrase means, most would agree that, at a fundamental level, digital transformation is concerned with applying and capitalising on technology to improve or dramatically change the operation of a business. Its success isn’t always as a result of the technology per se, but rather of how that technology is exploited by the organisation in order to redefine its operations, its strategy, or its business model.

Given the speed at which things are changing today, it’s the businesses that are able to respond fastest to that change that are most likely to succeed. Large organisations can no longer assume that they’ll remain successful simply as a result of their size or market leadership. By employing technology that drives responsiveness, agility, and effective collaboration, businesses can better serve their customers and indeed, it’s through doing just this that faster-moving start-ups are able to take on - and often beat - their more established competitors.

In order to take on these more nimble start-ups, more CIOs are changing their IT strategies, improving the agility and flexibility of their business so that they can better respond to new trends and customer demands. And, as we’ve seen recently with the efforts of traditional banks to compete with newer fintech players, whole industries and markets are now being forced to adapt. But blindly following their peers or making changes just because “everyone else is doing it” isn’t enough; a successful digital transformation strategy is one that will drive real value for the business.

Sufficiently supported

Recent changes in consumer retail habits have resulted in a shift toward highly personalised experiences. As this has filtered into enterprise environments, many businesses are looking to digital transformation as a way of enabling “hyper personalisation” to provide them with the single customer view they need to tailor their offerings and interactions.

While putting in place the data analytics required to deliver the necessary insights, businesses are also ensuring their products are SaaS-ready, and that their applications are supported by platforms with sufficient resilience and scalability to cope with any peaks in demand.

Although this might sound straightforward, however, the most challenging applications to transform will tend to be those that are co-located or hosted on on-premise legacy infrastructure. It can prove extremely frustrating attempting to achieve greater agility or faster response times from these particular applications, especially when you take into consideration requirements around regulation, data sovereignty, security, integration complexity, contractual certainty, and service level agreements.

No “one-size-fits-all” approach

Without proper planning, embarking on a transition into the cloud can often lead to mistakes. As there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach, businesses should consider how a move to the cloud will work as part of its broader transformation strategy, and how it will meet its demands and those of its customers.

Those businesses with highly scalable workloads requiring flexible or short-term computing resources, and that can be easily switched on or off, will find public cloud to be most suitable, for example. A private cloud, on the other hand, may be most appropriate for workloads that require predictable levels of resource for at least three years, and with more complex security requirements.

Alternatively, saving money over cloud, and supplemented with bare metal for short-term needs, grid computing with three-year workloads can run in a custom security environment, using managed hosting. In addition, any older applications having reached the end of their lifecycle can simply be left or moved into a co-location environment, to be integrated into other venues.

For those organisations with a legacy IT estate, however, a hybrid cloud model represents the key to a successful digital transformation, offering the flexibility to choose the best venue for each application and integrate into other environments.

Organisations with a strategy encompassing both public and private options increasingly find themselves requiring a number of cloud providers which, whilst a more flexible and efficient approach, can often be a lot for a CIO and their team to manage. Indeed, it can only truly be more flexible and efficient if the business has a clear view of how to manage both environments simultaneously.

Those businesses that manage to do this successfully, however, will be able to avoid vendor lock-in, automate application deployments, scale workloads across disparate hosting environments, and optimise their costs over time. It takes resources and constant attention to get this right though, and the consequences of getting it wrong can be very costly, and can easily negate the cost benefits of the project.

A less stressful option for increasingly stretched IT teams can be to use a managed services provider to provide a management layer that will minimise complexity at the same time as delivering promised savings.

Time to take stock

As customers’ purchase and consumption habits continue to evolve, so too will the demands they place on a business. Only by embracing and adapting to these changes can businesses hope to keep up with more flexible and agile competitors.

While digital transformation may appear to be the answer however, it’s not a panacea, and it’s important for businesses to take stock of where they are, what they want to achieve, and how they’ll face the challenges and opportunities they’ll encounter during the transformation.

Given the cloud’s importance, any migration strategy must be designed to ensure that customer-facing applications are sufficiently robust. Rather than just “putting them in the cloud”, consideration must be given to the application environment, and how those applications are managed, to ensure they’re right for the needs of the business.

No one can stand in the way of progress but, by identifying the best execution venue of individual applications and workloads, businesses can look to achieving the performance, cost savings, and agility that this age of digital transformation requires.

What are your thoughts on the cloud's role in digital transformation? Let us know in the comments.

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