Nowadays, you can hear a lot about digital transformation. What is it really? Is it a buzz around a hype that will never make it to become real? Trendsetters, analysts and various technology vendors are casting countless materials varying from essays about market disruptors to nice gadgets that enterprises should buy in order to stay ahead of their competition. How to make heads and tails of it? Which initiative is the digital transformation actually bringing real improvements and which is just about the gadgets? Let’s have a look from the practical point of view.
It started about ten years ago. It was not anything new; just a normal cloud service that we have known for years. The usual stuff you do every day, like just login to your mail and see what emails arrived this morning. The market has however noticed that there is something unusual these have in common. You know what I’m talking about. Airbnb, Uber, Netflix, Facebook, all of these ‘disrupted’ the world of traditional business sending the former leaders into oblivion. What is it that they have in common? They have reinvented what existed years ago and brought it to the market in a new context to the benefit of the consumers, for the sake of usability and simplicity from the consumer’s view.
From firefighting to improvements
Now let’s see from the IT perspective. While Digital transformation is not primarily an IT topic, we still need to talk about IT a bit. There is no doubt that IT is an important department for running business of every enterprise simply because IT services are everyone’s modern tools. Unavailability of a service – a tool – costs money and time of people who are wasting their time waiting for the service to recover, let alone the reputation of the company in the case of customer-facing service failure. The traditional siloed IT organization is an archetype of the department of troubles. Firefighting fragile applications constrain IT resources on unplanned work sending planned project works into delays, frustrated employees exit the company causing more resources constraints in meeting customer’s expectations, customers leave, market share goes down, stock market commitments missed… These are not IT issues, but business problems endangering the position of the whole company on the market. Who works in IT operations knows that these are real everyday challenges. Something needs a change. Something? Well, almost everything.
Digital Transformation comes into play to bring that change. This change happens in the areas of company organization and in what and how the company uses technology.
There are many studies and methodologies for organizational change from moving IT into more dispersed function across the enterprise to cross-functional teams taking care of the technology domains assigned to them. Let’s focus on the technology part for now. There is always a link – or at least there should be – between the technology and the values it brings to the people. Technology for people, that’s our motto. The technologies bringing this desired change – and some of them are really revolutionary.
Revolution in running applications
Let’s take Kubernetes as an example. Imagine yourself walking through your city while having all you personal belongings around you, following you as you go. Not necessarily flying around you as a swarm of flies but in any form, physical or virtual, always at your proximity to reach out your arm and grab whatever you need from your stuff. Look, you have just arrived to your home front door. Keys? Plop, right in your palm, instantly when you need them. That’s the concept of microservices, running around as a swarm of flies in the proximity of those who use them. Kubernetes, a helmsman in Greek, a navigator and pilot in one person, steering the services where they need to be running as the company goes. Today in one cloud environment, tomorrow in the arms of a different provider, the day after perhaps in your own datacenter if it makes sense financially. Agility and resilience.
Kill one of the flies in the swarm. Not much of impact, huh? Kubernetes will spin off another one in a second. No wonder this is the key technology trend of today. And no wonder Red Hat is one of the most valuable technology companies of today, having OpenShift as the most radiant pearl in their collection of jewels.
OpenShift is an opensource Kubernetes made easier to implement and maintain; better in manageability, secured and hardened for the enterprise use.
How to tie data
Of course, platforms to run applications are not the only technology you need to change. There are infrastructural services, directories, customer data, enterprise resource planners that include finance, managing projects, assets, reporting, human resources and other supporting agendas in the company business operations. The data they contain are useful only if they are used when and where it is needed. This is where you need to connect the systems together.
Traditionally, integrations projects are the most difficult of them all. Working on these projects involves negotiations with different parties and teams, persuading the security department to approve necessary interfacing. Different nature of data represents a challenge in sewing the data together correctly. Typically, integration projects can easily take months resulting in questionable data quality. And now one of the systems is changed or replaced with another one altering the data structure. Oh no! Integration project must be run again. I’m sure you are impatient to hear what are the technologies to heal this pain. Well, here comes the moment of truth. Technologies will not solve that alone. As always in Digital Transformation, organizational changes are needed first to crack the mode of teams and departments protecting their no-entry zones. An open organization that generally understands what are the business goals to accomplish is willing to establish standardized ways of collaboration, including sharing data internally, in a secure and manageable way. Then comes the moment to talk about the technology to make it possible. Truly, there is plenty of them. I will mention just two for now: Opensource Apache Camel to create message-oriented middleware with configurable integration scenarios. We mentioned Red Hat already, again Camel is an opensource framework that is hardened and packaged into a product for the enterprise use: Red Hat Fuse. Another Opensource Apache Kafka is made for building real-time flows of streaming data, allowing the data consumers to modify what and how the data is received. Integrations? No problem anymore. Secured integrations? With API management not a problem either, featuring another Red Hat product: 3scale. More on that later.
Automate everything as much as you can
Working in IT is not easy. Being an administrator in IT is difficult. There is plenty of different technologies to support, still something new to learn. We are human beings who naturally make errors and in IT it is very easy to make a mistake sending dozens of services into outage or even loss of data costing millions in damage. The above title says it all: Automate everything as much as you can. Not because we are lazy to dirty our hands from work. It is because we want to have predictable outcomes, verified and tested, fast and human-error resistant. Treat the infrastructure as code, says the DevOps mantra, and I think it is the right approach. While the deployment pipelines work in the application’s deployment including automated testing, why not apply the same principles on the physical or virtual hardware, networking, storage, and other infrastructural elements. Tools to achieve that? For instance opensource tools Chef, Puppet and namely Ansible. Want to have more control on the Ansible automation? Voilà, Red Hat Ansible Tower.
Enterprise Service Management
Next thing that is undoubtedly revolutionary is the intention to automate all the company processes with having the customer in the centre of interest. What do I mean by this? You may have experienced this already. You need to achieve something, for example, your business travel to India. What do you need to accomplish to arrange the travel? You need a visa, plan the flight, hotel, local transportation, medical requirements, insurance, what else? Where to begin? Whom to ask? You start searching, filing papers, you are asked repetitively for the same information and documents that you have provided already, waiting endlessly with the day of departure fast approaching. That’s the aspect of working in processes that ensure some sort of governance, but in the wider context are unstructured. This is fixed by changing the way of work, by implementing the Service Management approach that we know from IT, to other non-IT company processes. Enterprise Service Management, that’s how it is called and the unshakable king of that discipline today is ServiceNow. Speaking about the company value, ServiceNow has been recognized as the first World’s Most Innovative Company in 2018, deservedly, in my view, as this company brought the overall vision how to make life at work better.
Your enterprise services are only as good in terms of service levels, as you are able to keep them up. Naturally, good Service Management depends on good Service Assurance. ServiceNow IT Operation Management comes with features in detecting IT elements that are contributing to the delivery of the services, mapping them in a comprehensive way so that you know which element is tied to which IT or non-IT service. It also contains Event Management with advanced features extracting the important alerts from thousands and millions of infra events producing sensible output for the support teams clearly indicating what they should attend at first. There are more tools in the Service Assurance space. One other most advanced on the market is Dynatrace, specialised on the monitoring of application services.
Important is what is important for your customer. All the rest is secondary.
The trend of Digital platforms works with the idea that the only important thing is how your customer perceives the service you provide. The User Experience, that’s the sign of our times. User experience must be great, with splendid graphical design, with comprehensive content, with easy navigation, with unified structure merging a variety of the provider’s areas of business ranging from the catalogue of services (of course, IT and non-IT), service status overview, announcements, campaigns and highly accessible support channels. All the components that are behind the customer engagement component, understand portal, are considered less important backend systems and need to be treated as such. Resulting scenario: invest most of your effort into the customer-facing platform. All the backend systems can be considered as plugins supplying portal functions, like a fulfillment of requested goods. Plugins should be easily replaceable.
Welcome to the Age of User Experience.
The information age was important to boost productivity, communication and computerized social interaction (which on the other hand is questionable whether it is good or bad). We are past this age coming to the era of User Experience that, as clearly indicated by the market disruptors, is the only sustainable way.
So coming to the question from the beginning of this article. How would you recognize an initiative in the digital transformation manner? Simply: distinguish by the outcomes. A change in the digital transformation fashion makes the shift to the era of user experience.
If you enjoyed this article, then the good news is that this is the beginning of a series of articles where we focus more closely on the different technologies that are contributing to the digital transformation along with the practical essays on how and where to start and lead the digital transformation changes to success. Stay tuned!
Ondrej Ernyei is a Digital Transformation professional with 20years+ of experience working on the projects bringing business improvements in the areas of Service Management and Service Assurance.