The consequences of digital transformation
Most organisations have been undertaking new programmes of work under the auspices of digital transformation. But what does this mean for the organisation, both from a business-change sense and also the technical departments involved? The changes driven by COVID-19 and changes in working practices in recent times drove some digital transformation and changed the pace of change, but it has led to several consequences.
Firstly, businesses now expect the pace of change to remain high and are not reverting to the slow, large-programme mentality. Secondly, there is a need to take stock of changes made, to ensure that elements — such as cost effectiveness, security and overall value — of the changes made are real and keep a company safe.
For many, digital transformation is the first time where business-led change is driving the technology agenda, as opposed to technology offering the capability or solutions. This is forcing the technologists to react to business-led ideas or innovations and take capabilities that may exist as components and build a solution or service. These elements may be off the shelf as SaaS but are integrated with bespoke development, or deployed as containers or microservices — in some cases now spanning several hyperscale cloud providers.
Consequences of digital
The consequences of this approach are that, while the solution can be assembled from existing components, there are items that the business owners may not appreciate, and which are bespoke to each deployment — such as networking and security, with data flowing between clouds and across legacy datacentres out to customers. This is where the digital agenda is moving: from a simple, cloud-based application to something more complex.
Now what we are witnessing is the need to re-consider how end-to-end design is now changing and merging the ready-made service in the cloud from a hyperscale or SaaS provider with the telecoms world providing connectivity and doing this in a secure manner. Add items such as IOT or services at the edge into the mix, and these two items taking on even greater significance — with data being collected in a wide variety of locations and situations.
How does this manifest itself during a transformation within an organisation and, importantly, how can a business align the strategy to its implementation? Clear and concise messaging based upon a strategy are the start point. These should be well structured and clearly articulated across the entire business as personal agendas, local solutions and preferences can be highly disruptive, causing confusion and delay.
Diversions from the strategy to satisfy tactical needs are dangerous and inevitably lead to cost challenges, but time-to-value for the wider strategy can become very extended and this damages the belief in it. Culturally, changing a business to evolve in a new manner and speed can be a shock for many departments who are not used to being an integral part of a business strategy. The implications of change at pace — including decision making, budget management and downstream activities such as marketing and training — are all wider ramifications beyond the normal programme of work.
Architecture and design
Getting it right is a major benefit for a business and for the first time in many years this puts the network right at the heart of the change as the value of data increases.
Solutions are increasingly going to either span multiple hyperscale cloud providers, with data moving between them, or services will be delivered concurrently from multiple clouds or true portability of service. As such the following becomes true:
- Understanding where data flows from and to becomes a key design point — both from a capacity and processing speed perspective but also in regard to data security.
- Resilience when a component fails is imperative, especially in regulated environments (e.g., financial services or healthcare) when recovery actions need to be conducted in a specific order and actively managed.
- For the future, due to concentration risk and regulatory frameworks, services will need to be able to operate on multiple clouds either separately or concurrently. Therefore, load balancing and data synchronisation of transactions becomes a key challenge to be solved.
As such, non-functional designs, as well as the functional elements, are still imperative and cannot be left to the cloud provider as some think. Resilience of a service and recovery actions in the event of a failure need deep thought and consideration. Ideally these should be automated via robotic process automation (RPA), but for this to succeed, instrumentation of a service and event correlation are needed to truly determine where in the service chain an error has occurred. For example, a group of customers on a mobile device may not receive a rapid response from an ‘app’ with the appearance of this stalling when used. Where has the problem occurred? The mobile data stream, local WIFI or a disk drive supporting a backend database? This is the crux of the modern challenge and could span multiple clouds, SaaS or homegrown applications and a backend data store in a traditional DC.
Designing in the correct service instrumentation and monitoring and carefully correlating events within a service is far easier to do at the outset than after the event has occurred and you have alienated 100s or 1,000s of potential customers.
Good design takes these items into account and reacts. Great architecture is able to anticipate potential errors and pre-empt failures or issues — as is using AI or other tools now available to make changes before a customer notices the problem in the first place.
Having the right expertise and bringing hyperscale cloud knowledge, modern and traditional application construction together with internetworking knowledge greatly aids great design through bringing these different perspectives into the same place. Layer in integrated security and you have an ideal blend to deliver successful digital services to customers which are not only performant but also resilient and secure.
Bringing together the world of cloud managed services, security and networking will enable business digital transformations to be better constructed and designed from the outset — delivering world-class solutions which can be future-proofed as technologies evolve and move into the mainstream. This allows business owners to focus on providing outstanding and differentiated customer experience without worrying about the capabilities of the respective components. This requires the confidence of always-on availability and keeping customer data secure — all being delivered behind the scenes.
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