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What digital transformation really means

Galen Gruman | June 16, 2016
The periodically hot term is hot again, but most people don't understand where its real power lies.

Perhaps an easier way to swallow this concept is by thinking of it as easy adaptability. Take the usual Exchange deployment at a company: It works reliably as long as everyone uses the same system, meaning Windows PCs and Microsoft clients. Yet the world is not so standardized or rigidly deployed; it's full of Macs, iPads, iPhones, and Android devices that support some Exchange capabilities through both Microsoft and native clients. Those people can't participate easily or at all because the platform is not designed to adapt to changing clients.

A digital transformation approach to the Exchange processes and technology around meetings, collaboration, and messaging would be based on common protocols and local rendering. A new device or OS or client could then join the party without IT or user work.

That's a very small example. Imagine it applied to security: Instead of hard-wiring already-known threat responses in appliances and software, use techniques like machine learning to adapt not only the responses but the underlying threat models along with the changing threats. It's easier said than done, I know.

The next step is that the technology systems themselves are fungible. Every IT organization has many layers of "transformative" technology in place that has turned into legacy technology. Wouldn't it better if the platforms themselves could easily adapt to support the evolving products and processes you have? Right now, you have to add new layers of technologies for the new and different stuff, and figure out how to integrate, isolate, or retire the old stuff -- and it's usually a complex mix of all three.

Tactical approaches to digital transformation

Strategy is well and good, but it's fundamentally meaningless if you can't execute on it. There's no silver bullet to becoming digitally transformed -- by definition, it's an ongoing process -- but you can take advantage of certain tactics. They too will change over time, with today's innovations becoming tomorrow's legacy. It's better to do that than to stick with yesterday's legacy.

tactical approach to digital transformation centers on using new tools and related processes to get better results. Those new tools are based on new or reworked ideas, so they're not a direct substitution for the tools you already have.

For example, agile programming -- when done right -- broke from the waterfall model's assumption that you could predefine the whole application, then have coders execute it. That might work for software whose functionality is static, but not for applications that are meant to engage with people under variable circumstances.

Microservices and containers like Docker both are forms of the "leave the monolith behind" approach, this time for code segments that can be easily created, destroyed, and changed -- without a central, managed library at the center as in the end days of service-oriented architecture where complexities like CMDB that resulted when old-school IT thinking were imposed. MBaaS is a more centrally controlled variation of this notion for mobile services.


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