Back To The Future: How To Be Reborn Digital For Tomorrow

Digital Tomorrow

The evolution of the digital technology that now underpins almost every moment of our working lives is showing no signs of slowing. It’s almost unthinkable that typewriters were once the height of sophistication, and the postal system was the best means of sharing data and information. Even those businesses born in the technology age heralded by the advent of PCs are now facing an uphill battle to keep pace with the race towards digitalisation.

As companies undergo this change, the centre of gravity for their IT landscape changes significantly. In the technology age, it was about transactional processing systems and process models. In the digital age, it is user and customer experience that matter. Business systems that took as many as 50 steps to complete a transaction worked in the past, but they are recipes for failure now.

Gartner recently forecast that a quarter of businesses will lose market position through a failure to adapt quickly enough to thrive in the digital era. Indeed, the biggest threat to established companies can perhaps surprisingly come not from their larger competitors, but from digital native start-ups. With none of the legacy IT infrastructure of previous decades holding them back, these newer businesses are able to take advantage of business models with dramatically better cost structures.

However, it’s not enough to simply add in mobile, social and cloud with some flashy user interfaces. To truly compete in the digital age, companies need to be ‘reborn digital’, requiring a fundamental rethink of their approach to technology.

Where We’re Going, You Don’t Need Servers

The real challenge in being ‘reborn digital’ is not the implementation of new technologies, but moving away from the old ones. Most large organisations are weighed down by huge, 20- to 30-year-old legacy systems such as mainframes, which cost a fortune to maintain and can stifle businesses’ ability to change and adapt. However, these systems often support critical business operations, so it isn’t easy to simply ‘switch them off’ in favour of new solution.

Today it is relatively simple to deploy a new cloud-based CRM system, but that doesn’t fix the 23 legacy CRM solutions already running. This means those businesses that have begun to implement digital technologies have often done so on a piecemeal basis; ending up with a fragmented set of point solutions.

Unfortunately, this set-up has an inherent flaw. The digital age is defined by enabling fast access to intuitive and user-oriented information across an organisation’s entire pool of resources. New sources of information have to be brought online and made accessible as quickly as possible. Whilst they might be initially appealing for users, mobile capabilities and a ‘cool’ interface won’t help businesses to achieve these goals in isolation.

To become a true digital enterprise, companies must rethink and rebuild from the ground up. By creating an IT infrastructure where every facet is able to interact seamlessly, users will have access to the information they need, wherever, whenever and however they need it.

Reaching 88mph With Digital Systems Integration

Businesses need a clearly thought out roadmap to enable them to move towards the digital future, whilst ensuring that all new technologies are fully integrated with their existing ones. The three-step process of Digital Systems Integration is the surest way for a company to transform itself from being slow and legacy-driven to digitalised and agile:

Step 1: Modernise the application portfolio. Historically, application transformation was about cost reduction; standardising across the enterprise and migrating from legacy systems. However, in the context of digitalisation, it’s now about creating platforms that are ready for integration. The cloud presents an ideal foundation for achieving this goal; enabling rapid development and deployment of applications through the Software as a Service (SaaS) model. Using a combination of public and private cloud environments can help organisations maintain compliance requirements, achieve scalability and grow cost-effectively. These environments can also be integrated with legacy infrastructure to create a truly agile IT environment that is fit for the digital age.

Step 2: Harmonise the data fabric. Traditionally, businesses have simply had to concern themselves with integrating data across the physical enterprise, relying on basic reporting and master data management in order to maintain consistency. However, in order to be ‘reborn digital’, businesses must integrate all data within the enterprise; both from existing sources in the legacy IT environment and from external sources, including curated and non-curated data. This is the only way that they will retain the ability to offer a single, consistent view of all data across the entire organisation, enabling the continuous flow of information.

Step 3: Transform the business with emerging technologies. The only way that truly disruptive business process transformation can be achieved, is if organisations realise the full potential of their transformed technology landscape and create new applications that open up possibilities and create efficiencies that were previously unthinkable. For example, having fully integrated data across the organisation, businesses can use social media analytics and data mining tools to support the delivery of a consistent customer experience across multiple channels. Fully modernised applications can provide end-users with access to information from any device; such as mobiles, tablets or even smartwatches.

Embarking on this journey is a long and daunting process, presenting numerous skills and technological challenges along the way. Service providers who are able to support both an organisation’s current and future needs will become increasingly valuable to the business. Having laid the foundations for long-term success by being ‘reborn’ for the digital era, businesses can truly reap the rewards of the latest and greatest technology innovations.

Steve Cardell is the President, Enterprise Services and Diversified Industries at HCL Technologies, with responsibility for $2.7 billion of the companies revenues. Steve joined HCL through its acquisition of Axon Group. He has been instrumental in advising some of the largest Transformation programmes of the past decade, and has worked with over 30 Public and Private Sector clients in a dozen countries. Steve has been published over 30 times including ‘Strategic Collaboration; published by Hodder and Stoughton and ‘The Future of Management Consulting’ (chapter). He is a regular speaker at business and industry conferences and an attendee of the World Economic Forum.