It Is Back to Basics for a Digital Future

Image credit: iStockphoto/NataliaDeriabina

Over the last one and a half years, our idea of digital IT evolved quickly; some may even say it has also changed.

It’s easy to see why. The pandemic sparked sudden shifts in customer behaviors, market uncertainty made data management critical, hybrid working accelerated digitization, and companies searched for resilience and agility in digital technologies.

A CDOTrends virtual roundtable, organized in partnership with ServiceNow and titled “Building the Future of Digital IT,” explored this subject more. Invited subject matter experts, industries practitioners, and a guest speaker from Forrester Research discussed:

●      The new roles of agility and resilience

●      The rising importance of getting culture right

●      SRE becomes essential (again) as companies focus on building blocks

Agility and resilience become two sides of the same coin

Agility was a key focus for many companies who had to deal with the chaos that the pandemic created.

“Based on what I see with our ServiceNow customers across the region, a lot of them are focused on agility,” shared Daniel Ng, head of IT transformation portfolio at ServiceNow.

He noted that agility is no longer about just IT flexibility but more about adaptability — especially as the market landscape remains uncertain due to the ongoing pandemic. Essentially, companies need to build their digital IT for a future that is constantly shifting and evolving.

“Meanwhile, resilience was the other keyword in 2020,” said Fred Giron, vice president and research director at Forrester Research. He tied this to surviving and thriving amid the current market uncertainty.

One bank participant shared that both agility and resilience matter when managing the entire enterprise infrastructure. Lockdowns, he noted, showed how far companies had to go to enable workforce agility, as employees were told to work from home.

While companies are finding new ways to drive agility and resilience in their digital infrastructure, it is clear that they begin to see it as complementary and not as separate needs. The challenge is finding the right balance while taking account of the legacy infrastructure, said Ng.

“It's easy to think purely about agility because digital-only firms do not have to work with legacy processes, which is not the case for incumbents. So as soon as you have this reality that you need to keep your operations running, regardless of what's happening outside, having agility and resilience as core becomes your business strategy,” added Giron.

The ongoing battle against digital sameness

One primary focus for current digitalization efforts is enabling innovation. In a poll survey conducted during the discussion, the majority of participants selected “fostering innovation.”

“And that is not easy, especially if there’s a lot of legacy systems within the enterprise environment. So the question then becomes how do you move faster,” observed Ng.

For Giron, he found the choice highlighted a pent-up demand for creativity. “You need the right processes and environment for fostering creativity, and you need the right mindset as well,” he added.

One reason for this demand for creativity is the prevailing digital sameness. “Brands are struggling to differentiate the digital experiences they are offering to their customers,” said Giron citing his firm’s research.

Technology is only part of the answer to driving differentiated digital experiences. The workforce is the other part, which is why Giron reasoned participants selected “fostering innovation.”

“If you look at airline and e-commerce sites, the same digital technology is available to everyone; the same capital is available to everybody. And everyone is working with the same regulatory constraints. So, the only thing that can differentiate them is the workforce.”

Giron argued that fostering innovation or creativity starts with the employees, and companies need to find ways to “unleash” the creative potential for their workforce.

Having the right culture becomes essential for this “unleashing.” In fact, many participants highlighted that having the right culture can help companies retain skills and talent that are becoming scarce and important for differentiation.

“Because you can offer them space where they can safely experiment, your organization becomes a beacon for attracting and retaining talent,” reasoned Giron.

Culture also matters when it comes to the adoption of digital tools and participating in digital initiatives. Some of the participants noted that this changes the way employees work with their employers and customer-vendor relationships.

Building blocks back in fashion

While companies are looking to digitalize their IT infrastructure, some older concepts are now making a comeback.

A major one is site reliability engineering (SRE). It is a set of principles and practices that bring together various software engineering aspects for addressing infrastructure and operations issues. Participants viewed SRE as a specific implementation of DevOps.

It is an area that ServiceNow knows well, with Ng highlighting various case studies. One such case study is where ServiceNow helped Chevron, a multinational energy corporation, transform its DevOps process. Chevron was experiencing delays in their DevOps execution due to governance around how to stand up the cloud environments as part of the DevOps process with enforcement policies. 

“They worked together with us to actually transform their DevOps processes, and can now achieve 10 minutes in terms of the time needed to actually set up and enable the development environments, down from as much as seven-plus days previously,” said Ng.

Ng shared another example where ServiceNow helps Wayfair, an e-commerce company, to transform their IT value chain and implement DevOps, achieving a 95% reduction in delivery time and a 50% reduction in outages.

Giron notes that the increased interest in SRE highlights the need for companies to relook at their building blocks when architecting for a digital-driven future.

“The need to leverage the platforms of agility, which includes DevOps and SRE, puts a lot of pressure on the organization’s technology strategy, as well as the building blocks,” Giron said.

Participants shared that their companies have already started investing in modern building blocks and platforms. “The real question is finding out whether these are the important investments,” Giron added, highlighting the essential approaches like the Forrester Total Economic Impact (TEI).

TEI allows companies to tie their business strategy and technology investment to outcomes.  As business cycles shorten and annual technology budget reviews become a luxury, this process becomes even more critical.

“[Such approaches] also allow you to incentivize your product teams and align them toward specific business outcomes,” said Ng.

The building has only started

It’s clear from the participants that their companies have already embarked on building the future of digital IT. 

Another participant in charge of organizational excellence advised that companies need data trust and a learning mindset to see these initiatives through.

Ng agreed. He felt that companies need to quickly explore new building blocks as the global marketplace turns more digital “with an open mind.”

The future is not defined yet, and it will take several years before the global market settles on a so-called “new normal.” But companies cannot wait and need to start investing in the building blocks, processes, and people to ensure they can adapt and thrive in this digital future.

“Else, your competition will,” said Ng.

Winston Thomas is the editor-in-chief of CDOTrends, DigitalWorkforceTrends, and DataOpsTrends. He is always curious about all things digital, including new digital business models, the widening impact of AI/ML, unproven singularity theories, proven data science success stories, lurking cybersecurity dangers, and reimagining the digital experience. You can reach him at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/NataliaDeriabina