Digital Transformation Calls for Tech-Savvy Business Leaders
Understanding the implications of your tech decisions
May 28, 2020 | by Catherine Paganini
The world today is driven by technology. Leading companies from all industries are becoming tech companies that happen to sell or provide something else. Disrupters like Netflix, Amazon or Tesla have led the way, and those, who recognized the challenges early on, hopped on the bandwagon by extending their analog experience into a digital one – sometimes even creating novel revenue streams they didn’t even foresee.
I may be stating the obvious here, but this is key: Digital Transformation is enabled by technology and, as such, is very much the business sides’ business. While most business leaders understand that, unless they have a digital strategy, they’ll succumb to Digital Darwinism, they may not quite grasp how much technology decisions today will impact their ability to pivot with market demands tomorrow.
Clearly, transitioning is a huge endeavour. It requires restructuring your IT department by adopting a DevOps approach and building new applications that will gather data to continuously improve service delivery.
Step one is about building the machinery that will generate value digitally. We aren’t talking about the applications quite yet. You’ll need to build the foundation first, namely modularly rearchitecting your IT systems so they are cloud native-ready and adopt DevOps practices. If I just lost you, worry not, we’ll discuss it in more detail below.
While this won’t happen overnight – most companies start with an iterative approach – it is important to keep the big picture in mind. How does the piece IT is building today fit into your future, modern IT department? Which technologies you adopt and how they are connected will impact your flexibility. As with anything else, the quick fix isn’t generally the best. Yet, if you don’t understand why, it will be difficult to make the right decision.
Traditional vs Modern IT Department
Traditionally technology decisions were driven by IT. Yes, bigger decisions had to be approved by the business side, especially if they exceeded the IT budget. But business leaders didn’t need to understand technology; they could simply defer to IT for an expert recommendation. But that was a different IT department; one that provided supporting tooling for employees to be more efficient. It ensured your accounting system was up and running, all employee laptops had all software installed, etc. – we’ve come a long way since then (although it’s not that long ago).
The modern IT department, on the other hand, is a value generator and, as such, plays a strategic role within your organization. Composed of highly qualified software engineers and architects, they develop and maintain applications that will become your competitive edge. This has propelled tech conversations into leadership and boardroom meetings. Decisions are made in close collaboration with IT and are far too important to rely on IT to boil down into a few slides so you can digest it. To grasp the implications, you’ll need context, and for that, you need to become a tech-savvy business leader.
Key Concepts When Building Your Digital Transformation Foundation
The driving forces behind Digital Transformation, DevOps and cloud native technologies have revolutionized IT. They build the foundation on which modern internal and external client-facing applications are built. As with anything else, the foundation is key, and whether you get it right or not will determine how fast you’ll be able to adapt to market changes.
If you’ve been in discussions with IT, you’re probably familiar with the DevOps concept. DevOps is a methodology that addresses a lot of IT pain points. Instead of having numerous teams with multiple handoffs work on one application, DevOps calls for small teams working on smaller pieces from start (development) to finish (operations), hence DevOps. By sharing full responsibility for the entire process, quality is increased.
Adopting a DevOps approach is no easy task. It requires the implementation of new technologies and a cultural shift. As such it needs full leadership buy-in and commitment. For you to embrace it, you’ll need to understand the current issues, how DevOps addresses them, and the potential outcomes. The benefits are so great that they are almost unbelievable. Here’s a nugget: “DevOps elite performers” deploy 208 times more frequently and 106 times faster than low performers, or those using a more traditional approach. They recover from incidents 2,604 times faster and have a seven times lower change failure rate (Accelerate State of DevOps 2019). 208, 106, 2,604 times more / faster, that can’t be right, can it? It is and, if you study the field a little, you’ll understand why. Clearly, you can’t just wait until your competitor has that type of advantage.
Then there is open source, cloud native technologies. Although open source has been there for a while, it has recently experienced an awakening leading to a paradigm shift with huge implications. A traditional IT department relies heavily on large enterprise vendors such as Microsoft or Oracle. These provide all-in-one-solutions that, while convenient to adopt – after all the vendor will do the heavy lifting – are opinionated and lock you in. Opinionated refers to the fact that they are only compatible with certain technologies. Opinionated and lock-in restricts your ability to innovate as you’re stuck with what you have.
The so-called new stack, the (open source) cloud native technologies, are all the opposite – in good and bad. There is no one platform but a lot of modules you’ll mix and match to build one specifically for your needs. And because they are modular, you can use different combinations, update and adopt new technologies down the line. The new stack provides you with a high degree of flexibility. On the downside, configuring and fine-tuning these different modules brings a lot of additional complexity.
That’s where a lot of old and new vendors come in. They bundle them into platforms to make adoption easier. But beware, some are creating yet another opinionated solution that will lock you in, negating the very benefit of the new stack. These are the intricacies you’ll need to comprehend when participating in technology discussions.
Start Your Tech Journey Today
If you were hoping to get away without getting up to speed with tech, and relying purely on your business skills, I’m sorry I had to crush it. Technology has disrupted numerous professions forcing them to adapt. While not as obvious, the same does apply to management. The world has changed, and a new set of skills and experiences is needed to succeed.
On the bright side, if you get on this journey and start understanding the current IT revolution and what’s driving the unprecedented convenience we are experiencing on a daily basis, you may be hooked. With no technical background and, with what I thought was, no particular interest in it, I was forced to read up on it when joining a tech company. I’ve been hooked ever since and became a self-proclaimed cloud native nerd. In follow-up articles, I’ll share what I’ve learned along the way. Hopefully, I’ll be able to trigger your interest and convert you to a tech aficionado – trust me, it’s an exciting journey.