To Digitally Transform, Business Leaders Must Become Tech-Savvy

Jul 23, 2020 | by Catherine Paganini

We live in a technology-driven world. Even non-technology companies are seeing their business models increasingly shaped by technology.

Led by disrupters such as Amazon and Netflix, those enterprises who recognized opportunities early have found ways to extend the analog experience into a digital one. Even creating new revenue streams that they could never have predicted.

While technology enables these opportunities, digital transformation is really guided by a company’s broader business strategy. Decisions around technology investments made today will impact the business’ ability to pivot as market demands change and help it avoid digital Darwinism.

Digital transformation is a significant endeavor, but results can come quickly

Digital transformation, of course, is no small endeavor. It involves technology and cultural change. New applications must be built that gather data from across the enterprise to improve service delivery and ensure exceptional customer experiences.

Those applications must also be built on a future-ready foundation, one that will continue to generate value. IT systems will need to be re-architected so they are cloud native-ready and DevOps practices must be embraced.

None of this will happen quickly, but that doesn’t mean that results can’t be realized early in the process. In fact, most enterprises adopt an iterative approach to digital transformation – while keeping the big picture in mind. They consider how their IT investments today will fit with their future plans. After all, the technology adopted now and how it integrates with other systems has a direct impact on business flexibility.

Modern IT and what that means for the business

Traditionally, most technology decisions were driven by the IT department. In this model, it was ok for business leaders to be less than familiar with technology concepts; they simply deferred to IT for an expert opinion. This IT department also had a different role to play. They provided support tools for employees, ensured business systems were up and running, and that laptops were patched and secured.

Times have changed. The modern IT department is a value generator and plays a strategic role in the enterprise, developing and maintaining applications that help it achieve a competitive edge. Because of this, technology conversations have found there way into the C-suite and the boardroom. Decisions about technology are made in close collaboration with IT. And those conversations go deep. For a business leader to grasp the implications of their decisions, they need context, they need to become a tech-savvy business leader.

What a foundation for digital transformation looks like

The revolution within the IT department didn’t happen of its own accord. It was driven by forces such as DevOps and cloud native technologies. These are the foundations on which modern applications are built. As mentioned above, getting this foundation right is key and will determine how fast the business can adapt to market changes.

How DevOps speeds up innovation

DevOps can seem like a daunting topic, but it addresses a multitude of IT pain points. Instead of having several teams with multiple handoffs during the application development and deployment process, DevOps is characterized by small teams who work on smaller pieces of the project from start (development) to finish (operations) – hence DevOps. With greater ownership over the process, accountability and quality is increased (as is job satisfaction).

Indeed, the latest “Accelerate State of DevOps” report, finds that DevOps teams who are classified as “elite performers” deploy apps 106 times faster than low performers and are able to recover from incidents 2,604 times faster.

Cloud native, a new modular approach

Open source, cloud native technologies are also a key foundation of digital transformation. Open source is nothing new, but it has taken on new implications. Traditional IT departments relied on large enterprise vendors for all-in-one solutions. Although convenient at the time, they lock organizations in and are only compatible with certain technologies, meaning they are “opinionated” – this restricts the business’ ability to innovate.

Whereas the “new stack” of open source, cloud native technologies achieves the opposite. Instead of a single platform, the new stack consists of several modules that can be mixed and matched to build a platform. Being modular you can blend different combinations and achieve the flexibility needed to update and adopt new technologies in the future.

Now, the new stack isn’t without a downside. Configuring and fine-tuning these various modules can be complex. Several vendors have sought to address this issue by bundling modules into platforms to ease adoption. Unfortunately, this simply creates more opinionated solutions that lock the business in, negating the benefit of the new stack.

These are important intricacies that business leaders must understand in their technology discussion with IT. Lock-in isn’t always avoidable, but if the business goes down that path it should be a known and conscious decision,

Beginning the digital transformation journey

Adopting DevOps and the new stack, as many organizations are finding out, is no easy task. New technologies are needed as is a cultural shift. Leadership must buy-in and commit to this change. To do this, executives must understand how these technologies and practices can address current business challenges and objectives and help achieve desired outcomes.

In this way, digital transformation is forcing business leaders to adapt and, indeed, transform their professional skills.

On the sunnier side, many leaders jump on the digital transformation bandwagon and find themselves hooked. When I started my career with a technology company, I had little interest or experience with tech but I dived in and soon became fascinated by the transformation that it enables.

Interested in learning more about how you can start your journey to digital transformation? Book a slot and we can talk through the fundamentals for business leaders.