Digital Transformation Isn’t A Project, It’s A Way Of Operating
Why achieving a state of IT agility is a precondition for creating transformative business outcomes.
Despite continuing to invest in digital transformation, many enterprises are not seeing the desired outcomes.
A recent study by McKinsey & Company, for example, found that many companies’ cloud investments have not helped them to fully reach their transformation goals.
At least part of the problem is that digital transformation isn’t about any single technology. Digital transformation isn’t per se about launching more mobile apps or migrating to the cloud or leveraging machine learning or most of the other finite things people associate with it.
Digital transformation can include all of those things—but the point isn’t any one project or even any combination of projects; it’s to achieve an ongoing state of IT agility that lets an enterprise continually adapt to changes in customer preference and marketplace dynamics.
To be clear, achieving a state of IT agility does not in and of itself transform business outcomes—but as we will explore in this article, it is a precondition for creating the leverage to create transformative business outcomes. As agility improves, so too does an enterprise’s ability to increase efficiency; evolve how it interacts with partners, suppliers, and customers; and make money in new ways.
This agility starts with IT architecture. This doesn’t mean cloud vs. on-premises. Rather, it’s about the ease and agility with which businesses can leverage and recompose their proprietary capabilities for different purposes.
Digital transformation requires achieving an ongoing state of agility and responsiveness
All enterprises have valuable digital assets, whether data or functionality. But these capabilities are only strategic assets if the company can do things with them—that is, if the capabilities can be securely leveraged, reused, combined, and shared with partners, all with little friction.
This means it’s not always important where a service sits—in the cloud, in an on-premise server, or in both through a hybrid configuration. Rather, what is often more important is whether the enterprise can move the service to another environment if it becomes advantageous to do so.
Likewise, it may not be all-important that a mobile application includes certain functionality—what’s all-important is how easily that functionality can be reused or leveraged for a new purpose in the future. And so on.
This is a significant change for many enterprises, scores of which are more accustomed to monolithic architecture styles in which functionality within an application is tightly-coupled. This approach makes it difficult to update an application without breaking it or to use a single piece of functionality within the application for new projects. It also makes it difficult for developers to work without impacting one another, limiting their overall speed, autonomy, and ability to introduce new digital experiences to customers.
The key to agility, and to the transformative business outcomes it can enable, is to decouple these kinds of dependencies.
What does an agile architecture look like?
Rather than building monolithic applications, digitally-savvy enterprises are increasingly building small, single-function microservices, and then assembling numerous microservices to create applications and digital experiences. These microservices decouple functionality from the application, and because each is independently deployable, developers can work without getting in one another’s way.
This enables a shift from large, plodding development teams to smaller, faster, more independent teams. These parallel development teams can more quickly build and release new features and experiences, learn from them, and rapidly iterate, increasing the enterprise’s overall pace of innovation.
Developers have to be able to access these microservices, however, which brings up the role of application programming interfaces (APIs).
The role of APIs
APIs decouple back-end complexity from front-end development, abstracting that complexity into an interface that developers can use for new applications and experiences even if they are unfamiliar with underlying technical minutiae.
This not only facilitates the sharing of microservices across teams and with external partners, but can also more generally inject agility into a heterogeneous environment of different systems and technologies from different eras.
An enterprise is unlikely to decompose all of its monolithic applications into microservices, for instance—but it still may need to connect those older applications to newer technologies, a use case for which APIs are perfect.
A loosely-coupled architecture oriented around containers, APIs, and microservices can, when properly managed, make it easier for enterprises to leverage their digital assets.
Microservices are often associated with containers, which raises another opportunity to generate agility from modern architectures. Containers decouple applications from both underlying hardware and operating systems, which is a meaningful advance over virtualization techniques that only decoupled the former.
This can unlock many benefits. When developers write containerized microservices, for example, they don’t have to worry about including code for policies, as those can be rolled out en mass to the shared operating system resources at the container level.
Containers also allow for a degree of agnosticism about what kind of hardware services run on, meaning enterprises no longer have to deploy multiple servers for multiple applications and can more easily move services between environments, such as from one cloud to another or from on-prem to a cloud.
This article originally appeared on forbes.com To read the full article and see the images, click here.
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