Make agility core to your Digital Transformation initiative

A few years ago, I was at a conference listening to a presentation by a marketing director of a large tech vendor. He discussed how…

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May 21, 20198 minutes read

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A few years ago, I was at a conference listening to a presentation by a marketing director of a large tech vendor. He discussed how they ran their marketing operations and, being closely involved in our own marketing activities, most of the topics he covered sounded very familiar – like being data-driven, basing budgeting decisions on campaign level ROI, constantly optimizing activities based on timely performance metrics, and measuring content performance by asset to track how different messages appeal to different segments among the target audience.

However, he also brought up an interesting term that I hadn’t previously connected with marketing myself. This term was “agile”, something I associated primarily with project management particularly in the field of software development. Now, regardless if the marketing team had actually gone through formal training in models like Scum or Kanban, the mere use of the term and applying the concept in a marketing department made me realize how popularized this thinking had become – and not just in marketing. If you do some googling, you’ll discover models for “agile HR”, “agile finance”, “agile procurement” and so forth. It may look like a hype (and probably to some degree it is), but there’s a real reason behind this.

Agility is not just a trend, it’s a requirement

In today’s business environment, companies simply cannot afford lengthy delays in responding to the changes taking place in the markets they operate in. Change is also happening at a quickening pace, and affects practically all lines of operations across the organization. This can be observed for example as a pressure to achieve faster project delivery times, need for (more) real-time analytics, and the growing importance of data science in predicting what will happen next, and what is the best way to act when it happens.

Agile, therefore, is not just a trendy word that business people use to show that they are on top of the latest developments but has become a fact of life for more and more people across the different organizational functions. Whether tackled via a structured approach using one or more of the agile methodologies available or in an ad hoc manner, the need is there, and at some point “agile ways of working” are likely to become the new norm – the default mode of operating.

Agility needs to be a built-in capability of any digital transformation program

So, being able to respond quickly through capabilities like adaptive planning, evolutionary development and continual improvement needs to be the dominant way of working across the organization, not just a special capability of small teams or limited only to software developers. This shift in thinking is often connected with digital transformation programs where companies look to harness technology to enable these capabilities for their organization.

Agility is not only a key goal of digital transformation – it is inherent to achieving it. In their predictions for 2019, Forrester describes how a newfound pragmatism is set to take over in many organizations regarding digital transformation as their ambitious plans and strategies have met stronger than expected challenges due to inabilities in internally transforming the organization, from back-office technical debt all the way to the required cultural changes not taking root. In short, companies have not been agile enough to succeed with their digital transformation – and this needs to change.

Finding the balance between agility and cost-efficiency

Recognizing that agility is, and should be, the default mode of thinking for organizations does not mean that normal rules of business no longer apply. Organizations must operate efficiently, be mindful of how they are investing their money and focus on organizing their operations in an optimal way.

Being agile would hardly be an issue if you had unlimited resources at your disposal and could leverage them without constraints. However, since this is unlikely to be the case with any real-life organization, perhaps the most significant problem with agility alongside organizational culture and leadership is finding the right balance between efficient use of resources and delivering against the need of moving quickly when needed.

Finding this balance requires aligning the holy trinity of organizational assets – people, processes and technology – in a way that enables allocating (and reallocating) resources quickly based on the evolving business needs while minimizing resource use when they no longer add value. The way organizations achieve this is through their ability to scale their operations in a flexible way.

Scalability – the buzzword with a significant impact

One of the more extreme examples on the importance of scalability is the origin story of Amazon Web Services (or AWS, as you may call it), which started from Amazon’s need to tackle the substantial requirements of it rapidly growing e-commerce business and the related ecosystem. The company obviously took an exceptionally thorough approach in building the required capabilities inhouse, spending significant amounts of time, money and other resources in the process, and ultimately ending up turning these investments into a new branch of their business.

However, many of the issues Amazon set out to solve back in the early 2000s are increasingly becoming relevant for the majority of organizations today: Legacy technology investments and the resulting mess of point to point integrations weighing down IT operations; rapidly increasing pressure from business to scale up project delivery for solutions with tough technical requirements; lack of skilled resources; and missing organizational processes and practices to implement everything on time, on budget, and in a sustainable way that does not create technical debt but enables you to grow now and in the future. Does this sound familiar?

Quest for scalability was the key driver behind Amazon’s approach in building AWS and the organization around it, and much like Visa’s decision to be the first company to appoint a Chief Data Officer back in 2001, it demonstrates how unique business requirements can drive innovation in an area that later on becomes a necessity for the market in general.

Cloud and service-based IT delivery – The logical conclusion

Fast forward to today and the world is a very different place compared to when Amazon initially set out on its quest. As scalability and agility have become key factors in determining business success, building these capabilities has also become more accessible. For example:

  • An enterprise looking to increase scalability of their system and applications can choose from a variety of cloud platforms that scale up and down automatically based on the variable loads placed on them.
  • Similarly, companies have experts with different skill profiles available on demand though approaches like the managed services that OpenText provides in the integration and data management space.
  • Enterprise architecture and IT management in general have also become more mature disciplines capable of efficiently coordinating the internal and external IT services delivery, bringing in further optimization and efficiencies.

In summary, to achieve the required improvements in agility and scalability organizations are now moving towards cloud-based technology platforms and service-based IT delivery that balances internal and external elements to reach the optimal mix of efficiency and control.

Roadblocks and passing lanes – Embrace and Replace

Different organizations are naturally at different stages of the maturity curve when it comes to making their business more agile. One of the biggest challenges that most companies face has to do with their legacy technology landscape which typically includes plenty of older generation on-premises applications and integration middleware.

If you mention terms like “integration spaghetti” or “black box of integration” to a member of an enterprise integration team, the usual reaction you get is a quiet nod followed by a frustrated sigh. The problem is that while the issues that come with existing legacy integration technologies are often recognized in organizations, the reason they are still there is that they are often used for business-critical purposes. Ripping these technologies out and replacing them with modern tools, therefore, presents not only a big cost item but a big risk as well.

For those companies stuck in this position due to economic and operational barriers – wanting to modernize their legacy application and integration infrastructure and operations – OpenText™ has created a program called Embrace and Replace, where the existing ownership of legacy systems are transitioned under the managed services program, followed by continuous improvements are applied to those systems for conditioning them toward gradual and total replacement. The replacement is in favor of modern cloud-native Business Network solution. As part of Embrace and Replace program, OpenText manages end-to-end life cycle or transition and transformation mitigating all aspects of transition including, but not limited to, process upkeep and optimizing, robust change management, skilled resourcing gaps, technology, and partners connectivity on behalf of the client. This results in clients more agility for the clients to address their core competency and focus on growth along with operating on most modern cloud-native solution powered by Business Network. Clients are able to reduces risk and enables the client to fully leverage new technologies like cloud and mobile applications, and IoT without creating duplicate efforts and new data silos on top of the existing enterprise Information Technology landscape.

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OpenText, The Information Company, enables organizations to gain insight through market-leading information management solutions, powered by OpenText Cloud Editions.

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