Executives can struggle for years discussing the optimal time and place to embark on digital transformation, many times crippling the effort before it gets started. We’ve all seen it, analysis paralysis sets in and organizational morale tanks. In some cases, organizations take the opposite approach and frantically implement the hottest digital technologies of the day without understanding both what their teams are capable of delivering successfully or whether these technologies produce any substantial business value. Even when these projects do create value, oftentimes they are isolated in silos which limit their strategic impact to the company at large. For executives that find themselves in this situation, we offer some suggestions that are both low risk and high value to get the project going, and that can be leveraged well into the future. In short, by concentrating on less complex and highly focused solutions, such as IT Operations Analytics (ITOA), Continuous Integration (CI), and low-code platforms, companies can quickly recognize positive results while still promoting innovation; ultimately, setting the groundwork for future advancements in more challenging digital transformation initiatives. Here’s what we’ve found works.
Capturing Data from the Source
Many companies, even those that are big data savvy, struggle with gaining valuable information from their core information systems. In some cases, companies only improve their business intelligence platforms, while others bring in big data approaches to expand their analytical capabilities. These approaches, along with sound data governance, can be critical to a company’s long-term strategy; however, they take time. In many cases, the time required to execute these efforts properly is a non-starter, as the business has no visibility into its current performance. So, how does a company manage both long-term foundational efforts, while also providing immediate insight into the business’ key metrics? We suggest looking at the source of the data. ITOA platforms such as AppDynamics operate at the source of data generation. They simplify the collection, organization, and visualization of this data by instrumenting these systems at the application runtime layer. There are other benefits as we’ll describe in more detail below, but the first of them is speed. Let’s take a look.
Among the many digital transformation challenges, ITOA platforms can quickly solve for four critical challenges: Customer Engagement, Cloud Strategy, Application Performance Monitoring, and Analytics.
Nearly every digital transformation approach emphasizes the importance of enhancing customer interactions with the business’ IT systems. ITOA platforms allow organizations to collect user data from the systems their customers connect to and capture the entire transaction path, providing visibility into the entire business transaction, not just the health of the application, infrastructure nodes, or isolated transactions in the environment. This comprehensive visibility allows for correlation between business transactions and user interactions rather than discrete data points. ITOA provides a rapid near-term solution for companies seeking to gain insight into their customers’ behavior; thereby, providing immediate value to the business, while not blocking important foundational refactoring efforts.
We’ve found that a very efficient yet off-label use of ITOA platforms is in leveraging their comprehensive discovery capabilities to assist engineering teams in visualizing the complex interconnectivity inherent to modern enterprise IT environments, such as multi-site application deployments. The ability to identify and visualize IT assets, and more importantly the dependencies among them provides migration and application teams the information needed to manage their moves based on hard data. This comprehensive view of a complex system simplifies, expedites, and vastly improves a migration’s chance for success.
Application Performance Monitoring:
An ITOA platform’s core strength is revealing application performance and exception data directly from the application runtime environment. Lost on many organizations is the need to baseline performance of their business critical systems BEFORE they transition. By maintaining a baseline of KPIs, organizations have crucial insights into every subsequent release, understanding how exactly they are affecting both their customers and systems (before and after a digital transformation). Specifically, ITOA provides a foundation for successful DevOps, Continuous Delivery, Agile\Lean, Bimodal IT efforts. As a result, this foundation serves as critical input into determining the success and failure of both the tactical and strategic initiatives that comprise digital transformation.
As discussed above, ITOA platforms make real-time analytics accessible without the need for sophisticated data warehousing and BI platforms. Out of the box, users can correlate, analyze, and monitor every aspect of every piece of data that touch their systems. Certainly, we are not implying that DW, BI, and Big Data systems are not needed, to the contrary. However, the ability to fully realize the benefits of these technologies rely heavily on the company’s data lifecycle and governance maturity level. ITOA allows less mature data companies to gain insight now while working on improving enterprise-wide data maturity in parallel.
Get software right the first time
Kelly Waters, author of the All About Agile blog asserts, adopters of Agile methodologies can build software faster and more reliably when they adhere to the following five principles.
1. Have the right people
2. Keep it simple
3. Work as a team
4. Eliminate waste
5. Build quality in
Forty plus years of software engineering knowledge has proven that it is near impossible to keep up with the accelerating demands of the modern business without introducing agile software development practices. Kelly’s blog has some excellent articles specifically addressing Agile and its importance, and we highly recommend it for more information in this area. Complementary technologies that can facilitate Agile approaches greatly are software build platforms, such as Jenkins. Software build platforms eliminate release challenges by addressing all five principles that Kelly calls out. Jenkins specifically comes assembled to streamline build environments, manage releases, and maintain physical artifacts for deployment. This build automation directly affects the quality of the technical product as the company can promote more rapid and reliable software releases. By utilizing these build systems, DevOps teams can immediately take the complexity out of long, drawn-out build and deployment processes to deliver software as a bundle, or as an entire infrastructure unit.
There is also a security benefit here as well. Incorporating security vulnerability scans before promoting code relieves much of the manual overhead and complexity of traditional QA and security team interaction with each development cycle. Build platforms integrate directly with many testing and security tools to highlight failed test cases and find specific lines of code that introduced the problems. As well, integrating build platforms with a software development tracking platform such as JIRA, ticket routing assigns the appropriate ticket back to the developer responsible for the change, which is both automated and efficient.
Eliminate the Complexity
Some organizations are not structured to house a full-time development staff, nor are they capable of handling the complexity of maintaining the dependency dense development environments and systems required for comprehensive software engineering. Low-code platforms such as Mendix, OutSystems, and Salesforce.com can be a very effective option for companies that need to perform application development, but don’t want or need to transform their software development houses. Low-code platforms allow technically savvy business analysts that understand the business domain to develop an application at a much higher level of abstraction than required of a typical software engineer.
Every company is resource constrained. Low-code environments also allow companies to select resources from a much larger pool of knowledge workers. Additionally, operations complexity is simplified as well as many low-code platforms allow applications to push directly to the cloud, with the click of the mouse, requiring no infrastructure overhead for deployment, which can be complex.
Lastly, low-code platforms are ideal for companies that need to decouple GUIs from the service layers that feed them. This approach significantly removes the complications of monolithic applications by quickly abstracting the UI from business logic.
As we’ve discussed, there are tremendous opportunities to make an impact now within an organization without becoming mired in analysis paralysis. By employing some of the approaches we have discussed above, executives and technologists alike can launch their digital transformation now, addressing tactical needs that improve current state, while allowing them to address broader strategic concerns along the way.