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Digital Architecture and Digital Transformation

Building a coherent Digital Enterprise Architecture is key in helping organisations with their Digital Transformation and building for the future.

Digital Transformation is still a daunting prospect for some companies that have yet to embrace the full meaning of the term, or indeed understand the opportunities that it might afford to their business. It offers companies a chance to rebuild their entire organisation around a new architecture; one based upon emerging technologies, data, talent and streamlined processes, that in its entirety will enable the best end to end lifetime experience for a user while also optimising spend across IT. With digital transformation, complacency has become the silent killer and IT organisations need to drive harder at the need to reimagine and to embrace the disruptive.

Any move towards a digital architecture to sit within the enterprise must start with a clear and succinct strategy. The strategy targets may need to be radical, but they also need to be plausible; the resulting digital architecture needs to be feasible and the implementation plan achievable. This strategy must come from the top and be understood down every level and facet of the organisation. Communication is key to any success. Often, digital programmes or programmes, in general, fail to meet their targets, not because of a lack of talent, but because of a lack of attainable, clear objectives set across a multi-year roadmap with leadership who either can’t or aren’t adept enough to communicate why or what they are trying to achieve.

This strategy cannot just be dreamt up on a post-it and must be organisation specific, driven by data to fit the needs of the company with complete oversight over the end to end processes they are trying to achieve. The strategy should be built around a simple set of principles on how we wish to operate in an ideal world. We need to start asking ourselves a few questions: Do we have the correct business and technical architecture in place to deliver a leading digital experience to all users? Can these solutions empower workflow, relationship building and transactions across multiple channels anytime anywhere? Are we agile enough as an organisation that we can adapt and transition to new technologies as soon as they become a viable option to help us grow and achieve? What will be the defining principles that will drive our operating model?

Data science should be leveraged to best answer these questions. Data makes today’s world go around and it can be used to identify the business processes that need digitizing and help infer to what kind of architecture can meet these ends. It is predicted that there will be 44 zettabytes of digital information produced globally in 2020, and the question for businesses is how to gain insight and value out of the data they own. There is no point producing and storing mass amounts of data if it is not used to inform business decisions that lead to better results, faster productions times, improving customer support, whatever it may be. The strategic principles that we define need to be followed and analysed throughout the transformation as they begin to challenge current standards, policies, investment priorities, skills and culture within the organisation. Analytics can also be used to build customer and employee journey maps. Architects can use the process to start from a customer viewpoint and then look to build and link together from here, the various business processes of the organisation.

The digital architecture that will arise will be different for each organisation and every strategy, but there should be a few prevailing themes: The digital customer experience should be front and centre; Security, data governance and compliance should be at its core; there should be a move towards breaking down the silos within an organisation; There should be a rationalisation of systems, applications and platforms with an agile and agnostic approach to an evolving architecture; Analytics should drive the model and how the architecture will evolve; Modern developments and disruptive technologies like the Internet of Things, AI, Machine Learning, NoOps, Digital Twins, etc. should be embraced, not feared.

The advancement of the Internet of Things (IoT), revolutionises what were once disparate physical devices and appliances by connecting them to the internet allowing for the collection and sharing of data. This offers an unprecedented opportunity to minimise negative customer interactions. The IoT enables whoever is responsible for servicing or support, to instantaneously see what the customer issue is and help accordingly and at scale. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface with the IoT and the possibilities will exponentially grow with the advent of 5G and Wi-Fi 6.

CX has also been turned on its head with the ever-growing influence of AI and ML. Consumers have welcomed the data-driven personalisation that it entails. They want seamless experiences created specifically for them anytime anywhere across various platforms. This has become the norm and for companies born in the Cloud this may be easy enough to do; but for large corporations with a lot of legacy apps, the transformation roadmap is long and extremely difficult to execute.

The combination of IoT and AI/ML can improve systems across an organisation as well as the customer experience. Devices can communicate with each other and report issues as they happen, allowing support teams to act fast or even to pre-empt customer issues. AI and ML can be utilised to take over some of this workload from teams, while the ever-growing presence of chatbots can alleviate some of the pressure on the helpdesk. All touchpoints must be reflected in your core strategy and be part of the overall digital architecture.

As well as implementing new technologies, companies should also be looking to break down silos within their organisation and nurture an integrated, collaborative ecosystem. Silos serve to produce data that only tells part of the story. Unified systems can be used to get a holistic view. Silos can also slow down workflow between departments while an integrated, rationalised portfolio of applications, platforms and systems could lead to the democratisation of data and greater collaboration between your teams. APIs facilitate data exchanges between different apps and should be leveraged to allow for greater integration and flexibility. They also allow for better analytics of exchanges and workflows. An API-centric, platform-agnostic architecture can enable a plug and play culture to app adoption and removal, which can also help rationalise the portfolio and free up the budget from needless app development. This, in turn, will free up talent to focus on other aspects of the architecture.

One key question facing organisations with their app strategies is whether they should buy or build solutions. Some companies with a lot of legacy applications might feel they are in a zugzwang, needing to move but having no clear path to a good answer. Another possible disruption to the industry is the emergence of hyper development toolsets that empower users with little to no programming ability to quickly build and deploy solutions for specific business problems. This offers companies the opportunity to better replace bespoke legacy systems and build a cloud-native solution that plugs into their app environment at a fraction of the cost and time of the conventional development lifecycle. Technically, the buying of one solution could build numerous while providing these saves and also help foster in an expanded self-service operating model in the employee digital workspace.

The road to a secure, encompassing and flexible digital architecture is not an easy one for organisations but if done right, could present new opportunities to improve customer experience, employee experience, collaboration and growth. It should bring about the amalgamation of both your physical and digital business worlds.

Start from square one, see the possibilities, embrace change, build for the future.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn in January 2020 by then CEO of Integrated Cloud, Steven Boyle.

Steven Boyle

An experienced businessman and entrepreneur, Steven has been involved in many technology companies throughout his career. Having previously been CEO at Altran CIS and Integrated Cloud, Steven understands what information business leaders need in order to make important decisions. He was the leading visionary of the CloudCube product and its predecessor ICS Business Box. Steven has since gone on to take up the role of IT COO as Cisco.