Approach to Digitalisation – The tip or the iceberg ?

July 18, 2015Blog Standard
 We all know the story of Titanic, the famous ship which sank because it hit a giant iceberg. The tip of the iceberg could be as small as 1m above the sea level while the rest of the iceberg could be hundred times longer and wider and be hidden below the sea level. A ship would be grossly mistaken in its approach to the iceberg if it judges it only by the tip visible to it and navigates itself based only on what is visible to the naked eye.
What has that got to do with Digitalisation, the latest trend in enterprise IT globally?
Digitalisation is a huge opportunity for enterprises today. It is opening up newer markets, making friends out of competition and enemies out of erstwhile allies. It is many things to many people. For some it is simply a new name for creating mobile App for a function which normally you did on a desktop or a laptop. For most of the business and IT decision makers it conjures a grand vision of a paperless enterprise which has been awaited for many years now. It is a different matter that execution of that vision into realities needs us to straddle many different problems at multiple levels, both with external world and internal world of an enterprise. Successful cloud technologies across all levels, reducing costs of bandwidth and mobility, Advances in Big Data Analytics and IoT (Internet of Things) and proliferation of open API based business models lead us to believe that the completely connected and digitalized world is no longer a dream but a reality already facing us.
It is easier said than done though.
Consumerisation of enterprise IT and rapid advances in Mobility and internet penetration has ensured that users are enjoying their place at the center which they have long been deprived of. The advances in 60s and 70s and 80s were about large scale processing, focus on enterprise systems and ability to manage and process complex systems.
Over the last decade, user experience and focus on the consumer has gained ground and rightfully so. The business processes and technology advances are aligning themselves to suit the user experience as against the earlier trend of having the user adopt to the technologies and business processes which was the norm in 70s, 80s, and 90s.
However large global enterprises have to deal with a complex stack of business processes, Applications and Infrastructure built over a period of time to deliver a seemingly simple user experience. Simple every day transactions in every business, like withdrawing money from a bank or making an online banking transaction involve multiple layers of this stack.
Large scale Digital Transformations have to go way beyond making changes at the design level or App level of how users navigate the digital interface which could be the customer facing online platform or the intranet portals used by the employees.
It is the norm now to develop a mobile App for every need and redesign the web interfaces to make them user friendly.  That, however, is just the tip of the iceberg.
If we want to unleash the true potential of digital transformation and harness the power of all technologies, enterprises need to look at the entire stack. This means redesigning and simplifying the business process to suit the users and the new realities, transforming the Applications landscape, rationalizing them and then taking advantage of the agile and robust infrastructure technologies available today. It also means using latest analytics and ITFM models to discover the true per unit cost of a transaction is pre and post transformation scenarios and accurately modelling the business benefits of digitalization for the enterprise. It means using current models of cloud technologies when applicable and not having to work with legacy systems. It means leveraging the power of APIs to extend connectivity to multiple stakeholders outside your closed network.
One of the examples of how the underlying stack impacts this is implementation of Digitisation in some of large government programmes. An ambitious digitization programme in a government ministry which deals with clearances of several departments never delivered the results because the underlying process of approvals was so complex that it took several months for approval of a license. A digitilisation of the process without simplification of the process failed to deliver successful results.
In another example at a Bank, ambitious goals were set to reduce the time taken for an online customer facing transaction to reduce it from 2 days to a few hours over a few clicks. However the programme could not deliver as the necessary investments required in underlying Application architecture and infrastructure were not approved.
There are of course many more examples of successful transformations where the architecture teams have taken pains to detail out the dependencies across the entire stack, and business has made the necessary investments in transforming the underlying stack for the multi fold gains expected to materialize. That is the right thing to do but it takes time and patience and the rewards are worth the effort.
A rush to focus on the tip while ignoring the huge mass of ice underlying the sea can expose you to unknown risks, just like Titanic!
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Sarita Janjani

Very good article on digitization and success of digitization scenarios !

David D'Lima

Nice post, we have to also recognize that now the world is very different and icebergs (threats and disruptions) sometimes arent even visible at all. The speed of the iceberg approaching the ship wasnt an issue in 1912 but in the 21st century that is often the reality. Hence its important to stay close to the market, identify the trends and needs early, then as your post explains superbly, build the solution and drive organization adoption rapidly.

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