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Digital Transformation and Road-Mapping the Future

Innovation Executive Forum | Posted on March 11, 2019 by Karen Bader

There’s nothing like Digital Transformation to separate those in the digital “know”, from those whose who simply, well, don’t know. As companies make the leap, closing the gap on legacy assets, (think: long-standing employees, cumbersome old IT, analog data storage systems, etc.) can pose a massive challenge. A recent IEF dinner in Washington DC, the table set for a discussion on how to move the needle, highlighted the issues succinctly.

Interestingly, the fact that the conversation took place in DC, the center of US government, raised a number of key issues related to moving past legacy systems. As one attendee pointed out, funding issues coupled with slow government procurement processes leave many government offices packed with outdated infrastructure.

What became clear throughout our discussion, is that is in order to successfully make the Digital Transformation, road-mapping away from legacy systems is key. What follows is an examination of the key lessons we learned over the night.

Step 1: Put the past in the past

When it comes to finding a way forward, step one is understanding the past. What we heard around the table was that as legacy systems are shut down, and modern IT systems brought online, new analytics tools are making it clear that a lot of legacy data is useless. Data that seemed crucial in the past, is no longer relevant within a contemporary digital context.

Re-evaluating legacy data as a way forward

Naturally, the fact that many organizations are porting large volumes of useless data raises the importance of re-evaluating data-collection moving forward. Thankfully, the same analytical tools exposing legacy data, also make it easier to evaluate data deficiencies, the value of data, and how to formulate a data strategy for the future.

“The problem we have,” an attendee explained, “is we have so much data, and we’re digging into it a lot, but we’re struggling with how to monetize that data. We’re still learning what the value of our data is.”

Get data right the first time – up front labeling

We also heard, as part of a data strategy, some companies are making an effort to label all data up-front, to reduce questions about its value down the line.

“If you’re not labeling data up front, you may be losing the knowledge and information about what that data set is, to make use of it later,” an attendee noted. “Spend the time now, to anticipate what you may need in the next 12, 24 months from a data science, or AI perspective.”

Step 2: Evaluate the present

Another trend we hit on during our discussion was the need for many organizations to step back and evaluate the current state of their infrastructure. This is particularly important when it comes to the consolidation of technology through mergers and acquisitions.

An attendee laid out the issue: “The issue is keeping the lights on, and staying innovative. Balancing that. Because these types of things come out of the blue.”

IT managers need to figure out ways to balance everything from outsourcing vs. insourcing, empowering employees accustomed to doing things in rigid ways, what to transform now or later, and more. A few of the ways our attendees are dealing with the issues included:

Promoting data science

For many attendees, the way to rationalize data is to increase reliance on data science. How? By beefing up their rosters of Data Scientists. As an attendee explained, “When we got serious about data science, we hired 20 data scientists and work hard to make sure all data is labeled.”

Educating end users

Another critical aspect of Digital Transformation is ensuring that from the C-suite down, everyone understands the reason behind any changes being made. While transitioning to the cloud might be second nature for IT professionals, for many employees this isn’t the case.

One attendee explained that to help bring older employees up to speed, he wrote a white paper called “What is Cloud?”, that was shared within the organization.

“I kid you not,” he said. “I just wrote a whitepaper called “What is Cloud?”, for the army. There are still people with anxiety moving forward. So, I had to peel it back to Cloud 101.”

Step 3: Managing change

As you can see, change doesn’t come easy. Below are a few examples we discussed for managing the transition.

Employing a “customer mentality”, internally

As one attendee pointed out, the way forward is to consider the simplicity of the iPhone – easy to use, intuitive and useful – and start from there.

“You need to bring a consumer mentality to the business,” explained an attendee. “The reality is that I service two customers. My engineers, and the folks that build the content. We’re used to a consumer-driven capability for acquiring technology. It’s the iPhone. My 20-year-old engineer wants the functionality he gets in the consumer world, in the work world.”

Recognize that we’re all competing for talent

As millennials and Gen Y’s enter the workforce, competition for talent is taking on a new face. Younger workers accustomed to flexibility and collaboration software will expect both factors when evaluating a potential job. As such, companies need to be able to offer some semblance of both, or risk talent moving on to greener pastures. A couple of solutions we heard included:

  • Allowing employees to work remotely if they agree to be on camera through the day

This gives employees the flexibility they need while giving management the oversight it needs to feel comfortable doing so.

  • Recognizing that some of the best ideas need face-to-face time

One company found that a great way to bridge the gap between remote work and in-person collaboration was to implement one day per week where the entire team is in the office. This way, strategy, and planning can be hammered out in person, while backend work can be completed offsite as needed.

Leveraging a Cloud-first approach

Naturally, with all this flexibility, software and new infrastructure, many companies struggle to find the bandwidth to keep everything running smoothly. The solution we discussed in Washington to take a Cloud-first approach – commoditized IT components can go a long way to easing the pressure.

Final Thoughts

While no two organizations are ever alike, what everyone can agree on is that change is imminent, ongoing, and unstoppable. Across the board, the need for a roadmap has never been clearer. A holistic approach to employee education, security, cost-optimization is table-stakes when it comes to moving things forward. Are you up-to-speed?

In summation:

  • Legacy systems, employees, and technology must be brought up to speed
  • Data science is well on its way to becoming an indispensable component of any Digital Transformation strategy
  • Hiring and retaining talent may be an ongoing struggle for older companies resistant to change
  • The digital journey is never as straightforward as it may appear

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