Your Digital Transformation Effort Needs a Course Correction

Frank Kenney Former Gartner Analyst
With decades of analyst and integration industry experience, Frank Kenney is fountain of knowledge on all things tech. Now, he aims to share that awareness with you. Come back every other Thursday for your biweekly dose of thought leadership in this blog from one of technology’s most insightful thinkers and gain perspective on a variety of topics ranging from what’s happening in integration today to what’s on the horizon, poised to disrupt the integration space going forward.

Fixing a Problem with the Pipes

When I’m washing the dishes I’m doing one of two things – either my best impression of Simon Le Bon singing “The Reflex” (Every little thing the reflex does, Leaves you answered with a question mark), or I’m trying to figure out how to get more water pressure out of the faucet. Sure, I can replace the faucet, but that entails the much larger and more costly project of replacing the sink.

Sometimes I get a lot further than simply thinking about it. The last time that I sought out professional advice, the plumber told me that my real problem started with the pipes. So, a little later on, when I remodeled my kitchen, I put in new CPVC piping. That’s when I learned of a larger issue. This time a different plumber told me my pressure problem was going to be a lot harder to address due to the water coming off the mainline.

I stopped there. Singing seems so much more reasonable and less expensive.

In hindsight the solution should have been easy. The problem was I kept trying to solve the problem of low water pressure in my kitchen – new faucet, new sink, and new CPVC piping. But, if I had gone straight to the source, all I needed was to install a new wider coupling on the mainline. If I had started at the source, I would have solved the issue, gotten magnificent water pressure, and not invested a bunch of money in extraneous renovations.

Course Correcting Your Digital Transformation Efforts

Digital transformation often begins with a desire to improve one aspect or another of performance within the organization. The initiative typically comes with a healthy dose of IT modernization. However, the problem is that all too frequently, digital transformation starts at the wrong end of the equation. Kind of like me and the way I tried to fix a water pressure problem in my kitchen.

In speaking with multiple organizations on their approach to digital transformation, our conversations might start with a perceived need to address ERP re-platforming – going from an on-premise system to the cloud – or some other project involving application modernization. Here’s what I submit to you. But the approach of starting with the application means you’re starting at the wrong place.

Follow the Money

I get it. Business applications are seen as the heart of an organization. They are the system of record; the system of truth. We spend millions of dollars on their continued operations, maintenance, and support. Some of the largest IT companies in the world got their start with a single well-done business application. So then, it should come as no surprise that a lot of organizations concentrate modernization efforts on the business applications as a natural path to digital transformation.

And when we go through that 18-month migration to a new “cloudy” platform, we then take a good long look at modernizing all of the integrations into that application. We move from an enterprise service bus (ESB) to an integration platform as a service (iPaaS). Consulting and systems integrators push the modernization total into the tens of millions of dollars.  And finally when everything is done, when everyone is adequately trained on the new system we start to look at how we go about improving the way we do business without partners.

Let me stop there. Doesn’t that feel just a little backward?

The best and shiniest kitchen sink in the world is only going to be as good as the pipes that deliver the water, and those pipes are only going to be as effective as the pressure coming from the water main on the street.

Want to impact your “washing dishes” experience? Call a plumber the have them replace the valves that connect you with the mainline water supply. Yes, it can be a little expensive but not as expensive as replacing all of the sinks and faucets in your house.

Here’s a different approach to digital transformation businesses might start considering. While application modernization is critical, the underlying infrastructure is what powers the applications. Maybe it’s time to contemplate a move from vanilla FTP servers to something a little more modern and extensible like Restful APIs. Perhaps it’s redesigning and adding to your current XML and EDI schemas, allowing support for new and useful document types. It could also be simply adding a layer of metadata to allow for proactive governance and visibility layer.

If you been following this blog regularly, then you know that I’m a big fan of following the money. These are the type of modernization projects that deliver a rapid return on investment. Here’s the formula:

 

  • I used to receive X amount of purchase orders representing Y amount of dollars/pounds/euros.

 

  • I upgraded my integration technologies specifically focused on my business ecosystem of trading partners, and as a result, my customers do more business with me because it’s easier, faster and more transparent.

 

  • I now receive X =20% amount of purchase orders representing Y +20% of dollars/pounds/euros.

Don’t hold me to my math, but the point is if you are able to do more business, it will vastly impact your bottom line in a positive way. And that’s powerful. It’s time we started to have more conversations about the proper sequencing of modernization projects.

Digital transformation is very real, but the companies that start at the right places are giving themselves a distinct advantage – faster ROIs and time to value, and fantastic growth potential – the keys to not just surviving, but flourishing.

Oh, and maybe it’s time that I should get a dishwasher.

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About Frank Kenney

A former Gartner analyst and current market evangelist and strategy director, Frank Kenney is widely credited as the creator of the term managed file transfer (MFT), and was the first to write about and discuss its modern architecture, platform, and use cases. Previously, Frank served more than 10 years as a research director at Gartner, where he defined the MFT, B2B gateway, SOA governance, and cloud service brokerage (CSB) markets.

Before joining Cleo, Frank held leadership roles in product marketing, aligning vision and strategy with integration products, services, and messaging. As an independent IT consultant, Frank helped technology providers create, validate, and implement a variety of business strategies.

Frank holds a degree in music technology from the Center for the Media Arts, holds degrees and certifications in digital multimedia and instructional technologies, and studied English and computer science at the University of Tampa.

 

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