Even a cursory glance through recent tech trends reveals that what constituted digital transformation just five years ago, is some way off today’s definition, reflecting the sheer scope and rapid acceleration of technological innovation.
One commonality, however, is the motivation behind it. All incarnations have ultimately been rooted in the delivery of an enhanced customer experience, driven by an increasingly informed and empowered consumer.
Fuelled by greater access to more online information, multiple channels, and increased choice - all of which have grown exponentially since the early 90s - the rising expectation for seamless and anywhere anytime service has become the ultimate challenge for businesses to address.
Awareness but lack of strategy
We see the first significant and collective response to this traction back in 2008, which up to 2014 represents the first phase of the digital transformation journey. As the global financial crisis took hold, this was the year when businesses both large and small made the customer experience a priority, a significant hike in awareness and focus from just a year earlier.
Consequently, user interfaces played a greater role in a competitive business strategy, transcending conventional methods of customer engagement through the rising number of entry points, be it mobile or tablet. With this enhanced mobility came limitless opportunities to not only reach more customers, but to also better understand them - a visibility that was previously unthinkable.
In 2010, the first seeds of the app revolution were sown, thanks to the rise of the smartphone, which helped to mobilize the workforce and rethink the end user experience across many daily interactions. It was, however, to take another three years before the level of this disruption gained momentum as an accelerant of digital transformation. Only by 2014 can we see the evolution of an app strategy from one that simply replicates web applications on mobile devices to one that transforms the customer experience and a business’s internal culture.
More broadly, however, efforts were still tempered by a lack of clear strategy and failure to employ the truly joined up approach needed for meaningful digital change. Fundamental issues with integration architecture still needed to be addressed. CIOs, cautious of implementing major change in a still precarious economic climate, were loyal to legacy applications, despite the compatibility issues which resulted in cumbersome IT infrastructures unable to compete with more nimble alternatives.
Throwing point to point integration models at the problem was all too often the kind of sticking plaster that came unstuck, particularly when attempting to integrate complex infrastructures. Here, the margin for error grew in tandem with the addition of more and more components.
As we entered the next phase of this evolution, signalling digital transformation 2.0, we saw a greater injection of speed and agility in the enterprise.
Central to this was rapid application development, enabling solutions to be created for common business problems around real-time analytics, big data and IoT – all without the need to write a line of code. This speed and simplicity shifted a process usually associated with detailed IT involvement to one that was better integrated into the mainstream day to day activity, empowering a broader range of users to support real-time decision-making and automation, while also driving proactive responses.
In this phase came two of IT’s major disruptors - the digital edge, drawing computing and intelligence from the core closer to the data source, along with the wider adoption of public cloud.
By virtualizing physical resources, cloud infrastructure allowed for more efficient use of servers and networks, with the ability to scale resources based on demand. However, this new environment was not immune to past issues. Here, with integration even more critical, if it wasn’t tackled effectively poor practice was simply transferred to the cloud, where in fact the issues could be harder to locate and manage than on premise.
Innovation and market disruption
As we come to the present day, digital transformation remains a business priority with global organisations committed to spending $2 trillion by 2020 on projects supporting this goal, according to IDC*.
With lessons learnt, it’s time for the early promise and innovation to thrive without the teething problems. Getting high-quality data to the right people through the right channels remains the key premise which underpins all efforts and which has signalled a new wave of integration, known as hybrid integration.
Here, interconnecting everything is the mantra, capitalizing on the best of the business core and the network edge, as big data, cloud, IoT and mobile technologies demand alternative integration flows beyond the confines of traditional enterprise that work together seamlessly.
Notably, the customer journey is defined by a more holistic approach that strives to understand them better as an individual. Linking their data from across the different channels and lines of business results in the personalised, real-time and omnichannel service that is now the norm. This enables customer touch points to be targeted with faster and more focused offerings so that a network of service offering can be built around the client, rather than focusing on one product.
What becomes clear is that digital transformation goes beyond simply providing technological solutions and instead signals a complete rethink of an entity’s business model and deep restructuring of its digital culture. It’s a traction no better embodied by the disruption facing the financial sector thanks to the FinTech startups whose foresight and agility has seen them exploit some of the inefficiencies in traditional banks by harnessing the latest technologies to create innovative products faster and cheaper.
In tandem, we see more attention placed on aligning the internal culture to business strategy, with the proliferation of simple DIY cloud-based applications that enable a broader section of the workplace to map, define and share their business processes and operations in minutes.
As the data generated becomes more plentiful, it demands more intuitive handling to extract the core value from the fluff. Augmented intelligence tools assist humans with sifting through massive databases of information to find insights that lead to deeper questions. This alchemy of man and machine defines this new level of analytical power that is truly transformative.