Tuesday, March 5, 2019

How do you start on the path of Digital Transformation?

What is Digital Transformation?

Most of the definitions I've found are grandiose, vague and elusive at best. From an implementation perspective, the definition is, IMO, very simple:

Find better ways to use available technology.

I realize that's still pretty vague, but I have some concrete details and examples to show you how you can start addressing this challenge.

How do I start?

The best way we've found to help companies start down the path of Digital Transformation is to create a list of questions that need to be answered. Specifically, we've expanded the definition above to:

Find better ways to use available technology to provide answers to our daily/weekly/monthly questions.

Once we have at least one question that we want to answer, we can identify information or technology gaps in our current environment. For example, an extremely common question among companies is:

How many servers do we own and what is the status of each?

We've found that this seemingly simple question can cause fistfights to break out in a meeting. That's because multiple different departments have different answers, and the true answer has been an elusive quest for a number of years. The goal is to identify the data required to answer the question and the location(s) of that data if available. For example, you may have the beginning of an answer that looks like this:

For the development servers, Jim R. has a manually updated spreadsheet at location XXXX on Sharepoint. 
For the engineering servers, Nancy P. has a homegrown database that only she has access to.
For the website, we think Ashok V. has a spreadsheet that may or may not be up-to-date.

Notice that we don't actually have an answer at all, but we're identifying areas of interest that may get us the information we need. This exercise shows areas where improvement is needed. In this case, it should be apparent that some type of asset discovery and management system is needed to enable us to get a valid answer to the question. What we normally find is that the customer actually owns one (or several) tools that can provide the required function, but no one in the meeting knows about these tools. This usually leads to another question similar to:

What software do we currently own and what are the capabilities of each title?

And you have to go through the same process as above with this question. I guarantee that it will be frustrating for everyone involved, but this is the process that is absolutely required. 

Further along in the process, as new systems are introduced, the owners of those systems need to be aware of the questions that the system will need to provide answers for so that they can be architected appropriately. For example, any new online system needs to be able to provide data that can answer the following questions:

How many users are actively using the system?
How many failed transactions have occurred in the past (hour/day/week) and which users were affected?
Is the system working properly at this moment and is it accessible to all of my users?

There are literally thousands of other questions that you may have, and part of Digital Transformation is identifying those questions so that the answers can be obtained quickly. And this is where another version of my original definition comes in handy:

Find better ways to use available technology to save time.

You can come up with tons of different reasons to use technology more wisely, and they are all perfectly valid reasons for you to continuously work on your Digital Transformation.

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