Enabling Digitization and System Integration

Digital transformation and strategy in many organizations are being driven by CEOs and other senior executives. The execution of such digitization is generally managed by digital experts with a transformation and consulting background. A report by HfS consulting “The Rise of the Digital Transformers”  highlights

Enterprise brands face a number of challenges as they work to adapt to an increasingly digital marketplace and transform their business processes around a digital-first model and enable a secure, and trusted, digital presence for their partners and consumers.  In response to these challenges, we’re seeing a refocusing and expansion of traditional business roles, one which blends vertical (customer facing) and horizontal (enterprise focused) roles and places increased value on “operational strategists” who operate as transformational architects in this brave new digital world

A Forbes article (link) highlights progression of changes that ‘digital” promises to deliver

  • Increased efficiency and energy savings, as manual, duplicated or calcified processes are replaced with software-defined and analytics-driven processes.
  • Increased market responsiveness, with businesses able to respond to consumer demand through social media, and anticipate future trends through analytics.
  • Higher levels of collaboration, as members of organizations are able to work together and share information with each other almost instantaneously, as well as with customers.
  • Greater innovation, as businesses have greater access to pools of knowledge and resources outside their walls.
  • More entrepreneurial energy and opportunity, as teams or individuals are able to take advantage of an abundance of cloud and social media resources to launch new businesses or business lines with minimal startup capital required.


Planning for Digital Transformation

Digitization involves engaging the business stakeholders in review of business capabilities and models, but an understanding of technologies is equally important.

In the report thus far, we reviewed about 10 emerging technologies, many of which overlap. Staying abreast of developments, emerging techniques and updates from vendors and technology ecosystem requires continual effort. Some large organizations use formal and informal Technology Foresight techniques to identify  developments most likely to impact their businesses in the short and mid-term. The timeframe for such foresight may range from 10-20 years down to shorter term trends in 2-3 years.

A review of some of the emerging technology trends highlight implementation challenge and opportunities. Many technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Robotics, Blockchains, VR require people with specialized technical skills to integrate them into scale-able enterprise solutions.

Executives and Enterprise Architects who plan digital transformation need to understand the tools and technologies and new business models and capabilities they will enhance. They also need to identify the challenges and skills required to realize digitization.


Case in point: Developing an advanced Agronomy platform

In the field of Agronomy, innovative data aggregators, organizations, and scientists are applying different types of analytic techniques like investigative data discovery, descriptive data aggregation and predictive analytics focused on outcomes. A large agri-chemical company I worked for decided to design a big-data platform, and we began to evaluate tools and technologies to enable predictive analytics and data-visualization.


Image source: http://www.farmofthefuture.net/Image

A farmer managing a large agricultural operation in North America may be concerned about his crops and the means of getting the best yields. He may understand the uncertainties of the business, and aware of mother nature’s unpredictable weather patterns. Given the uncertainties of their business, farmers are willing to invest in the most advanced technologies if they can help plan for better crop yields. However, most of them don’t understand the intricacies of emerging technologies like Big-Data or Artificial Intelligence or how Drones work. A popular video “Farm Forward” from John Deere takes a futuristic view of technologies by integrating information “just in time” for decision making.

The design of the agronomy platform required integration of data from ERP and other applications. We had to evaluate and review all the Non Functional Requirements (NFRs). For instance, managers of the corporate platforms were cautious about adding new interfaces that would impact performance of existing systems. The plan for integration include identifying third party data from external sources including universities, research stations, weather data from 3rd parties, video and image feeds from satellites and drones.

The themes that seem to recur in in this and other digital transformations include:

  1. Configurations and customizations can add to cost and complexity – Digital solutions are like a Swiss army knife – designed for many scenarios, but need to be configured before they can work for complex functions.  Even seemingly small configurations done together might cascade into a considerable effort of work.
  2. Synchronizing with Corporate upgrade calendars – Digital solutions are continually evolving as vendors enhance capabilities and offerings. Integrating new solutions into a corporate landscape need to be planned with existing application’s maintenance schedules. For instance, an eCommerce company will not integrate a  new AI platform during the busy Thanksgiving or Christmas sales period.
  3. Don’t underestimate integration complexity – Technology solutions designed to enable complex business functions will require data from different sources. Such integration can be complex and expensive to design.
  4. Do not underestimate the need for a “service” to manage new capabilities – Corporate technology users are promised a certain service level to ensure their productivity. For instance a marketing manager using a Big-Data visualization tool will expect the tool to be available and integrated with data sources while he begin his analysis.
  5. Watchout for the TCO – At the outset, digital platforms and licensing costs may seem inexpensive. However, the business stakeholders sold on the promise of no-touch deployments and “light” service models need to be informed and educated of the total cost of the deployed solution – this may include configurations, customizations, integration, integrating service model etc.

Enterprise Architects and Business leaders include promising technologies in their Architecture roadmap. These are used with other stakeholders to inform and address strategic questions that can guide business transformations. This process, especially for large enterprises with complex business landscapes can involve a lot of research, reviews and stakeholder engagements.

Consulting and System integration

Organizations are interested in solving specific problems using digital technologies. For instance, a manufacturing company may be interested in techniques to optimize the production process or to review the large amount of data generated by machines at their factories. However they may be hesitant to proceed because they lack the in-house expertise or skills. This challenge of skill-gap continues to be a recurring theme across technologies.

Design of digital platforms using emerging technologies may require specialized help. To address this challenge, software and technology service companies are launching AI focused consulting services. Google’s service is called “Machine Learning Advanced Solutions Lab,” and Amazon recently relaunched consulting services under its ML Solutions Lab.

Corporate digitization efforts and the need for expertise to guide the transformation translates to opportunity for consultants, system-integrators and software product development firms.

Most business and technology consulting firms have realized the potential for system integration and have announced offerings

Analyst firms periodically review Systems Integrators in this space

  • Leverage Digital Transformation Consultants to Adapt to the Digital Age – Gartner
  • Worldwide Digital Strategy Consulting 2016 Vendor Assessment – IDC MarketScape
  • Vendor Landscape: Digital Asset Management, 2016 – Forrester

Edited and compiled by: Mohan K | Reproduction with permission only | Contact myDigitalStartup.net