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In short order, we have seen mobile, cloud, IoT, AI and blockchain technologies become a force in enterprise computing. Have you asked yourself or your management team what this explosion of new technology and capabilities means for your company? When you think about it, the answer is total reinvention.
For many CIOs, total reinvention will amount to adding new technology to the current IT environment under the heading of digital transformation. But doing this just propagates the mess you probably inherited as a CIO: Almost every company has a plethora of legacy applications and an infrastructure comprising a mix of technologies -- much of them of limited capability. Moreover, these legacy applications are written in more languages than I like to think about.
Cobbling in new technology, new software tools and new applications into this mix only makes it more complex and more difficult to manage.
This is the biggest challenge in digital transformation: avoiding unacceptable disruption to come out the other side of the effort with a new view of the business and a new combined business/IT operating model. This column explains how to use business process management (BPM) tools for the digital transformation your company needs to transform its way of doing business.
Questions for getting started on digital transformation
For most companies, business transformation will take time. Gaining approval for the digital transformation work that will enable a new IT/business operating model is only the first hurdle.
Assuming that you find the sponsorship for your digital transformation initiative, what comes next? I have found that a good way to get started is by identifying a few interrelated actions that need fixing and figuring out a possible replacement.
Here are two sets of questions I've found useful in helping IT clients trying to get started on figuring out the infrastructure needed for digital transformation:
- Are your hardware and middleware running together smoothly? Was the system designed to work together? Is it capable of adequately supporting business transformation -- in particular, the ability to interact with customers across multiple channels?
- Is the total cost of ownership of your current infrastructure too high? What will need to change to build an optimal infrastructure that is able to support the company in the future? What would it take to move to this new infrastructure and IT operating environment, and what is the time frame needed to realistically spread the cost?
The answers can help you create a model for building an IT operation capable of carrying the business into the future. This model will provide the information needed for an investment plan.
Applications, an even bigger problem
In addition to the infrastructure, applications and data must be considered in any digital transformation.
To be sure, applications are arguably even a bigger problem than infrastructure. Applications are built using different languages to run under different operating environments through a tangle of interfaces. Weaving new BPM tools, robotic process automation, AI or any of the other new technologies into this complex fabric has been the preferred approach in many cases. However, this is just adding complexity to something that is too complex already.
Clearly, it is not wise to create a more complex and costlier IT operation and call it digital transformation. And you cannot modernize or transform anything without a clear strategy for reaching an outcome that enables the company to better compete in the future.
So, if modern technology shouldn't simply be added into the current IT operation, how can a company implement the digital transformation technology that will enable business transformation?
BPM tools and digital transformation
I am finding that an effective foundation for digital transformation is created by using BPM in a different way. This modernization approach uses BPM tools to orchestrate a controlled mix of new and old technologies. Through this orchestration, every new and old application that lives outside of the BPM suite is linked to specific activities in the BPMS solution.
The BPMS tools help build a foundation for an application modernization strategy that creates a core capability that calls and orchestrates the use of each external application, while keeping each external application separate from the main workflow in the BPMS and the applications that the BPM tool generates.
This separation and use management of the external applications keep the core BPMS applications, generated by a low-code BPM tool, free to change separately and thus stay current through the type of solution change that BPM tools were built to control. The old tech applications can then be replaced by BPMS-generated applications according to a separate legacy application replacement schedule.
Thus, the restructuring described above becomes part of a broader modernization strategy that will eventually result in the replacement of the old applications with a flexible architecture designed for rapid change.
Moving to this strategic modernization with the help of BPM tools will differentiate companies in the future by giving them the flexibility they need to interact with customers as the customer demands. It will also enable the company to pull in any new technology needed to provide a competitive advantage and integrate it through interfaces to the core process workflows. Everything is thus integrated but part of a master plan and operating approach.
With this approach, the IT/business model modernization effort can then be defined and estimated. The transformation effort should be supported by a multiyear roadmap that clearly identifies the value delivered at specific milestones and the cost of the transformation project.
Using BPM tools, both IT operations and the business will be able to utilize emerging technology while replacing old tech infrastructure and applications in a way that is designed, planned and cost-effective.