Digital transformation is challenging enterprises in numerous ways, from determining who should lead digital initiatives to modifying infrastructure to better support the cloud computing, mobile, social media and Big Data analytics technologies that are central to digital business efforts.
"There is a great divide in the digital business model," said Dan Huberty, vice president, Vision, Strategy and Enterprise Architecture for Unisys Corporation, which recently in partnership with IDG Research surveyed 188 IT executives about digital transformation efforts. Newer, service-oriented companies such as Airbnb and Uber are not constrained by legacy technologies, he noted, so they are more nimble than more established companies.
Because such companies "started in the cloud," Huberty said, they tend to experience fewer integration problems than their competitors. Integration ranked among the most vexing issues for survey respondents, with 48 percent of them naming integration and support of data analytics tools as a top IT challenge and 43 percent of them mentioning integration of on-premise and cloud applications and data.
"The legacy has always been information in towers, but there is no sense of tower anymore," Huberty said. "Today there has to be a service integration and management layer so that companies can pull information together to do digital business."
Companies realize they need to move in this direction but are finding it tough to do so. Forty-five percent of respondents rate their progress toward a digital business model that can deliver on user expectations as above average, while 32 percent considered their progress average and 22 percent said it was below average.
Automation and Communication
Staffing is another issue, Huberty said, noting that just 40 percent of respondents rate their skill sets as adequate. At least part of the staffing challenge is due to the fact that many IT organizations "are too busy firefighting" instead of working on more strategic digital business initiatives.
Automating business processes lessens the need for firefighting, he said. However, to effectively automate processes, IT and business teams must communicate better than they traditionally have in the past. "To write automation scripts, IT and business people have to work together."
While digital transformation can seem overwhelming, Unisys recommends first identifying the departments that will benefit the most from a holistic digital business strategy and looking to make even small improvements. In the paper that includes survey results, Unisys offers the example of a global food manufacturer that realized temperature fluctuations created business opportunities for a division selling ice cream. The company then analyzed weather patterns and began increasing deliveries to retailers when temperatures rose, resulting in a 60 percent boost in sales.
When talking to clients that seem flummoxed by digital business strategies, Huberty likes to point out that "digital is not new," he said. "Cloud is not new, analytics is not new, Big Data is not new. What is new is the need for speed and scale and the need for everything to work together."
The window for undertaking digital initiatives is "rapidly narrowing," Huberty said. "Smart IT organizations must take steps now to implement a concerted digital business strategy and infrastructure or risk missing a golden opportunity for innovation and growth."
Digital transformation is on the minds of many IT execs, the survey found. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they consider it highly important for their organizations to modify technology, IT processes or IT resources over the next 12 months to implement digital business, focusing especially on five key areas: mobile application development, cloud deployment, social media, data analytics and security.
Ann All is the editor of Enterprise Apps Today and eSecurity Planet. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade, writing about everything from business intelligence to virtualization.