Dell EMC: Observations on the challenges of digital transformation

By teleteria

I recently spoke on a panel discussing the trials and tribulations of digital transformation alongside other CIOs and technology leaders, on the launch of a new piece of Dell Technologies research on the topic. We had a fascinating discussion on the state of digital transformation, trying to get to the bottom of why nearly four in ten UK business leaders are uncertain what shape their industry will be in over the next three years or so.

That statistic surprised the room; of course, everyone knows there's change afoot, but for that many business leaders to be concerned that they can't read the changes going on in their industry is alarming. It brought home the reality of what digital transformation means for many: a big, scary, disruptive change of their sector.

There were a number of key themes that emerged during the course of the discussion that I wanted to draw out.

The pain of legacy IT… and business models

One of the key themes discussed was how it was difficult for technology leadership to invest in truly disruptive innovation when they not only had legacy IT to support… but legacy business models. Not many organisations leap wholesale from the pre-transformation world to a new world order (and it's only the disruptive start-ups that emerge with no legacy debt!). There's no easy answer to this one but the key theme we see engaging with IT leaders is the move to automate and simplify the administration of as much of their legacy IT (and business models) as possible to free up the time and resources to build on the next generation of applications and services.

Senior support and the 'vision' problem

The challenge with quarterly reporting cycles, and boards that are brought in to deliver short term performance outcomes, is that it can be very easy to sideline or mask longer term challenges behind localised boosts. After all, not every sector’s disruption begins with a bang: many start with a long, slow, barely perceptible decline. And the top challenge faced by businesses in the UK around digital transformation was a lack of senior support and sponsorship. A great deal of discussion was focussed on the need for boards to gain an understanding of how to enable digital innovation, and key to that is understanding its potential for shifting business models. IT is the fulcrum on which a business can completely change, after all.

We still need to cater for different customer contexts

As someone that lives in the rural South West of England, complete with idyllic countryside and mediocre (at best!) local broadband services, I have a unique perspective on the need to cater to a wide range of audiences. You could have the most digitally transformed business model there is; but if I don't have the connectivity to interact with it… well, suffice it to say that one size does not yet fit all. Of course, there needs to be more investment in connectivity infrastructure and we need to bring along the digitally marginalised - but we'll never get 100 percent of people fully committed to digital interactions with every kind of business.

Steve Macpherson, the CTO of London-based visual effects firm Framestore, discussed how that - despite being perceived as a creative industry, his CEO had always described the business as a technology one. To a point now where, to address the constraints of software licensing at scale, he has a development team helping the company shape its own software. The trend of exclusively buying off the shelf software to solve your business problems is fading as the tools and platforms for software development have become so much more accessible and more powerful. Of course, not every business is equipped to pivot its teams to deliver this in this way.

The accelerated rise of open innovation

For a long time, the notion of 'open innovation' - where companies, individuals, academics - work together collaboratively on innovations has been rising. Today, as traditional businesses become software businesses, there is a greater urgency about finding ways to tackle the problems of the business. If you can't build your own development team in house rapidly enough, you might support a start-up, work with an incubator or VC partner to find someone working on the solution, fund a team of academics working on the problem and actively collaborate with these teams to bring something to market more rapidly. Land Rover BAR, for example, is working with a range of experts from far beyond the sailing sector to design and optimise its boats in its efforts to win the Americas Cup. This type of collaboration and innovation will only become more commonplace as the pace of change continues to increase.

By Rob Lamb, Cloud Business Director at Dell EMC

Follow @BizReviewUSA and @NellWalkerMG

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