Digital Transformation – a few things to consider

Nearly all businesses currently strive to get transformed digitally and I was able to support a few of them on their journey. Digital Transformation for a company, without a doubt, is more than important to reach a next level of efficiency, data insight, scalability and so on. These arguments, and many more, have been discussed a lot and at the first glance, all seems understandable and eventually not so hard to execute.
Nevertheless, if one starts to go on that digital transformation journey a lot of important and underestimated aspects come into view, that were not so obvious from the beginning.

More than just pushing a button – Digital Transformation

It’s foremost a cultural change, not a technological one
Quite often companies in the beginning of the transformation believe that starting the one Cloud-based solution project is already transforming their businesses. Of course, a single project, even if it may be a great start to find out how things work technologically, does not digitally transform a company. Therefore, quite often these projects end up as Cloud islands with little or limited impact on anybody’s benefit. The challenge to overcome to get successful, is to identify a company’s solution- and data-silos and make these accessible in a secure and transparent way to everybody, who could benefit from these.
Because, only then you are able to hoist the treasures of insight and information lying in this data. Breaking up these silos is not easy. Not, because it is technically hard to do, but, because of the mindset change by employees that is required, to make this possible. Established attitudes from the past, such as “I do have knowledge and data, therefore I am needed.” need to be changed into “I provide data and am able to share them most efficiently, along with insights.” This turns a lot of internal kingdoms into rubble and due to this, it is most likely to find significant resistance here.

Digital Transformation makes no sense without a company-wide perspective
As already stated, a single Cloud solution does not transform a company. It is the whole company that needs to migrate into a new mindset and a new digital eco-system. Think of it, just as installing a new operating system onto parts of the old hardware, while replacing outdated hardware components with fresh and shiny ones from the outside (aka Cloud). This requires spending some thoughts on, what the important components of your business are and what the best way to transform them would be.
Of course, all this needs to occur, without interrupting the current (well-running) business, to ideally enable a smooth transition. And yes, you guessed it, this is far from easy to do.
Nevertheless, it can be done, if you are well planned and prepared. You need to do a thorough inventory on what is currently going on, which enables you to decide on migration paths and migration priority for any of your businesses components.

Should the new company setup be Cloud-native or hybrid (combining Cloud and on-premise)?
Do not waste time on that, it is always hybrid! Meaning – that if you have an established business, there are always components that cannot or should not be transferred to the Cloud in a foreseeable future. There is nothing bad about it. Cloud technology does not have to be the only solution for all business problems. Be pragmatic and do what makes sense! Choose to move to Cloud where the largest benefits are to be expected.
In any case, set up the required infrastructure to support a sound hybrid Cloud scenario.

Get identity management right!
Setting up that hybrid Cloud scenario, you will automatically run into the identity management question. Should I sync all my users into the Cloud? Or, only a few chosen ones? But, is this secure?
It is more than wise to sync all your user into a Cloud directory. Everything else is pretty useless, looking at future applications.
If set up correctly, a Cloud identity store is more secure than an on-premise one, because of the enhanced monitoring and auditing capabilities in Cloud, along with the additional supervision of the dedicated security teams of Cloud providers.
These guys are fighting back attacks every minute. Especially as a small to mid-size company, you will never be able to match their expertise and execution level with your own resources!
But, let us get back to identity management. There must only be one and this is pretty important! If there are currently several identity systems in your enterprise, the first task is to consolidate these. Otherwise, you are going to end up in an identity synchronization nightmare, which will be a security nightmare at the same time.
After that, it is very important to keep on-premise and Cloud identities in sync, because looking at Cloud solutions the traditional means of enterprise protection, network perimeters, have lost their effectiveness. This is due to the fact that we are communicating on public networks most of the time, which can neither be controlled nor considered safe! As Cloud offerings grow, a lot of Software as a Service (SaaS) components will be part of a solution and with them, you have no or only limited ways to establish network perimeters.
Network perimeters, as a protection mechanism, in Cloud solutions normally are replaced by identity perimeters, who are able to span a complete solution context. You still may find network perimeters, such as V-Nets, for securing certain solution parts, e.g. micro service clusters, API management, etc., but, these cannot not play a role in securing an overall solution.
Therefore, to get security right for a Cloud solution, a sound identity management enabling robust endpoint protection is key. Endpoint protection is often referred to as “defense in depth”, which means, you do not care about protection of any networks, but you are relying heavily on protecting the different communication endpoints, a solution is using.

Outsmart your old data center
When migrating to Cloud, a thorough understanding of Cloud technology benefits, its strengths and weaknesses for your business solutions need to be established up-front. Educate your teams and experts up-front and get them fully aboard. Do not underestimate this challenge! Many transformation projects died, because teams did not know what to do in Cloud and were not convinced.
In addition, just copying over solution-VMs from an on-premise data center into Cloud (lift and shift) is seldomly an efficient and rewarding approach. Instead, try to re-think your business processes and solution aspects from the new angle of perspective, Cloud computing is offering. Ask yourself, having the power of the Cloud eco-system at hand, if you could simplify, streamline or even get rid of a business process in a migrated solution.
This is the spot, where you can really make the difference! Set up highly scalable, flexible and easy to change business processes that enable you to stay ahead of the competition.
To achieve this, your development teams need to re-think their traditional implementation approach. Classical enterprise solutions require clusters on VMs, load balancers, etc.. Try to get rid of as many of these components, by using the highly efficient low code/serverless approach, which is only possible in Cloud solutions.
And again, there will be some non-technical challenges to face, such as the “not invented here” paradigm, along with developer proudness “I want to build micro-services, I can fully control!” that need to be overcome.
As soon as the dust settles and the new approach can be applied, one will be able to experience a boost in efficiency, along with the ability to do real-time changes to business processes, which will become a huge competitive advantage!

Consider Digital Transformation as a journey!
You will not be able to achieve everything overnight. Some items will be implemented fast, some are going to take more time. Have a well-planned company-wide approach ready and implement the means and mechanisms to execute sound governance on all migration activities.
Governance is very important for all involved players to stay on the same board. Re-evaluate and re-think approaches and technologies pragmatically as-you-go and as technology evolves (it does this fast in Cloud), but keep your eyes on the target, transforming your company into a digital one. As more and more components reach the new eco-system, it will be not too hard for your teams, to initiate the next round of innovation.


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