The backbone of digital transformation
Collaboration, an open exchange of data between teams and the ability to quickly respond to customer requests are as important as the company’s end product or service, says Andre van Schalkwyk, group practice manager, Consulting at Dimension Data.
Andre van Schalkwyk, Group Practice Manager Consulting, Dimension Data, says if there is one phrase that has defined CIO priorities, it is “digital transformation”.
"We may be tired of hearing it, but there is no denying that the ongoing disruption of traditional business models is impacting virtually every market."
Van Schalkwyk adds that even with high-profile start-ups like AirBnB and Uber coming up against restrictive regulation and second-movers beginning to win back market share, traditional companies continue to be disrupted by upstart businesses that fearlessly challenge old industry models. Established businesses are scrambling to modernise their approach, largely through investment in new technologies.
"Our instinct may be to attribute the success of today’s start-ups to their use of technology, but this is just part of the equation. In most cases, the same IT resources are available to every business. Today’s leading start-ups have differentiated themselves with an uncompromising focus on customers, and this comes down to more agile processes and ways of working."
For Van Schalkwyk, people-centric drivers like collaboration, an open exchange of data between teams, and the ability to quickly respond to customer requests are as important as the company’s end product or service. In a digital business, these are all supported by the underlying network that ties its IT systems together.
He believes that companies have begun to appreciate the importance of a robust network. "It is the plumbing that makes everything work well together, particularly as they move to more virtualised ways of working and replace their legacy IT with more agile cloud-based systems. However, it ultimately falls to IT teams to bring the benefits of the network to life."
It’s time for IT to upskill
The reality is that the technology needed to build a modern and reliable network is relatively easy to implement. However, the bigger challenge for IT teams is the skills transformation they must undergo to help the business make the most of its investment.
IT has long been viewed as a support function, particularly in companies that still rely on legacy hardware. With businesses now making the transition to cloud-based systems and virtualised networks, the line between support teams and customer-facing teams has blurred. IT professionals are being asked to play a more hands-on role in helping the company to master new technologies and better serve customers.
Van Schalkwyk says in order to achieve this, IT must shed the siloed working practices that persist in many large companies. It is not uncommon to have one team focused on storage exclusively, another on security, and another on applications, and yet another on the network. These groups rarely speak with each other, and to make things worse, they often report to different business functions.
Collaboration needs to be a priority. A virtual network helps businesses by bringing their systems and technologies together so they can work smarter, but for this to happen, IT must lead by example and work in a more unified way.
Another barrier to transformation is the disconnect between IT teams and front-end business processes. IT professionals are certainly tech-savvy and knowledgeable, but their priorities have largely been to keep systems running smoothly and oversee new technology implementations. As a result, they are often a few steps removed from the outcomes or specific friction points that each line of business needs to address.
"A better understanding of business processes, and how the network feeds into these, is indispensable to the modern IT department. By taking a more staged and strategic approach to technology implementations, IT teams can elevate the network into an enabler of business outcomes, and raise their own profile in the process."
He adds: "For instance, Dimension Data is working with IT departments at some healthcare institutions to improve patient safety. Patient falls are among the biggest safety concerns for general hospitals, which can also be held legally responsible for patient injuries in many countries. To address this challenge, a number of healthcare institutions have enlisted Dimension Data to help them create a networked system that allows them to remotely monitor patients for signs of an imminent fall and automatically alert staff to address potential issues before an injury occurs."
For Van Schalkwyk, it is outcomes like this that matter most to companies going through a digital transformation. The network and technology behind the scenes are integral to bringing innovative ideas to life, but without the right combination of people, skills and strategy, these will fall flat.