The factors that are hindering digital transformation [Q&A]

digital transformation

The majority of enterprises have at least explored their potential paths to digital transformation, if not already embarked on their journeys. But some are still struggling to leave the starting gate.

We sat down -- at a safe distance -- with Russ Kennedy, chief product officer at Nasuni to discuss what kinds of challenges enterprises are encountering when it comes to readying their businesses for the digital era.

BN: What are the greatest challenges to digital transformation right now?

RK: With the world becoming more digitized, data has emerged as new, valuable currency. The problem is, it is growing so quickly that enterprises are struggling to maintain, protect and provide access to it. It's a double-edged sword. Businesses want to generate as much volume as possible, but if they don’t have the infrastructure to secure and leverage this data, it could cut deep.

At the same time, younger generations of workers feel business technology should have the look and feel as the tools and services they use in their personal lives. CIOs are feeling the pressure to deliver that same experience. Not only does everyone want data access from everywhere, they want high performance too. This alone has been a challenge for IT and now COVID-19 has expedited things. Over the next couple years, their focus will have to be on enabling and escalating better digital experiences from anywhere, knowing that the new normal may involve an even more distributed workforce.

BN: Is the current skills shortage hindering digital transformations?

RK: I don't see how I can answer this any other way than 'yes,' and it relates back to the challenges for digital transformation. There exists a digital divide and employees are insisting upon a new way to work. If you don't hire people who understand that concept, you’ll likely end up re-training a lot of traditional IT personnel. The employees at a company are enterprise IT's customers and that requires a much different skillset and approach. Currently, there is a shortage of engineers who can shepherd digital transformation journeys.

We need to adopt a new mindset when it comes to IT. There existed a time when outsourcing infrastructure to a third party was unheard of, but now that is the direction in which we’re all headed. IT teams will need to train on modern infrastructures, comprised of the edge and cloud. It will be crucial to re-educate teams to know these areas inside and out versus the way IT has been approached for the past 20-30 years. Digital transformations are causing people to re-evaluate their dependency on hardware and software as well as the management of these new environments.

BN: Do you find there is reluctance from employees to change work habits? How does that impact transformations?

RK: Traditional IT teams still wants control over the hardware and software stacks, which does not lend itself to the agility and speed at which modern operations need to occur. A new approach is required. The processing power and scalability of the cloud is very much needed by modern enterprises and no IT team can build systems to meet the growing demand. Reluctance to let go traditional methods to explore new approaches is certainly slowing down digital transformations.

BN: Is there reluctance to avoid upsetting complex mission-critical systems?

RK: All the time. It is often seen as the much easier route to just renew existing contracts with incumbent suppliers and endure the frustration than modernize a major system. There exists a certain amount of safety in preserving the status quo, but this approach is short sighted and can cause enterprises to leave substantial savings and benefits on the table.

Forward thinkers take chances to create change. Often, major changes are prompted by a large disruption, such as the current state of things. IT teams will be rushed to identify solutions that can help businesses perform better, but also under the very different circumstances present today, in addition to accelerating digital transformation.

BN: How do siloed business units affect digital transformation?

RK: Software delivered as a service has empowered business units to make more IT decisions on their own. This creates a lot of disparate data silos. How finance collects and stores data may be different from marketing or engineering. Over a 10-year span, endless silos of hardware and software are created without governance, which hinders transparency into what data is available and accessible. This only further slows down digital transformations

With today's popular online marketplaces, all a business unit needs to obtain a service, unbeknown to IT, is a credit card. This ease of procurement increases the issues of shadow IT and builds more silos.

BN: What leadership skills within an organization are needed to successfully embrace digital transformation?

RK: Today's leaders require two key traits -- a willingness to take risks coupled with skills in diplomacy. In order to be bold and impactful, you have to be willing to take risks. However, gaining the necessary buy-ins from the various business units that could potentially benefit, requires a sense of diplomacy. A CIO has to wear different hats -- They must be knowledgeable about their company’s business goals and the variety of technologies available that will enable achievement of those goals. They also must be a diplomat and a politician if they want gain support for their potentially risky changes as well as convince their siloed units to adopt a unified digital strategy.

Photo Credit: Sashkin/Shutterstock

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