What is Enterprise Transformation? Or Digital and IT Transformation?

You can’t read a management journal, a CIO newsletter, or the S1 of a software company filing to go public without coming across the terms Enterprise Transformation, Digital Transformation and I.T. Transformation.  But what do they mean?

Despite what you may think, they are not just another ploy for management consultants to gain customers (although they probably are used for that.)  They actually have significant impacts to businesses and business value – however, the way the terms are used can be a bit cloudy (like “cloud services” can also mean many different things to many different people.)

Enterprise transformation is really nothing more than the application of good product management principles to the offerings of the enterprise – ensure the offerings align with the needs of the customers; provide good value; are sold in the way the customer wishes to purchase; and delivered in ways that exceed customers’ expectations (at least in some dimension). Common sense stuff – but hard to do on the scale of a large enterprise.

Digital Transformation is the process of moving physical business brands, processes and deliverables online, and is part of almost all Enterprise Transformation initiatives. A simple example – I recently was at a car dealership, and while my wife was off test driving a car, I asked for brochures about the vehicle to read while I was waiting.  The glossy, shiny brochures I was used to are no longer available, at least for this brand of vehicle.  No problem, I had my phone, and the dealership had good wifi, so I could browse and read them online.  (No such luck when I tried to use the “build your car” feature – that apparently is not mobile compatible.  However, if the car company is truly adopting agile digital transformation, it may be mobile compatible by now.)

I.T. Transformation is the change needed to bring the I.T. infrastructure of an enterprise to a state ready to support enterprise and digital transformation. Why, you may ask, is any I.T. transformation required? Don’t enterprises have robust I.T. infrastructure already? Yes, they do – but those infrastructures (and, just as importantly, the processes behind them) are generally designed to support a different era of applications.

One of the trends in product management over the last few years is to release and iterate faster, so that the results of smaller changes can be tested, feedback gathered, and built upon.  This is part of the discipline being applied in Enterprise Transformation and Digital Transformation – so the I.T. infrastructure must be in a state where it can enable this velocity. Applications now are being developed with agile methodologies, involving weekly release cycles, or even continuous deployment multiple times a day. They may be released by spinning up and deploying an entirely new set of containers, virtual machines or cloud servers, deploying the new application, shifting traffic over, then shutting down the infrastructure that was running the older version.  Prototypes may be being developed, provisioned and deployed, all on public cloud infrastructure, but still must be managed for security, availability and other corporate standards. Current applications are also taking advantage of modern infrastructure and tools, to help them deploy and scale quickly. Orchestration frameworks (such as Ansible, Puppet, and Kubernetes), applications components (like Kafka, zookeeper, redis, etc), and moves into Service Oriented Architecture, are all standard things to adopt in I.T. transformation. But, as in the other kinds of transformations, the goal of I.T. transformation is not technological. It’s to enable business goals, and change I.T from a cost center into a service delivery organization.

A common task in I.T. Transformation is the unification of enterprise monitoring tools.  After all, it’s hard to be agile if you run 50 different monitoring systems.  If developing a new application – which systems need to be monitoring it?  The one that works with the cloud servers? The one that works with the on-premises databases? What if the new application needs both? What if different monitoring tools disagree? Automating application deployment into multiple monitoring systems is the opposite of agility. (Blatant plug: LogicMonitor allows IT teams to manage today’s infrastructure and the technology of tomorrow.)

The common theme in all the above is speed, or agility.  Enterprises must be able to deploy new technologies, not for technology’s sake, but to enable rapid iteration and scalability of their customer and employee-facing applications.  And, of course, all the applications have to be performant, all the time. Moving an enterprise’s customer interactions to the web is great (if that’s where the customers are) – so long as performance is good. Otherwise it can be a brand black-eye.

Hopefully that helps clarify the different terms. I.T. transformation is the modernization of I.T. technologies and processes, which will allow enterprises to embrace digital transformation and deliver it in an agile and robust manner – which will be part of their enterprise transformation strategy.