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Digital transformation? Let's keep it real and do it right

Matthias Steiner Profile picture for user matthias_steiner April 29, 2020
Pause chasing digital transformation daydreams - instead, start building the foundation by digitalizing your company.

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(Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

In the last two decades spent in the enterprise software business, I saw many trends come and go: Y2K, the introduction of the Euro, rise of eCommerce, SOA, 'Mobile first', cloud, microservices, and so on. Lately, digital transformation catches the eyes of CXOs. 

In this fast-paced industry, there's always the next big thing, and tech marketing actively drives the 'Fear Of Missing Out' (FOMO) in pursuit of selling the notion of 'competitive advantage' for first movers and early adopters. 

Typically, the public conversations about digital transformation — especially at C-level and in the media — center around fundamental changes of a company's business model (*-as-a-Service) or its business operations (reducing complexity/costs of complex system landscapes.) The projected outcomes; be it new revenue streams or frictionless business processes; are the type of stuff that grabs C-Suite attention. It's the vision of gaining a competitive edge through technical or process-related superiority that drives the high technology industry. It's the gas that fuels enterprise software sales. 

However, all the hype comes at the cost of inflated expectations and results in overused buzzwords that lose all meaning as vendors interpret terms for their agenda and to grab a piece of the market mind share. So, how to start a meaningful conversation about digital transformation and how to tackle it? And more to the point: how to address the topic in a sensible yet sensitive way at a time when the world faces the consequences of a global pandemic? 

In the past, many presentations on the topic started with quotes like "The future is already here - it's just not very evenly distributed" (source), "The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again" (source) up to references to Darwin's observation of the 'survival of the fittest' which implies that "those most adaptable to change will survive!

I have used all of these in the past (#guiltyAsCharged) — yet nowadays, they sound inappropriate and may hit too close to home. A few years ago, such statements were used to underline the urgency of becoming digital. Now, it's evident that plenty of companies fare better as a result of exploiting technologies that deliver a 'digital advantage.' Examples include:

  • Brick and mortar retailers or grocery stores who offer digital solutions supporting delivery or pick-up.
  • Enterprises that allow employees to access data on the go without having to check-in at the office. 

There are many others. 

In the wake of COVID-19, companies face the need to rapidly develop and deploy digital solutions that address both their immediate and long term needs. 

Before we dig deeper, keep in mind that 'digital transformation' is a loosely-defined term and referred to in many different contexts. At best, it is used to describe endeavors such as becoming a service provider by exposing APIs, inventing new digital revenue streams, or establishing entirely new digital business models. These are the types of accomplishments we read about in the press. Less discussed is the road that leads to digital transformation success stories, that is the road to digitalization. It's more subtle but equally, if not more important. 

Looking behind the curtain of regular business operations at mid-size to large companies, the need for digitalization spans many common issues. Everything from tedious paper-based processes that need eliminating on to omnipresent Excel sheets consolidating data from fragmented data silos up to the lack of simple apps for day-to-day tasks. The low hanging fruit comes from automating manual tasks, but there is much more that can and needs to be done. Why are these topics often overlooked? 

Usually, it's simply the fact that the demand for digital solutions and fit-for-purpose apps exceed the capacity of what the internal IT organizations can provide. Typically, the in-house development and operation teams are fully allocated to either long-lasting integration/consolidation projects or strategic endeavors executed on behalf of executive management. In between, there's little room to address topics considered to be 'priority 2.' Consequently, applications that could make a valuable contribution to the business never see the light of day, often to the frustration of employees that wonder what the IT team is doing for them.

That's the problem space that rapid application development (RAD) frameworks address: to facilitate the rapid development and deployment of custom applications within the enterprise. 

Traditional model-driven/low-code development platforms got a bad rep and are frowned upon by professional software engineers for either producing 'low-quality code' or for being a black-box that limits them compared to conventional coding practices. Also, low-code development platform vendors fuel this skepticism among IT professionals by promoting their solutions with claims to fix this demand/supply dilemma by empowering so-called 'citizen developers' to develop enterprise apps. 

Neptune Software's digital experience platform (DXP) is different: it's built for enterprise developers — by enterprise developers. It's designed to simplify and accelerate the development of custom solutions in SAP-centric IT landscapes. It combines enterprise mobility, digital experience and API-based integration capabilities assembled into a comprehensive toolset that supports enterprise IT teams to industrialize the in-house development via a 'factory-like' approach. The key to convincing enterprise developers is to assist them unobtrusively, allowing them to take advantage of their existing expertise and by utilizing the same set of technologies for rapid application development as mandated by the corporate IT strategy. 

Over the years, we have seen our customers successfully using the DXP platform in many different ways across the globe and various industries & verticals. A proven way to get started is to identify a small project that convinces IT about the productivity gain, demonstrates unprecedented time-to-market to the business and delivers tangible improvements to end-users. This is how Infraserv Höchst rolled out their hands-free plant maintenance solution, empowering service technicians to use voice-controlled smart data glasses instead of having to cope with a tedious paper-based process (read the full story here.) Melchers, a globally active trading company significantly improved the information flow between suppliers, warehouse staff and sales (more details here.) Dennis Kessler, Head of Software Development, explains that:

The strategy at Melchers is clear and it's to keep IT competencies in-house. We know our systems and processes the best, and it makes sense to develop the front-ends for the users by our in-house teams. The Neptune DX Platform has supported us in our agile cooperation with subsidiaries and specialist departments by enabling us to build apps quickly and easily.

The greatest testimonial for us is when we see customers choose Neptune DXP as their strategic development platform of choice. An example is the French Gendarmerie, which has rolled out north of 70 mobile apps for its 100,000 plus staff since 2016 (full story here.) Another example is Johnson & Johnson, which digitally transformed their global supply chain operations with Neptune DXP as explained here

If you want to hear more examples, please check-out the reference stories and customer testimonials on our website. We'd love to hear from you — so please do not hesitate to contact us with your questions. We're here to help.

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