The key to technology fitness is a strong, flexible digital backbone
- Enterprises today need to build a strong, flexible digital backbone. Software AG's Dr Stefan Sigg outlines a fitness plan to get there.
Getting physically fit is always difficult. Not only do you need to have a clear goal, but you need the right help to make sure you’re doing it right. Plenty of people will go to the gym and start picking up weights only to end up injured. A personal trainer can help avoid you doing damage to your muscles and most importantly, your back.
This isn’t a ‘get fit for summer’ article, but the situation is highly analogous to the journey that companies are on when it comes to their technology infrastructure. Some platforms or systems are doing all the heavy lifting and risk becoming overloaded. While other systems are going under-used and at best are a wasted resource, at worse they could start to atrophy under the weight of accumulated technical debt.
A strong, flexible digital backbone is what’s needed to make sure that technology infrastructures stay healthy and fully functional. Build around these pillars and you will find that you have a high performing operation — a well-tuned ecosystem of platforms and applications, with data flowing seamlessly between them like a lifeblood. Connecting an enterprise is complex; a flexible digital backbone simplifies it.
There are two steps in this fitness drive — functional connectivity and data connectivity. Functional connectivity is a means of ensuring that things are actually linked up, a very fundamental integration question at a systems and applications level. Data connectivity is a means of making the most of these connections by merging transactional, IoT, and process data.
Getting functionally fit
When we talk about connecting things together, we’re really talking about two main focus areas — applications and processes. What this requires from a strategic perspective is implementing hybrid and cloud-agnostic capabilities across the organization. This will allow systems to connect together more intuitively, including mainframes and other previously siloed areas that are nonetheless mission critical.
As one example, we can all accept that mainframes are mission critical but also unlikely to be migrated to the cloud any time soon. Therefore it’s important to connect them through APIs or other touchpoints to the burgeoning number of crucial cloud-based applications and processes.
This process requires a transition period, of course, but having a clear architectural target state that is fundamentally connected has to be the goal. This should include an Integration-Platform-as-a-Service (iPaas) in order to make new systems more plug-and-play in this new connected environment, as well as certain levels of process automation. For example, Process Mining continues to gain maturity and will analyze and optimize more parts of the business. A word of caution though — automation left unchecked can quickly become redundant and/or counter-productive, so use process management tools to keep everything relevant and up-to-date.
A convergence of integration and API technology, IoT capabilities and optimization of core business processes builds a healthy backbone. Creating an open platform that is built for white-labelling and as a foundation for custom application building can lead you into a world of new opportunities for your business.
As we move towards ‘everything’ as a service we will need to have much more sophisticated means for the curation, consolidation and usability of data. Having this mindset will naturally drive businesses towards being more connected. The two key benefits of connecting data more closely are customer service and innovation/growth.
As customers interact more heavily on multiple fronts, the infrastructure needs to extend accordingly to not only capture that information, but also have the data pipelines in place to bring everything into the most desired locations. These could be multiple places, includingmodern cloud data warehouses, data lakes, messaging systems and event hubs. Bear in mind that streaming analytics may need to be applied to high frequency or high priority traffic, in addition to the need to funnel some data through other applications en route to its final destination.
In addition to making your operations more efficient, integration around a flexible backbone can open up doors to new opportunities. For instance, integrating the plethora of devices that operate right across your organization — from edge to core — can bring valuable insights for service improvements, new opportunities or even gaps in the market. Generating and collecting a combination of customer and operational data helps give you a clearer picture of what’s happening not only in your business, but in the market more broadly.
For example, a customer of ours in the refuse and recycling business fitted sensors to all of its trucks and bins/collection points. Initially this was to get notifications of when collections were required or more bins were needed. However, from analyzing this data over time, it discovered that altering some of its routes and collecting in different ways not only made its service better for citizens, but also more cost effective to operate. A real win-win.
With so much additional data, the lifeblood of your company turns into a trifecta of data management, analytics, and machine learning. Securely collecting and sharing the data between domains is essential, and you must fully use analytics and machine learning to detect both abnormalities and opportunities.
So what next?
A large part of the challenge around getting your digital backbone fit to perform is already solved by existing technology and should be part of a “connected toolkit”. This is the case for Internet of Things (IoT) device data integration, integration of existing business applications (iPaaS), and process automation/analytics. Those three areas can be seen as a backbone for individual software development that leads to new digital business models. It also enables companies to protect their digital sovereignty as they run on all major cloud stacks, so switching costs are relatively low.
Furthermore, it avoids complex infrastructure software development that is not a value-add. You can start a specific software creation process much later and on a robust, scalable, and cloud-agnostic stack. Build-and-buy should become a mantra to get in shape quickly and on a personalized road to success. Don’t start from scratch with your digital fitness plan, but find a proven guide to help you to look after your digital backbone!