Saying that digital transformation is the next major goal is easy, even saying it publicly, but achieving it can be eye-wateringly complex. The more that businesses start to look into it, the more the idea of deferment of action, or even denial that action is needed, becomes an attractive prospect. And it is fair to suggest that the more legacy applications a business has, and the deeper they are embedded, the greater the temptation for such denial becomes.
These states of mind were unearthed in a recent survey conducted on behalf of Progress - a veteran of the legacy software business with considerable empirical knowledge of this trend in action. For example the survey - of some 700 C-Level managers of businesses ranging from SMB to global corporates - shows that 96% of organisations see digital transformation as important or critical, yet 62% say their organisation is in denial about the need to tackle it.
The respondents also generally understand the business imperatives involved, with the survey showing 86% believe that they have just two years to make in-roads before suffering financial or competitive consequences. Indeed, 55% say this could occur within a year or less, while 59% are expressed the fear that they may already be too late.
If businesses have to set about undertaking digital transformation themselves, that 59% survey result may even be higher. If executives feel they risk blundering about in the dark through lack of knowledge or understanding, there is a good chance that many will already be very late in getting themselves on that learning curve. What is arguably worse is that the obvious place to turn for advice and support, the existing IT vendors that provided the legacy environments, have until recently tended to compound the problem by suggesting that adding more, new technology is the best answer.
In practice, of course, this has just layered more complexity onto the existing problem, and added more areas where knowledge and understanding need to be gained. Instead of helping, this has often made the possibilities of business managers building effective, digitally-transformed businesses even less likely. Having even more 'digital' does not mean a business is digitally-transformed, more digitally-tragic.
This year has seen a decline in that trend amongst vendors. As recent discussions with both Progress and security tools vendor, AVG, have shown, there are signs that such vendors now have a better understanding of what users need from them to get through the process of digital transformation.
This, in turn, helps them pitch what they offer business customers so that they can get on with the business of exploiting a digitally transformed state, as quickly and effectively as possible.
It is a subtle, but significant, transformation amongst the vendors which should allow them to define a 'building block' of associated applications and services that meet a business requirement. In effect, the next level of abstraction up from the 'application' - the business function.
Take AVG Technologies as an example. Here is a company with a long track record in anti-virus work, and for many individual users its entry point free download AV tool has been the first real introduction to the mysteries of viruses, trojans and the like, and the ways of removing them. But even in the business world, pressures of work or sheer forgetfulness - or maybe even wilful indolence - lead to a classic security problem, as AVG's Security Evangelist, Tony Anscombe, points out:
People still don't update their anti-virus tools once they have been loaded onto their systems, so we have finally taken over the job of updating our tools for them.
So increasingly, Anscombe sees AVG's role as two-fold: first the traditional role of providing the security tools, but secondly, the ability to do as much of the implementation, operation and management of those tools for the users as possible.
Two of the recent strands for delivering this are the addition of AVG Cloud Care, and AVG Managed Workplace. The former is being being targeted as a service for the reseller channel for onward sale, as a service, to the small business community where AVG is already well-established. Managed Workplace however, is being pitched as a service for the Managed Service Provider (MSP) community targeting larger enterprises.
This provides them with remote platform management capabilities for security tools, such as inventory management, patch management, and and VPN services. It is capable of managing a wide range of security tools, not just those from AVG and comes from the company's acquisition in 2013 of LPI Level Platforms. Anscombe says:
This offers MSPs the chance to manage security services on an unlimited scale, so it can can be applied to IoT applications, opening up that market to MSPs.
AVG is itself now the subject of a takeover, with a stock acquisition offer of $1.3 billion on the table from Avast, which is looking for greater scale and leverage in business markets, in particular IoT applications.
Back at Progress, the approach matches its more generalised, 4G applications development environment model, with the recent launch of DigitalFactory. In the same way that core Progress tools can be tailored to meet a user's specific business needs, the Factory provides a tailorable environment in which users can move through the digital transformation process by providing them with tools more focused to the end results users will be seeking.
It is a cloud-based platform that is particularly focused on helping businesses create omni-channel digital operations. The objective is to get users collaborative and productive in a digital environment as rapidly and painlessly as possible. To start with, three versions of the Factory model have been introduced, with other planned to emerge during 2017.
DigitalFactory for Sites is an obvious first target for Progress as it is aimed at large, globally dispersed organizations. Here, managing a large number of properties and assets, while sharing content consistently between them across the web and mobile devices against a background of dependency on local resources and budgets is fraught with difficulties. In addition, such companies are always facing a complex mix of governance and regulatory requirements around which to navigate.
For organizations that are looking for ways to develop multinational omnichannel routes to market, Progress has introduced DigitalFactory for Engagement. This aims to provide marketers with a unified content command centre giving a single view of customer experiences. It also adds new tools for building and deploying websites and mobile apps in short timescales, using a single platform and codebase.
Last amongst the top three targets is the rapid growth of mobiles as the primary tool for conducting online business. DigitalFactory for Mobile is an app development environment aimed at joining the Factory capabilities with the dominant mobile environments. Using the full lifecycle approach to mobile app development, developers can create services for iOS, Android and Windows devices, on a single platform without downloads, installs or configurations.
Organizations can run the mobile apps separately, for example as pilot projects, and when ready integrate them into the omnichannel Engagement Factory.
This move to the next level of abstraction is one that both sides of the marketplace still need to recognize. Both need to realise that digital transformation is not about buying, or selling, more digital technology; it is about users getting to exploit the stuff and earning revenue from it as quickly as possible.