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Redefining Digital Transformation

xtype’s Scott Willson highlights the parallels between the DevOps philosophy and digital transformation

Perhaps the biggest challenge with digital transformation lies in understanding where the transformation occurs.

Digital transformation doesn't begin or end by offloading workloads or moving core systems to the cloud. It doesn't come about through the development a cool customer-facing app. Paralleling its philosophical forerunner, DevOps, the process of digital transformation begins by looking inward. It is a matter of organization.

"Digital transformation initiatives should be focused not on customer solutions, but on day-to-day business fundamentals," says Scott Willson, head of product marketing for xtype.io, a software startup that works primarily with large enterprise clients that use the ServiceNow cloud computing management platform. "You've got to be the best version of yourself before you can put your best foot forward for your customers."

Reframing DevOps

Over the past 15 years or so, DevOps has broken down internal silos and transformed development practices. Of course, this didn't occur overnight. Many organizations struggled to understand that embracing DevOps wasn't simply a matter of purchasing development tools. Willson believes that today, many similarly misinterpret the purpose and goals of digital transformation.

"Phase one of the digital transformation wave had companies simply lift and shift their on-prem apps and infrastructure to the cloud. This failed for many reasons," he says. "Many organizations that are disappointed by these efforts may have had unrealistic expectations. The C suite is making the same mistakes that DevOps practitioners made initially by relying on tools to deliver outcomes rather than doing the hard work of actual transformation."

As Willson explains, DevOps tools are designed for file-based development: i.e., managing and migrating files. In contrast, digital transformation is focused on computing platforms.

"You're not migrating the platform. The platform provides 80% of the functionality you need," he says. "So, we try to get clients to understand these differences and focus on the challenges they face. Most people, when we talk about digital transformation and multi-environment visibility, their ears perk up because they know that they aren't doing or can't do these things today."

As for the work that must be done to achieve digital transformation, there are, naturally, parallels to emergence of DevOps. Culture and organizational structure are the foundation. Collaboration among teams is essential. Processes must be automated wherever possible. Greater efficiencies are sought and realized.

"The transformation comes in not what you give your customers, but how you actually do things," Willson says.

The Promise of Digital Transformation

Achieving digital transformation becomes all the more worthwhile in light of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Let's begin with the latter. Willson believes AI and machine learning are poised to play a significant role going forward.

"Being adaptable and being able to handle changes is a big deal," he says. "AI is one example. Definitely embrace it, because it's coming. Protections do need to be in place, for sure, but machine learning algorithms are capable of making effective predictions based on training data."

Going forward, it's certainly reasonable to expect that IT staff will continue to have to do more with less, and with an ever-greater amount of work being done by remote users. And with significant parts of the tech workforce—think particularly of administrators and developers on the IBM mainframe and other enterprise systems—nearing and reaching retirement age, that transition is all but certain to accelerate.
 
"The shrinking employment pool will continue to force organizations to look beyond their physical facilities to find appropriate talent, furthering the remote work practice. But onboarding new, remote employees into a culture of trust and collaboration will encourage high performance,” Willson says. “That's the promise of digital transformation.”
 
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