Digitalise or die? How to really affect change

The late professor Melvin Kranzberg once said, “Technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral.” Confusing maybe, but he simply meant on its own technology has little meaning. It does however have the ability to bear social and economic impact depending on how it’s implemented. Kranzberg aside, there is a new mantra in the market: ‘digitalise or die’! Dramatic indeed – but how should businesses approach digitalisation in practice?

Technology can offer companies entirely new ways to drive revenue and business growth, and challenge and disrupt every single aspect of daily operations. Technology has grown in prominence so much so that it can determine whether a business will thrive or demise. Smart businesses are embracing this notion, understanding it’s no longer enough to just be a by-stander in the digital world. If Kranzberg were alive in this era he would say technology has grown to be VERY good and VERY bad. And as the world becomes increasingly connected, businesses must adopt their offering and embrace digital – there is no middle ground.

In practice, digital transformation is often a complex process. Business leaders face the challenge of developing an effective strategy, integrating legacy systems and even transforming business culture. Ultimately the CIO has an integral role to play in guiding the business through this complicated landscape, while avoiding the dangerous the pitfalls thrown up.

Trust your CIO

In navigating digital transformation, the CIO needs to be the orchestrator of the business constantly finding the balance between old and new IT. The CEO should strive to make their CIO the businesses voice of digital transformation. Equally, the CIO must take responsibility for IT innovation, guiding their business through the potential complications. Almost every single business function will involve technology and it should come as no surprise that digital transformation relies on both the CEO and CIO matching their goals together.

For industries that face significant disruption, the challenge in front of CIOs is to strike a balance between current, old IT infrastructure and transformative digitally led systems. A key priority for CIOs must be ensuring that the business is agile enough to respond to quick digital opportunities, and avoid being left behind by industry disruptors. As the world becomes increasingly digital, businesses need to sit up and take notice of the innovative technologies available to them including cloud systems, IoT enabled devices and big data. Finding the matrimony between legacy systems and new technology is complicated but ignoring it isn’t the way to prolong a business’s life.

A robust digital strategy is paramount for successful transformation and auditing can be the most important initial step to take. A business’ finance division may have a legacy infrastructure but a modern communications function. Finding the wavelength between the two is important but can be extremely complicated. Conducting a thorough assessment beforehand can enable a business to make an informed decision and move the business in the right direction. Achieving the right balance between new and old technology is never straight forward and shying away will do nothing but bury a business under other more forward-thinking, agile and digitally native disruptors.

Align the business

CIOs should take responsibility for ensuring every department of a business is prepared and aligned. Take Tesla as an example. Led by tech guru Elon Musk, Tesla is leading the charge for driverless cars. Musk’s open communications plan is a stroke of genius that lays out the business’ future and shows his staff the direction they are working towards. Some may think this is a boring technique, but it’s an incredibly powerful and easy way to layout the businesses long-term goals.

Successful digital transformation relies on securing buy in from across the organisation, through explaining the advantages of change. This is something that is often neglected by businesses, as Fujitsu’s Digital Roulette research found that only one in three European IT decision makers agree that digital priorities are fully aligned within their organisation. Business change can only succeed if the same ideals are implemented throughout all areas. Applying the same message through all operations can drive the business towards a predetermined goal, unlocking unknown streams of revenue and improving productivity – Elon Musk’s plan doesn’t seem so boring now!

When it comes to infrastructure change, aligning the business is particularly important. Businesses can often benefit from updating their legacy systems, which may mean optimising the systems that are already in place while also bringing in new services. This can create cultural challenges for employees who have built their expertise and processes around these legacy systems. Larger companies will have hundreds of employees and could struggle to drop traditional systems without effecting majority of the team. Clearly communication is an important consideration for a business to successful digitally transformation.

Beyond the theory: Integrating legacy systems and new digital service

The biggest practical challenge that businesses face when undergoing digital transformation is navigating the integration between legacy and new systems. Although this is a challenging prospect, there are tools to support this change. For example, early this year Fujitsu rolled out the K5 cloud service – the first cloud platform that enables digital transformation through seamlessly integrating traditional IT. K5 enables companies to develop cloud applications quickly and alongside existing legacy systems. The accelerated release cycles involved in the process enable rapid testing and companies can quickly bring new services to market. The easy transition, which minimises disruption, is a productive method of digitalising.

On the ground, businesses are balancing their legacy systems with projects to gain the most from new technologies. As a practical example, Fujitsu is in partnership with a global manufacturing company that needed to improve its security and performance at a remote factory. Fujitsu already supported the business’ IT infrastructure, but the company was keen to understand how they could apply IoT to their business. 

Fujitsu is in the process of developing a prototype IoT people tracking system to enable workers’ locations to be easily trackable online in the event of an emergency, improving overall safety. There is also a real time monitoring system which provides accurate readings of the environment, preventing expensive and tedious human monitoring – the business is based in snowy mountains and was previously forced to fly helicopters out to obtain the desired result. In this case, the business is both balancing a strong infrastructure with the exploration of new technology, meaning that they can gain the full benefit of new digital applications.

Only a holistic approach will reap reward

Effective digital transformation can be the difference between a company and its closest competitors. The way that digital transformation is undertaken is vital. First and foremost, the CIO must be at the centre of digital change, with a robust strategy. Conducting an internal audit will highlight the strengths and weaknesses, enabling a business to see where they should be working to digitise. Failing to do all of this and maintain other core capabilities within IT departments will only put your business on the route to failure. CIOs: take your businesses’ future into your hands, and embrace emerging technologies with digital transformation. Or alternatively, don’t die – digitalise!

Conway Kosi, head of Managed Infrastructure Services (MIS), EMEIA, Fujitsu
Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy