Going digital: Build a digital spine for your enterprise

In the digital era, where technology has become central to everything we do, it’s essential that enterprises adopt a digital mindset.

Think about some recent disruptions:

·         Blurring boundaries across industries: companies that are digital by birth are versatile in morphing from one business area to another. Is Amazon today a retailer, an infrastructure provider or an entertainment company? Apple’s range of products extend from computers and phones to TVs and watches. Services range from computing to payments to fitness.

·         Impact of computing on Core Sciences: from physical and mathematical sciences to biological sciences and behavioural sciences. This has changed the way we consume scientific data and leverage scientific inventions. An interesting study by Google for example, claims that AI can help to diagnose cancer quicker than human doctors. Aside from the obvious patient benefits, imagine the potential impact of this more widely across the NHS, an organisation that is currently under considerable pressure.

·         The digitisation of society: every smartphone user is a digital entity; every “thing” can be a digital entity with IoT. This is fundamentally changing the type of services that are in demand and can be provided to consumers. Gartner predicts that there will be 20.4 billion connected things by 2020, worldwide. Many customers no longer interact with brands in the physical world, but within digital frameworks, supported by a variety of devices, from smart phones to fitness trackers.

·         The industrialisation of software and computing: It is no longer enough to maintain the systems of record in enterprises. Automation becomes an important part of computing, and data takes on a new dimension. Let me give you the example of Nationwide. Batch processing is vital to a financial institution such as Nationwide from both an end-user perspective, and from a regulatory one. Using ignio, TCS’ AI platform, the world’s largest building society has transformed its overnight batch processing. By creating a blueprint of batch systems, ignio enables quick and easy modelling and prediction of the impact of business or technology-level changes and events on batch systems.


Each of these trends is making “going digital” aspirational for any traditional business. But “going digital” isn’t a case of simply updating your software; it requires a complete change in the mindset and culture of a company.

Despite many innovative initiatives, many large enterprises are stuck with paper based and analog systems; IT and OT are disconnected. The enterprise systems are islands. In fact, a study by Deloitte found that the majority of businesses are not yet ready to go digital. Ninety per cent of respondents anticipated that their industries will be disrupted by digital trends to a great or moderate extent, but only 44 per cent say their organisations are adequately preparing for the disruptions to come.

One way I like to illustrate a Digital Enterprise is through the idea of having a digital spine: an end to end continuum of core technologies, agile processes, security, privacy and a new kind of workplace.

Some approaches that can hasten the building of the digital spine are:

·         Adopting agile technology and people practices, leading to an Enterprise Agile philosophy.
·         Modernising legacy and building an Adaptive core.
·         Creating an Enterprise API framework that can be used internally for Hackathons, and connect to the external ecosystems as well.
·         Using Security, Privacy, Compliance to drive strategic advantage and not stopping with the minimum required governance.
·         Creating a workplace of the future with enterprise social spaces; gamified learning,

With the current rejuvenation in Artificial Intelligence approaches, we have a good chance of using the data derived from digital systems in a useful way. An insights layer on top of the digital spine can lead business to a new era of computing. Insights, automation, mash up of different types of data can throw up new ideas for the business.  This layer will leverage many components including:

·         The IoT and domain specific advancements: For Example, genomics and metagenomics, behavioral sciences, often across industry boundaries, in data markets
·         Predictive and prescriptive analytics
·         Robotics and automation

Once an enterprise acquires a strong digital base and gains the means to generate predictive and prescriptive insights, it must focus on customer experience. It must develop an outside in perspective, often keeping the end consumer in mind. Processes that can help in this area are:

·         Design of next generation customer experience
·         Digital-physical interfaces using wearables and sensors
·         Workplace of the future, for ITs internal customers

Just as the evolution of the vertebra created more powerful species in biological evolution, so I believe a digital spine will differentiate enterprises. With the analytics layer over this, enterprises will have an enormous level of insight. It then becomes easier to offer immersive and curated experiences for customers.

These are big changes for traditional businesses. Organisational culture has to change quite a bit. A recent report by Odgers Berndtson and Forrester, revealed that 79 per cent of company leaders do not currently believe they have the right culture in place to succeed. “Traditional” businesses must remember that they were pioneers once. They have legacy systems because they chose to move to computerisation early. Somewhere along the path of expansion and stabilisation, the appetite to take risk declines. 

One framework I follow in order to create a culture of business innovation is of the “Five Vs”. Visionary leadership, Variety of ideas, Vibrancy of culture, Value of innovation and Velocity of innovation.

If you have a strong leadership in place and a vibrant culture that encourages others to contribute ideas, this can only be a positive thing for innovation within an organisation. Velocity is an important concept too, it is often mistaken for the same as speed; but as well as speed, velocity requires direction in equal measure. Keeping all the Vs in focus enables the R&D arm of an enterprise pivotal to its success.

From the autonomous benefits of AI, to compliance, to the workplace of the future – digital is a powerful tool that is changing everything we do. Transformation requires commitment, investment and persistence but the benefits of going digital can be enormous.

K Ananth Krishnan, CTO, Tata Consultancy Services
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