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Clearing the path for digital transformation - How IT infrastructure could be holding your business back

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy)

The “fourth industrial revolution” is in full swing, reshaping virtually every industry and presenting a real opportunity for businesses ready to take part in the digital race.

However, those who are unprepared risk being left behind on the starting blocks, held back by under-investment, outdated IT systems and digital skills gaps.

At a glance, the UK appears to be globally competitive, ranking in the top five for the availability of technology. However, delving deeper into the latest statistics, it seems company-level adoption of technology is lagging behind, with the UK ranking 14th out of 140 major world countries (opens in new tab).

Sam Routledge, Chief Technology Officer at Softcat (opens in new tab)gives his tops tips for how companies of any size, can achieve their business goals through improved IT infrastructure.

Spend smart

According to a global survey on digital transformation (opens in new tab), 70 per cent of businesses cite competitive pressures as the main driver of investment in IT infrastructure. However, spending more on technology doesn’t automatically equate to better financial performance.

To achieve digital transformation, you need to map out your main business goals first. Think about what you’d need to increase outcome-driven engagement. Then consider how technology can be used as an enabler to help you achieve it. Cross-compare where your progress is stalling and your current technology gaps to identify the priority areas for investment.

Investing in asset management and tooling can help you establish control over your IT portfolio, allowing you to make quick and informed operational decisions. It’s hard to decide on what to improve if you don’t have sufficient detail on what you have! It will also reduce your overheads and lower the risk of overspending in future, meaning you’ll have more time and resources to focus on driving digital across the business.

Get your head in the cloud

When faced with an aging IT system, it’s easy to put off addressing it. “Too difficult to think about, I’ll get around to it at some point” is a common phrase we hear.  However, this problem must be confronted head-on…and fast!

Don’t discard technology just because it’s ‘old’. Carry out a thorough review of what still works and what doesn’t before investing in new systems. To overcome the issue of interoperability and avoid a mess of patchwork solutions, you could create a separate environment for new technologies which can be built upon. By consuming new options as a service, you can replace legacy infrastructure as and when it becomes obsolete without these changes causing disruption across the company.

In these cases, using cloud could be an ideal solution to your problems, rather than trying to deliver everything internally. If you embrace the cloud way of working, you can reduce the burden of daily business operations and achieve significant upfront savings.

But not all clouds are created equal. Taking an application-centric approach will help you find the right fit. Ask yourself questions like: “What are the problems and issues we have today?”, “Where do we see the business in 5 years?” and “How can we be more competitive?

We’re now seeing a movement towards a hybrid cloud model, where customers use a mix of on-premise, private cloud and third-party public cloud services to juggle different computing needs and budgets.

For example, you could take a private cloud approach for your core business systems, but run test and dev or analytical queries in the public cloud. This offers greater agility and is more cost-effective when faced with short-term spikes in demand for computing resources.

Change the culture

It’s easy to forget IT infrastructure encompasses hardware, software, network and your employees, so don’t let cultural resistance hold you back.

According to Accenture Strategy research (opens in new tab), driving change too much from the top could be highly counterproductive. Putting one person ‘officially’ in charge of digital transformation can also give the impression it’s “someone else’s problem”, whereas, in reality, CMOs are nearly twice as likely as CIOs (opens in new tab) to lead efforts.

To create a strong business culture working in tandem with your IT infrastructure eliminating or toning down ‘traditional’ fixed hierarchies will encourage an open dialogue and employee buy-in across all levels.

Moving away from the traditional technology segmentation approach in IT departments can support greater collaboration and faster digital transformation. It’s a good idea to offer design principles or guidelines from which to work so everyone can focus on the end goal rather than being overly concerned about the components.

According to a PwC Global Survey (opens in new tab), 73 per cent of CEOs believe the lack of digital skills in their workforce is a threat to business growth. Don’t expect all your employees to be technical whizz-kids. It’s probably worthwhile gauging a potential employee’s digital literacy during the hiring process. If they fit the bill but lack the digital experience, you can accelerate their development through training and mentoring.

 A tech-adoption programme led by ‘digital champions’ running alongside deployment will smooth out any resistance or confusion along the way. Ask these individuals to sit down with other employees to explain digital goals and how these will affect their day-to-day work. This helps everyone feel more prepared and change will feel less daunting.

Use protection

Cyber-attacks are a harsh reality in modern businesses. According to the latest government survey (opens in new tab), 46 per cent have identified at least one cyber security breach or attack in the past 12 months.

IBM identified the five most-attacked industries (opens in new tab) in 2016 as Information & Communications, Government, Financial Services, Media & Entertainment and Professional Services. This can change year-on-year as tactics evolve, so make sure to keep up to date with security trends.

Don’t wait until you have your updated IT infrastructure in place to protect it. Think beyond just perimeter security at the design stage and embed it into the core of IT from the very start. Consider network segmentation to split your assets into subnetworks, which will help to contain and limit the consequences of an attack.

It may be hard to hear, but security breaches are often caused by an action, or failure, of an employee. IBM also discovered 53 per cent of attacks on financial services were caused by ‘inadvertent’ insiders and 25 per cent on healthcare organisations were by ‘malicious’ insiders.

Often, businesses fail to notice the “nodes” connecting to their networks from the growing number of connected personal devices, as more employees work remotely. SIEM (Security Incident and Event Management) tools can give estate-wide visibility of both expected and abnormal events and correlate these events to determine whether an incident is unusual and a threat.

Inevitably, more intelligent monitoring will increase the workload of your IT team, but you can help take away some of the internal strain by using an outsourced MDR service (Managed Detection and Response) which offers multi-layered analytics, proactive threat hunting and real-time notifications on a simple-to-use dashboard.

With IT infrastructure now the backbone to the majority of organisations, a long-term investment and review strategy is essential to remain competitive. It may seem daunting at first, but the opportunity for business advancement through technology in our current digital age is enormous.

Sam Routledge, Chief Technology Officer, Softcat (opens in new tab)
Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy

Sam joined Softcat’s graduate programme in 1998. In 2016, Sam took the role of CTO, with a focus on Softcat’s customer-focused technology development, market positioning and strategy consulting offering.