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Transformation enablers: A solution architect intercedes between silos

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy)

It is difficult for many companies to complete a digital transformation on their own, as their current staff are likely without expertise in this area. Bringing in external experts, such as a solution architect, can provide benefits from a technical perspective, as well as help break down the silos that prevent a successful implementation.

The wave of digital transformation can no longer be stopped – a fact now widely recognised by businesses around the globe. Nevertheless, some companies are still looking for ways to benefit from the power of this revolution without being overwhelmed by it. Even when companies have recognised the need for action, the scale of the undertaking is such that those tasked with managing and successfully implementing the project often struggle to keep their heads above water. How can a digital transformation be planned in all its complexity to ensure that corresponding projects are a resounding success?

In the face of this almighty task, companies end up falling into three categories based on their ability to act. Some companies can cope with their projects on their own without encountering any hurdles, as they have the necessary expertise available in-house in the form of experienced transformation experts who bring application skills, network expertise and security knowledge. The second category includes companies that, faced with unresolved issues as early as the planning stage, bring in external help to manage their transformation. There are ideas here, but the required expertise that needs to be taken into consideration for the implementation has to come from outside the company. The third category includes those companies that get started, encounter unforeseen problems during the implementation of their projects and only then seek advice.

In two of these three scenarios, companies do not have the resources to cope with the challenges of digital transformation on their own. Involving a solution architect to look at the big picture of such a project from an outside perspective, can help overcome the challenges of transformation. In addition to the technical issues of building a suitable cloud-first architecture, some companies must first overcome internal obstacles. It is essential to bring together all the stakeholders in a transformation project to understand their reservations and sensitivities from the outset. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, as the saying goes – and it’s certainly true here. IT processes, as well as inter-departmental communication, must be taken into consideration so that all parties involved are ultimately committed to the joint project.

The four players in a transformation project

To successfully manage a transformation project without it faltering, different departments must cooperate. In addition to the specialist department wanting to move an application to the cloud, network architects and security officers also have to be brought on board. And if the decision-makers in a company have not previously implemented a cloud project, an external solution architect can help to provide insight into the technical implications. 

Solution architects not only possess the necessary expertise in digital transformation, but can also pool cross-departmental experience, allowing them to build the bigger picture of transformation initiatives. Building on their experience from countless similar projects, security architects can explain which tangible changes will affect the four key entities involved – client, network, security and WAN. For example, a company wants to introduce Office 365. The project is managed by the person responsible for the application. In most cases, however, this decision-maker will not be aware of the impact that moving the Office suite to the cloud will have on security and on the components used there, such as firewalls, IPS systems, inline security components and the entire network, due to completely new MPLS data traffic in the hub-and-spoke network.

A solution architect makes it clear to the entire team, from the head of the department to the CIO, that solidarity between all departments is vital and that what matters with a cloud strategy is the order in which the different departments start taking steps toward the cloud. Often, departments within a company will not communicate without the external advisor getting the ball rolling. Mediators are therefore needed, acting as intermediaries between the different forces and tendencies within the company. They can build the necessary bridges between innovators and sceptics based on their profound knowledge of technical requirements.

Cross-departmental communication without silos in the company

A solution architect can provide knowledge about the necessary steps in a transformation project. If all the parties involved have come to the table, then the analysis can begin with an examination of the current situation. The first question to ask is what the current status of the existing network and what are the known problems. It is not uncommon for the issue of disgruntled employees, latency, the connection of branch offices or the administrative costs of hardware to be raised. Building on this, the existing infrastructure will then be evaluated in a workshop with a solution architect.

It is only in the next step, once the evaluation is complete, that the solution architect will inquire about upcoming projects. What exactly should be introduced as part of a transformation strategy? Are you moving applications from the internal data centre to AWS or Azure? Will you be introducing Office 365? Are you migrating to Windows 10? Based on this, the process then moves on to the technical details of a solution workshop. The architect’s main task is to provide the benefit of their experience on the impact that introducing a cloud-based application will have on the overall security infrastructure, network and WAN. The lightbulb moment comes when current problems are compared with upcoming changes as the architect explains the variations in data volume and flows that a company will have in store as a result of a move to the cloud.

For example, it is not uncommon for the introduction of Office 365 to be accompanied by a 40 per cent increase in data volume, which puts a strain on the current infrastructure. It is also important to consider the number of TCP sessions that Word will open in the cloud in the future and the resulting impact on the firewall. By connecting the dots between the requirements of the cloud and the existing infrastructure, the architect removes the silo mentality that prevails in individual departments.

Once the big picture has been laid out in front of the assembled team, a cloud-first infrastructure can then be sketched out on the drawing board in a workshop. What are the ways and means available to the company, based on its specific network architecture? How can it embark on the journey to the cloud to ultimately profit from the agility and flexibility of the cloud? And how can it guarantee secure, high-performance access to its applications for employees?

Crucially, the solution architect must not play the part of a salesperson. His/her role is to impart knowledge and present the facts together with the circumstances. The realisation that a company needs to act must come from within, when the blinders have been removed from the individual departments.

Nils Ullmann, Solution Architect CEUR, Zscaler