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What’s the reality of making the journey to becoming a digitally transformed organisation?

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy)

Today, there are few organisations that have not embarked on some form of digital transformation involving the adoption of DevOps, cloud-native solutions, and modern software technologies.

New Relic recently conducted a global survey of 750 organisations to hear about their respective journeys and lessons that can be learned along the way. The study showed that there is no simple, straightforward path to this new destination, but there was optimism associated with the results.

The good and bad of transformation journeys

Taking a birds-eye view of where organisations are globally in their digital transformation journey, the overall perspective seems very positive. Our study suggests more than a third (39 per cent) have completed their digital transformation projects. The satisfaction level for these companies is extremely high, with 91 per cent saying the results met or exceeded their expectations.

Interestingly however, the study revealed that there are underlying tensions that work against the smooth progress of digital transformation initiatives, with one in two technology leaders saying they are challenged in managing and monitoring their digitally transformed business.

Major challenges along the way

The top ranked factor that makes digital transformation difficult is that no organisation is homogenous and different parts of the organisation move at varying levels of speed and agility. This, plus the shortage of skilled employees (ranked second), ahead of budget restrictions, are considered as the leading causes of complication and delay in digital transformation programmes.

Even after having overcome these challenges and becoming a digitally transformed business, there is still a lot more to be done for technology leaders and their teams.

Not only are organisations reporting the difficulties of managing new software and infrastructure, most teams (63 per cent) say they are having to work longer hours to observe and oversee software performance correctly. The root cause of this might also be the lack of visibility that many teams are reporting, the scale of which is quite striking when high numbers (48 per cent) admitted that their end users or customers tell them about a problem with digital apps before they know about it. For many (46 per cent), the pressure is compounded by how they are told about these issues before they know how to fix them.

These hurdles are combined with the increasing expectations that the rest of the business has for how the new systems and the adoption of DevOps should exceed the performance of what has been replaced. Most respondents (79 per cent) agree that the rest of the business has higher hopes in how digital systems perform; and expect the technology team to deliver more and more innovations and updates (72 per cent).

Digital transformation is a c-level imperative

So, the success of digital transformation is raising the stakes for development and operations teams - exposing them to more accountability from the C-suite within their organisations. 46 per cent of technology teams told us that C-suite executives want daily updates about how software systems are performing for staff and customers. When there is an outage or another performance problem, 40 per cent of CEOs expect to get more detailed answers about what has happened.

Through conversations with forward-thinking technology teams, executives understand the answer has to lie in improved alignment of the organisation’s overall objectives, as well as clearer demonstration and explanation of digital transformation’s potential business benefits. While they are attempting this, it is a struggle to find a common language between technology and business teams and leaders. Notably, one in three report that they are challenged on identifying commercial advantage metrics for their digital transformation projects.

The experience of running digitally transformed organisations suggests there must be sharper end to end visibility of software and infrastructure performance. There are rich volumes of data to enable teams to predict and fix problems rapidly. Yet, the rapid rate at which machine generated data is being delivered appears like a root cause of how teams struggle to manage modern software today. More than half (56 per cent) of all respondents acknowledged that it is humanly impossible to properly assess this information. Notably, the larger organisations agree more strongly that this is a problem - 58 per cent of respondents from businesses of 3,000 to 4,999 employees and 55 per cent of those with more than 5,000 staff.

So, where does the solution lie?

Firstly, there is a tremendous determination and pride within the DevOps teams and technology leaders we talk to. They are highly focused on resolving challenging problems and exploiting the opportunities made available from embracing modern software and infrastructures. This drive can be facilitated when there is a more unified and meaningful end-to-end observability of new systems and processes.

Secondly, for teams that are stretched and under pressure, there is optimism that with the right tools they can improve their productivity and find a common language with the rest of the business. Indeed, in looking to the future, it is striking how many (84 per cent) welcome AI and machine learning as a means of simplifying the way in which digital systems will be run.

No organisation should be ashamed that their technology journey doesn’t always live up to the hype and can be decidedly bumpy. The point is that despite the undeniable benefits, digital transformation, cloud migration, and the shift to modern software practices can be surprisingly complex and tricky in a world of constant change and finite resources.

Andy Lawson, EVP & GM - EMEA, New Relic