What is the 'digital dragon', and can your business tame it?

Taming the Digital Dragon
Businesses can't afford to fall behind the digital evolution

The business landscape is undergoing a drastic transformation as more and more of a company's everyday functionality is replaced by digital alternatives.

This counts for internal processes as well as customer interaction, leaving businesses with no choice but to embrace the evolution and tame the 'digital dragon'.

So how can your organisation stay on top of the changes? We spoke to Darren Ratcliffe, Business Head of cloud firm Canopy, to find out.

TechRadar Pro: What is a digital business?

Darren Ratcliffe: There's a huge shift to digital business under way which fundamentally changes how business is done: a digital business is one which fundamentally interacts with its customers, employees or partners through digital rather than physical means.

Just think about your own personal experience: when was the last time you physically walked into your bank to perform a transaction?

Most people these days find it much more convenient to do their banking using web or mobile applications at a time and location that suits them.

Your interactions and transactions with your bank are essentially digital rather than physical in nature. Just think about the implications of that for a moment: if your interactions with your bank are now largely digital, how does that change the way your bank has to deal with you? How can they ensure you have a great customer experience? How can they drive customer loyalty?

TRP: What effect will digital have on your business?

DR: From CEOs to CMOs, to the appointment of emerging roles such Chief Digital Officer and Chief Experience Officer, organisations around the world are recognising that to maintain or attain a leadership position in their respective markets they need to reinvent themselves as digital businesses so they can deliver superior customer experiences and drive competitive advantage.

Enterprises are going to have to shift from where IT was really just about automating undifferentiated back-office functions to using IT as the fundamental product of what they do.

TRP: What is this so-called "digital dragon"?

DR: The digital dragon is the name given by Gartner to the radical digital disruption that all industries in all geographies are undergoing — it is a potentially very powerful force if tamed but could be very destructive if not.

To tame the digital dragon organisations need to harness the power of big data, mobile and social applications delivered in the cloud. In short, they need to excel at developing and delivering great software that offers superior digital experiences to their customers, and do that sustainably faster than their competitors.

TRP: What does the digital business of the future look like?

DR: The leading firms of the future will be adaptive digital enterprises. To attain and retain a leadership position in their respective markets, it won't be enough just to go digital: the leaders will be those organisations who can most quickly draw insights from high volumes, variety and velocity of structured and unstructured data and act on those insights to develop and deliver superior software experiences to customers consistently faster than their competitors.

TRP: What does the IT foundation for a digital business involve?

DR: The IT industry has recognised that the needs of a digital business can't be fully met with legacy approaches to IT and is in the midst of moving to a fundamentally new approach.

You may have heard analysts talk about the ""3rd platform" (IDC) or a "Nexus of Forces" (Gartner), these terms are a shorthand for some of the key requirements for the next generation of IT which recognises that digital businesses need to analyse and draw insights from huge amounts of data of varying types and in realtime; it recognises the importance of social networking and the growing preference for anytime anywhere access to mobile applications.

Above all, digital businesses are all about the development and delivery of rich applications which harness the power of big data/analytics, mobile and social delivered in the cloud.

TRP: What is the role of the cloud for digital business?

DR: Cloud is the underlying platform on which digital businesses deliver data-rich and innovative experiences to their customers.

It's important to recognise that a single type of cloud or cloud provider will not be suitable for all applications, use cases and workloads that you might want to run: the IT department therefore needs to become a cloud service broker so they can flexibly deploy and manage applications to a number of cloud service providers, while keeping a single point of contracting, management, billing and support — and avoiding cloud vendor lock-in.

TRP: How should you get started building a cloud platform for your digital business?

DR: I'd break it down into three steps.

  1. Cloud-enable existing applications: there's a common misconception that you'll need to start again from scratch when you go digital. Following that approach would mean that you write off the investment in your existing applications, and delay your time to market compared to your competitors. Our recommendation would be to review your existing application landscape, identify the applications that are still relevant to your digital strategy, and rather than rewrite them look for ways to "cloudify"" them.
  2. Accelerate development of cloud-native applications: re-evaluate the way that you develop software, consider moving to agile development and DevOps approaches supported by a Platform as a Service toolset that enables you to develop and deliver applications faster and in a cloud-agnostic way.
  3. Maximise business value of data: look for ways to get every ounce of value out of the data that your organisation stores, regardless of type or size. Big data and analytics tooling should be a key part of your cloud platform for digital business, but don't stop at manual/interactive analysis — look for ways to codify the insights you gain into your software applications so that you can improve customer experience.