The Return of the Digital

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As the world history repeats itself, we also see the technology repeating itself in various ways. I remember presenting an über cool, AJAX-based application development solution to customers back in 2006. I was telling how it was different to traditional web applications that it was just updating the fragments on the UI not reloading the whole page. One day in a customer demo, a veteran developer said “We had this in 80s in mainframe terminal screens and it wasn’t a big deal!” Well, it wouldn’t be a big deal for the web era as well, if HTTP was initially designed for running applications not just for document exchange but that’s another story (seriously, isn’t it surprising that young developers don’t question why there is such thing as JavaScript but start learning AngularJSstraight away?).

So, even the technology was repeating itself in this particular case, the difference was the other stuff going around in the IT world. I feel the same happening now with the term digital, or digitisation to be more specific. Digital is certainly not a new term. There was even a company called Digital back in 60s. The idea at that time was to bring the power of computers to business, offload the errands and calculations to CPUs and the term “digital” was in the same coolness level astime machineand lasersaber. However, as the business and the computers evolved more and more we found new ways to use technology and the worddigital become a bit of old-fashioned in the era of ERPs et al.

Now digitisation comes back to business, and still with the similar promise: better customer experience with better use of technology. Again, the difference is the context. We are now living in a world where Gartner’s Nexus of Forces (a.k.a.SMAC) became a reality. Mobile apps and social networks changed customers’ expectations and behaviours as did Internet and web applications back in 90s. Customers expect to see the same swiftness and creativity from big businesses as they get from their favourite social networks. This requires businesses to upgrade the way they serve their customers and embrace an entrepreneurial spirit so they can launch innovative services to delight their customers. This also requires their internal business processes (BAU) and decision making mechanisms to keep up with this new entrepreneurial spirit. You cannot delight your customers with a fancy mobile app if your loan approval process takes a week to complete, or your collections process is not flexible enough to honour your loyal customers. Businesses should continuously investigate the ways for enhanced and leaner BAU and exploit new technologies as necessary to be able to cope with nimble start-ups. This calls for a tech-savvy business and technology professionals with strong business and customer experience acumen.

It is worthwhile repeating that true digital transformation starts with the renovation of the business culture. I would even say it’s 60% culture and 40% technology based on no scientific facts.

Nevertheless, I tried to explain below how SMAC can boost digital transformation:

Mobile Applications and APIs

What can be greater for a business than to be everywhere at anytime. In 2000, I’ve attended a mobile conference in London where we spent three days discussing what could be achieved with mobile phones and their tiny screens and of course with WAP. Long story short, we achieved nothing. Only after the introduction of first iPhone things have taken a steep turn. Today users are doing stuff with their phones which have actual business value. Smart phones also triggered new application delivery and business models. Relatively small screens and users’ expectations led to simplified functionality backed by powerful backend systems. APIs became more than a technical term from 90s and evolved into business assets. APIs if managed strategically can turn your business into a platform where new businesses can be created upon. It’s now time for businesses to at least start experimenting with APIs and mobile applications, and look for the ways to unlock their data and become a citizen of the API economy.

Social Enterprise

No my friend, email will never die. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need better ways for interacting with co-workers and customers. Especially if we are keen on accelerating our internal processes, employing efficient communication channels is critical. We should have inter-company social networks not only where people chat and share cat photos but actually reach out to right people, right data and right tools. Knowledge sharing on these platforms should be endorsed and rewarded and social media in general must be considered as a serious business channel. Goes without saying, effective communications can only be achieved with the right organisation culture. If your employees are waiting more than 24 hours to get any type of response from their co-workers, or you block access to Twitter because you are scared that your employees can reveal company secrets in 140 characters, you might have more important issues to tackle on.

Cloud

Cloud can help businesses in becoming digital in various forms. Elasticity is an unprecedented technologic advantage came with the cloud and cloud can also bring that elasticity to business with the right strategy. It can provide the disposable infrastructure to test your next big idea, or help you with skipping tedious purchasing, operations and maintenance processes and become more agile. It can even do better and provide affordable SaaS to accelerate your business without the hassle of the on-premise software. In fact, the benefits and possibilities are so tempting, cloud is undeniably the future of IT delivery. However TANSTAAFL and cloud is no exception. It comes with its drawbacks such as data security, inevitable integration needs and risk of vendor lock. Businesses, if they are keen to stick around long, must work on their cloud strategy and contemplate reshaping their IT to avoid cloud pitfalls. Hint:Grabbing that old SOA for Dummies book off the bookshelf might help.

Big Data and Big Analytics

Big Data is a broad term and has different meanings to different people. To me, it’s about having the capabilities to process huge amounts of structured and unstructured data in an acceptable and affordable fashion so that the businesses can come up with innovative solutions utilising formerly unused data. This can be a solution taking immediate actions without human intervention based on customer behaviour analytics, or the data itself opened to partners for collaborative solutions. From the technology perspective, big data spans a number of technologies such as in-memory databases, analytics tools, complex event processing, and even NoSQL as it has fundamentally reshaped the way we tackle data. All said and done, I believe the star tech of Big Data is Map/Reduceas it turned the most complicated analytic problems into issues that can be solved by throwing tens of commodity servers on to them.

Although these days SMAC is keeping the stage busy, there are some familiar faces which have been around for a while and will be even more critical for successful digital transformation. I am well aware there are tens of others but below are the most prominent ones for me:

Business Process & Case Management

Digitisation begins with accepting your BAU can do even better. In every business, there are processes depending on manual interventions, manual data input and manual controls due to disconnected systems, or systems which cannot cope with the speed of business. Business process management can help with automation of these processes and integration of the systems. Case Management can even go further and give the initiative to your employees while still enhancing BAU with process automation. It is up to businesses to use these capabilities wisely. First step is to re-visit internal processes and investigate the ways to uplift them from a better customer experience, efficiency and effectiveness perspective. Each business at some point ends up with a soup of systems with overlapping capabilities and with overcomplicated, faulty ways of working habits developed over the years. It is the time to start the transformation with process excellence and make it digital with BPM and Case Management.

Enterprise Architecture

No strategy will do any good unless planned and executed properly. First off, you will need inputs from across the organisation to feed your strategy. You will also need to understand the impacts at different levels and estimate the effort required for change. Then you will need to make sure your strategic plan is constructed with the right scope and the governance metrics are defined correctly to measure the performance of the implementation. A good Enterprise Architecture is a great tool for strategic management as it reveals the interdependencies between strategy, management, operations and technology. It also links static artefacts to dynamic components and the current state to future state. EA is a must for defining and implementing digital transformation. It can help you to pinpoint and prioritise the areas where digitisation can have the largest impact. It can also help you with planning and scoping the change. With EA, you can define improvement chains starting from customer facing applications and services, going down to operational processes, and then to systems.

Although many are still not too clear on what digitisation exactly means, it is poised to be the next big thing in business and technology. We will read more articles and blog posts like this one on digitisation and see vendors come up with (or just re-package) products for successful digital transformation. Digital has its charms as well as pitfalls, in any case, it is going to be exciting times and the change will be phenomenal.




Implementing Disruptive Technologies: 8 Lessons Learned from SOA

It is true that SOA has lost a lot of its steam now and the craze of SOA has been overtaken by the charms of new disruptive digital forces namely cloud, big data, social business and mobility. As with every emerging technology climbing up to the peak of the hype cycle, those digital forces are fully loaded with promises and expectations but it is only a matter of time that they will crash into the harsh wall of reality. This story is not new, and has also shown itself in the “SOA is the savior” era. The goal of this blog is to remember that story once again and come up with a list of lessons learned, which might hopefully guide architects and implementers of the new digital forces.

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Monitoring SOA Critical Success Factors

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Apart from tracking dependencies between SOA elements and managing the service life cycle, one of the indispensable tasks of SOA Governance is to control and manage SOA success. Successful implementation of a service architecture can be measured via certain indicators, also known as the Critical Success Factors (CSF). Every SOA adoption initiative should incorporate a step, ideally right before the architecture blueprinting phase, where unique success factors regarding the adoption are defined. This step should also outline the tools and techniques to be used in monitoring the success factors and together they should form the CSF Specification. CSF Specification could also be refined and improved throughout the adoption process to conform with common Enterprise Architecture(EA) practices.

Below, you can see a list of generic SOA CSF, with hints on how they can be monitored with SOA Governance:
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A Comprehensive Introduction to Everything SOA

I have started this blog in 2007 and tried to explain the bits and pieces of SOA with my every post since then. It has also been an amazing experience for me to see how SOA refined itself in time and became an acknowledged supporter of business and IT innovation. Surely, a lot of emerging technologies showed up since 2007, each promising better business and new opportunities, SOA always remained as the enabling force of business and IT alignment. Latest example being Gartner’s Nexus of Forces and the need for a more open and proactive IT.

Below presentation is my attempt to create a pile of information on the most important concepts around SOA for the avid SOA learner.