Technology is the tool of digital transformation, not the outcome: OnX event

Migrating to a multi-cloud environment that allows for agile method and DevOps approaches is difficult enough from a technology point of view, but it’s the business challenges of managing people at risk that pose the real barriers, shared attendees at a Toronto event hosted by OnX.

As intangibles economy all-stars Uber, AirBnB, and Spotify have proven in recent years, a winning business model is no longer about manufacturing physical products and holding key assets. It’s about using data to harvest insights and facilitate a consumer-pleasing experience. As Chris Jackson, vice-president of services sales at OnX puts it, it’s not about Earth-shattering technology, it’s about a smart application of it.

With Uber or Airbnb, “Someone had the smarts to figure out there’s a gap in the market,” Jackson said. “There is an opportunity where technology assets are unrealized. They saw an arbitrage opportunity.”

For firms that aren’t already Silicon Valley-based startups designing their services with digital technology as the key component, striving to achieve a piece of that opportunity is a challenge. It requires the right applications, access to the right platforms, and adept execution of the best processes.

An IT overhaul to a multi-cloud environment isn’t easy. Applications have to be managed with a container orchestration platform, which isolates them from the operating environment and allows them to be more portable. A DevOps approach to pursue iterative improvements requires a standard approach, but that’s not always easy to define.

As an employee at a bank shared with the room, an organization may build its DevOps model based on the processes that work well with Microsoft Azure’s environment, then find those don’t adapt well when they start dabbling in Amazon Web Services environment. This poses a difficulty as more organizations are pursuing a multi-cloud strategy, often some combination of their own data centres with various public cloud providers or regions to call upon.

As an IDC survey sponsored by CBTS found in a U.S. based survey of 50 enterprise IT leaders that are actively trying to modernize infrastructure, only 38 per cent of respondents had managed to deploy a DevOps methodology across their entire application and infrastructure environment. Another 40 per cent were in a testing or piloting phase with some applications, and another 20 per cent were either planning to adopt in the future, or not adopt it at all.

To avoid running into problems with vendor-based processes, use APIs of your own design, or open source APIs, advised panellist Suman Jillella, vice-president of engineering and technology at OnX. Otherwise, you may find options limited. For example, if you don’t have control of the API you’ve built your services around, you can’t expose it to partners or customers.

“This can be a huge challenge. Technology always changes, how do we tie it together and keep the customer focus?” he said. “With a partner model, it’s a shared burden and you’re not assuming the overall risk.”

Another attendee, from a marketing services firm, pointed out that many companies feel they don’t have the right talent to put the necessary technology in place for a digital transformation. They may often choose to hire a services provider to build that out for them, but then find themselves busy working just to keep the lights on.

According to the IDG survey, 48 per cent of respondents felt they could use more help in implementing DevOps and agile method. Another 46 per cent felt they needed more help refactoring applications for cloud deployment; and the same amount wanted more help rebuilding applications in the cloud.

“The fundamental problem that companies have is retaining their top talent and keeping them engaged long term,” said panellist Neil Bhattacharya, chief technology officer of digital and innovation at Ernst & Young (EY). He points to the case of one small manufacturer that hired University of Waterloo graduates to build disruptive technology for them. After 12 months, they were all off to Silicon Valley to work for startups. “Who’s going to maintain that technology now?”

Bringing young people in that have new ideas about using technology to change business models is important, panellists agreed. Rather than trying to compete purely on pay, think about factors like company culture, the access to technology provided, and have a clear mission statement.

“It’s about cause and purpose,” Bhattacharya said. “Those factors are really dominating where millennials are going.”

The event was produced by ITWC with CIO Jim Love serving as panel moderator.

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Former editorial director of IT World Canada. Current research director at Info-Tech

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