Thoroughly Modern: Digital Transformation Is More Important Than Ever
April 15, 2020 Timothy Prickett Morgan
(Sponsored Content) There are very few things in life that don’t have some kind of distribution across behavior patterns. Some phenomena are driven by bell curves or inverted bell curves or some other kind of distribution – including random. And as such, we all know that the companies that comprise the IBM i base fall on different parts of the spectrum of behavior with regard to how up to date their systems and their applications are.
In normal markets, where some of the pressures are not so intense, it might not matter as much to have a modern system, software, and application stack, but in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and the stay at home orders implemented by states and nations around the world, it has become immediately obvious that applications need to be modern and agile – in a secure fashion – accessible through many devices and intuitive user interfaces.
But, as Nick Hampson, senior product manager of transformation, and Chris Koppe, vice president of client advisory services, of Fresche Solutions, discussed in a recent webinar, it is the very fact that companies have modernized applications – using new methods of creating new applications or extending existing ones – that is enabling them to be more flexible as business is changing rapidly during the pandemic.
“There are lots of people that are struggling,” explains Hampson. “There are some companies that are just so busy that they are trying to keep up with the demand. And, there are others that are pretty much going into hibernation at the moment, just trying to weather the storm. Digital transformation – and thinking about our ability to quickly adapt, how we enable ourselves to move faster with more agility and have the systems support that – has been brought into stark focus by the position we are all in today.”
It is not easy to transform an organization overnight to work from home. Many companies don’t have connectivity established for main systems creating challenges with everything from browser-based access to invoicing, creating and approving checks, running reports and generating electronic documents.
A lot of companies still use time sheets to keep track of workers, and generate lots of reports for managers to run aspects of their businesses. You have to allow for remote printing or remote access to these reports when no one can be in the office. People still do orders over the phone and in person, and it is not trivial to shift that to the Web in a heartbeat without changing a lot of other processes, often embodied in applications. So, anything that increases agility – the ability to change fast as conditions change – is going to make the business more resilient. Those who had adopted these agile development methods already are better able to cope with the changes, but that does not mean it is too late, now that the coronavirus pandemic is upon us, to start adding agility and resilience, through modern interfaces and programming tools, to IBM i applications today.
In fact, what Fresche is finding in the past several weeks is that there is a group of customers who are moving ahead more aggressively with modernization efforts not just because it is necessary for the business in the long term, but because it is necessary during the pandemic, not only if we get through it.
There are many things that make for a good digital transformation and application modernization project. And, they don’t have to cost millions and take years to do. While it helps to have buy in at the C-level as well as across other levels of employees in the organization, it is also important to experiment, and have a proper attitude about experimentation.
“When you try something, you do it as an experiment, not as something that will succeed or fail,” says Hampson. What distinguishes those digital organizations that excel is speed over perfection, data over intuition, talent over title. Having an impact so that everybody can see that you are actually able to do something and can make a difference. Looking at constant improvement, understanding you can be great at what you do as a company and as a person, but you should always be striving to be better. That obsession with the customer – if there’s one thing that drives digital transformation, it is the obsession with delivering the ultimate client experience. Build that strong relationship so that you’re sticky with the customer.
Innovation can come from anywhere in the company, we just need to give people the autonomy to be able to do the great things that will drive these new business models. Sharing information and creating transparency across the company can enable people to collaborate and work more effectively as a team.
Perhaps the most important thing to consider in a digital transformation and modernization effort is that not every application needs the exact same treatment.
“How many businesses are set up to do everything digital?” asks Koppe rhetorically. “That’s going to become really important going forward. We have human-intensive and face-to-face processes today, so how do we make those more digital while preserving the experience? If you have a field sales team that goes out and visits clients and looks at their needs, how do you still work very closely with that client, really understand their needs, live in their business, but be able to enable that remotely? So how do you change that? As IBM i professionals, we typically think of the technical drivers for modernization – we need interfaces, we need mobile access, we need better reporting and analytics. We need to think about AI and predictive analytics, a web service integration to enable new channels and new partner access.”
That integration, as it turns out, might be the vital element as we move forward. Allowing customers and partners to hook into platforms in an easy and dynamic and flexible manner could be a key differentiator between and among businesses – those who thrive in a difficult time, and those who do not survive.
The best time to start was 10 years ago. The second best time to start is right now.
For companies still struggling through some of the challenges that COVID-19 is bringing, Fresche announced temporary unlimited user licenses for its web enablement solution which can be used to give remote connectivity to IBM i-based applications. (We covered this in March, in detail here.) Fresche has also announced free temporary unlimited user licenses for its spool file modernization and distribution tools. This allows organizations to convert spool files to PDF, design form overlays and electronically distribute them.