Enterprises must embrace cloud, big data, mobility and smart machines. This has been the maxim of the technology industry for some time, all bundled under the idea of embracing digital services and models over traditional IT infrastructure and practices.
We all know the story: cloud allows IT to go beyond keeping the lights on. It cuts costs and allows agile development.
And big data? Well, that’s all over the place and ripe to take business intelligence to a level where it is integrated into an enterprise’s operations rather than run in parallel.
Mobility allows flexible working, and the growth of smart machines foreshadows a world where the Internet of Things (IoT) is simply replaced by things, all of which are connected and smart.
The messages being banded around by IT firms about the advantages of tapping into these technology trends are well on the way to being realised.
Using digital services is an unavoidable part of IT, and I have said before that making use of cutting-edge technology can save organisations like the NHS from the rigours of budget cuts.
But it is not enough. Not by a long way. Digital transformation is now the topic du jour, and an area that V3 is particularly pursuing. Yet the term means different things to different tech bosses. Some see it as the route to IT efficiency, others as a way to dramatically rework their business.
I am fully behind the latter, as the former is simply IT evolution as opposed to true transformation.
Going ‘digital by default’, as the government likes to put it, must be done with the approach that added efficiency is part of it, not its core motivation.
Digital transformation needs to completely change a company’s approach to business operations as well free up its IT team to work on innovative projects as opposed to fixing faulty softphones.
Take Netflix as an example. The company started out posting rental DVDs to customers. The use of the cloud has allowed the business to operate at a global scale and become a streaming service.
The disruption it caused killed off companies like Blockbuster and helped stymie video piracy to some extent. It also led to the creation of exclusive programmes normally reserved for traditional broadcasters.
Closer to home, Peterborough City Council has changed its approach to IT to reduce the amount of time the tech team needs to spend on fixing laptops and rolling out hardware, allowing them to work with departments to implement online services that can effectively reshape how the council provides services and information to its citizens.
This is the approach to digital transformation I want to see and hear more about, where cloud acts as a open development and data-sharing portal and not just a platform for back-office systems.
I also want to see more digital technology added to the physical world of business. We all hear about the potential for the IoT to revolutionise retail, but other than The Dandy Lab’s very neat way of using a network of smart devices and systems, my clothes shopping experience has not evolved in over a decade, although my tastes have somewhat.
Why can’t we see more of this potential realised in the here and now? We have the technology so let's use it in more innovative ways.
I want to walk up London’s Regent Street with a shopping app on my phone and have it recommend various outfits based on what’s available in the shops, the weather forecast for the season, my spending habits, current weight and general sartorial tastes.
All this data could be provided by connected near-field communication tags on clothes, social media listening tools, health data from tracking apps and wearables, weather data from the Met Office, images from CCTV, and open data from various organisations.
There are obviously regulations problems that would need to be addressed in creating such a platform, but it would result in using technology in a way that transforms a shopping experience into one that benefits the customer and the retailer in a seamless way.
The government is championing digital transformation, and I think it's an excellent approach to take dated and inefficient services and update them to the standards we expect in the 21st century.
But why not take that further? Let’s have digital technology used directly in Parliament. Listen to Prime Minister’s Question Time or other debates in the House of Commons and you will hear politicians making seemingly ironclad arguments based on 'clear' figures, only to have another debunk them with data from a different watchdog or more up-to-date information.
My solution to the headache of being blindsided by politicians with data that's difficult to digest is to provide everyone in Parliament with a tablet equipped with real-time data collecting and analytics software. This would force MPs to base their claims of improved social care or successful efficiency initiatives on real-time data aggregated from a wide range of independent and approved sources.
Such an approach would deliver transparency for all concerned, start debates fuelled by data rather than personal agendas, hold politicians to account in real time, and lead to policy proposals that actually work for the greater good rather than trying to persuade us that we’re ‘all in it together’.
This digital transformation could change the face of politics and oblige MPs to serve the people and not just their party.
Digital transformation is here and happening, but the enterprise technology world needs to ensure that it is given the chance to realise its full potential. Otherwise it will go the way of 3D TV, tamagotchis and instant mash.
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