‘Digital’ is probably the most talked about and yet the most misinterpreted buzzword in the IT industry today. We constantly hear about digital enterprise, digital disruption, digital strategy, digital transformation, and of course, ‘digital India’. But what exactly is a digital enterprise? And is there a silver bullet for this much-coveted, much-debated, and much-misunderstood beast? In simplest terms, a digital enterprise is one that is driven by technology and data. It is not just the extensive use of technology and data, but having them as ‘drivers’ that qualify a company as a digital enterprise. For instance, e-commerce ﬁrms such as Flipkart, Amazon, and BigBasket or aggregators such as Uber and Oyo are establishing themselves as digital enterprises.
What is a digital enterprise?
With all the noise around digitalization, one can be forgiven for thinking that if a company adopts new-age technologies such as SMAC (Social, Mobile, Analytics, and Cloud), IoT, or automation, it will become digital. But the answer is much more complex.
The world of technology is changing at breakneck pace today. None of the technologies remain at the forefront for long. Also, the innovative models are changing the business landscape at an equal pace. In such a ﬂuid environment, there cannot be a single or simple answer that would 100% ﬁt the changing requirements of the businesses.
While SMAC, IoT, and automation are important building blocks for any future-looking technology solution, they are not the deﬁnitive or exhaustive answer to the problems at hand.
To ﬁnd the correct answer, we have to take a step back. The deﬁnition says ‘technology and data as drivers’, and that gives us important clues as to how an enterprise can ﬁnd the right path to become a digital enterprise.
First, the enterprise must consider technology as the ﬁrst and preferred mode of achieving a goal. Second, all decision-making must be assisted by data. And finally, everyone in the company must use these two tools for their respective and collective activities and goals.
So, this is not as simple as implementing a technology or setting up data warehouses. Unless these two means are not effectively utilized, it would still not be a digital enterprise.
Role of IT in the Digital Journey
IT can play a pivotal role in digitalization by proactively mapping the business goals with available and upcoming technologies, acquiring new skills, and adopting relevant technologies. IT must also assist businesses in understanding the impact of new technology trends and help them in the adoption process.
The ﬁrst step in the digital journey is to understand the business vision and business strategy – understand where the business wants to be, and what it wants to achieve in the next 5-10 years. This can be different for different companies in the same industry. For example, two competing banks may have the similar vision of expanding their customer base. However, one bank’s business strategy may be to create innovative products to capture market share while the other bank might focus on improving customer service for the same purpose.
Once the business vision and business strategy are understood, the second step is to brainstorm and create a list of ways on how to achieve that vision. The ideas can be purely technical, purely business, or a mix of both. The purpose is to identify as many ways as possible to achieve the organizational goals. For example, if the company’s direction is to reduce upfront costs and move to an OpEx model, Cloud adoption would be a clear option. But if that conﬂicts with the data security or integrity requirement of the business, this may not look feasible. Nonetheless, all the ideas must be kept in the pipeline for further evaluation.
The third step is to validate these ideas individually or sometimes in conjunction with each other. This process should rely heavily on data. Later, the ideas can be shortlisted based upon feasibility, impact, and cost-beneﬁt analysis.
The last step is to map the chosen ideas with available technologies and skills. This is where we identify the technology stack required to execute a business strategy and assess skills to implement the same. It is possible to ﬁnd signiﬁcant gaps, which can lead to the development of new technologies or abandonment of the idea altogether.
Based upon their relative strengths and weaknesses, one company may choose a PaaS-based DevOps environment to enable agile development and quick time-to-market. Another company may choose a public Cloud and SaaS-based approach, while a third company might ﬁnd signiﬁcant skill/investment gaps and decide to go with a traditional model only for the time being.
If all these steps are carried out diligently, the actual implementation is just a matter of time and perseverance.
However, there are two critical aspects, which we cannot be forgotten in this process. The ﬁrst is the continuity of this process. As we said above, both the business and technology environments are changing very fast. Continuous review of business strategies and agility is required in implementing them.
The second aspect is that this whole process has people at its core. No matter how advanced and innovative technical solution you build, it will not be successful unless its creators and users stand by it. Hence, the most important ingredient in the digital enterprise is its people and culture.