July 3, 2013

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Optimizing the Old to Enable the New

Rather than immediately joining the rush to invest in emerging technologies, smart companies will stop and assess how their existing systems can help them ride the new-technology wave.

There's no question we're entering a brave new corporate world, in which customer experience will be the only differentiator between which enterprise succeeds and which fails — no matter the size of the company, the industry it operates in, or the market it sells to. Customers will have greater power than ever before, and they won't hesitate to assert it.

That customer power will be the driving force behind a digital revolution, one in which mobility, social media, big data, and cloud computing converge to anticipate and meet customer needs in a hyperconnected and personal way. The customerdriven digitization of the economy will generate information at far greater levels of personalization, across a wider variety of activities, and around more customer touch points than ever before. Social networks, mobile check-ins, engagement apps, online and offline sales transactions, customer support interactions — the entire customer experience, from brand awareness to after-market upselling, will be digital, creating an unprecedented volume of new data.

It's no wonder that businesses will be inclined to jump headfirst into emerging technology initiatives that promise to help them take advantage of this new information and prepare for the customer-driven future. But companies making such moves risk falling flat on their faces rather than gaining a head start. Smart companies will take a different approach, looking back before leaping ahead to ensure that their existing infrastructure is optimized to exploit the new technologies. Transformation will not take place by implementing the latest analytics software or social media platform. That's a fairy tale. Real transformation will not take place in a vacuum; it will be built on existing systems. Those systems will have to provide a foundation that ensures cost-effective operation and can accommodate and enable speed, agility, and scale. No matter how forward-looking the IT industry is, it cannot afford to ignore the past.

At the most basic level, optimizing your IT infrastructure will generate savings and unlock value that can be redirected toward new technology initiatives and innovation. A major obstacle for a company trying to transform itself into a customer-centric organization is flat or reduced technology budgets. By optimizing its current operations, the average company should be able to cut its infrastructure budget significantly, freeing up funds for the new initiatives.

One characteristic of an optimized IT infrastructure is its alignment with business processes. Such alignment will, among other benefits, increase a company's speed to market. A retail chain that wants to open ten stores in a quarter might face a nine-month wait in terms of IT planning and readiness. With a more flexible infrastructure, it will be able to get there in three months or less. An optimized infrastructure will also enable enterprise IT to scale vertically and horizontally depending on demand, making it a better foundation for the new customer-centric technologies that will drive corporate competitiveness in the future. There's no CEO in the world who isn't demanding that IT address big data analytics. Everyone is excited about in-memory processing. But the potential benefits won't be realized if a robust infrastructure isn't in place that can be ramped up or down at will.

In the coming years, companies will be able to detect changing customer needs in near real time, interact with customers consistently, and change product offerings on the basis of this feedback. Cloud computing, mobility, and big data will present IT organizations with new options for rapidly deploying and scaling online applications and business services. What will separate the corporate winners from the losers will not be whether they're big or small but whether they're fast or slow.

But first, the savviest IT organizations will pause and take the time to look back, rethink their existing infrastructure, and rebuild it for the customer-driven future.