Laying the groundwork for your digital transformation

By Sjoerd Alkema

Every organization I encounter is going through it in one way or another: digital transformation. Of course, this is a bit of a catch-all phrase that could apply to almost everything and anything that organizations are doing in the digital space. So, it would be useful to define what we mean.

The definition that works for me is the following: digital transformation is technology and digitalization induced change that is needed for organizations to remain competitive. The important point here is that we’re talking about change caused by technology, not the other way around.

Having come across many of these organizations in transition, I began to notice a pattern. There is a fundamental effort required to make this change happen: the rationalization and consolidation of applications, content and data. This is what I want to explore in this article.

My expertise lies in the migration and manipulation of content and data, so I shall focus on that aspect of the rationalization and consolidation process, which is in any case a large part of it. I will explain why data rationalization is necessary right now, the type of problems we encounter and resolve, followed by an outline of a possible approach, some examples, and of course an outline of how this will benefit you and your organization.

Silos are holding back innovation

One of the main arguments for digital transformation (and also one of the main challenges that it poses) is the existence of data and content silos. Organizations are losing a lot of value and efficiency through a lack of consistency. Disparate and disconnected systems hamper growth and massively affect an organization’s operational efficiency.

Some examples: AI and machine learning capabilities are quite well productized and can be used to generate insights that will help organizations make better decisions, give them a competitive advantage, cut costs and so on. To achieve this, you need to integrate your data and content landscape.

Link your systems of engagement to the archiving and process systems in your backend, giving the customer the digital experience he or she is expecting. But crucially, the fewer repositories you have, the better, so first things first: consolidate.

Legacy applications are hurting efficiency

The ease of SaaS, the acceleration of technological change, full adoption of cloud – these are all reasons why legacy is being created faster and faster. To take full advantage of all the opportunities created by these developing technologies as part of your digital transformation, it is time to get rid of your legacy.

Not as easily said as done but make it part of your digital transformation roadmap and you will be ready to take full advantage of the latest and greatest technologies going forward. And if you are moving to a different platform, then please go to the cloud. That is where the magic happens.

No agile application infrastructure

You need to be agile to remain competitive. You need to compete with digital and cloud-native rivals. You need to be able to quickly change your processes, ways of working, and the applications that you use. Technology is changing rapidly, and user needs and expectations change even faster.

When your organization has been around for a while, then consolidation and rationalization are what I regard as fundamental groundwork to that digital transformation. This is not a one-off; it is about setting up a continuous process and structure to allow for change when needed.

High costs of legacy, silos and duplicate apps

Having too many repositories and applications is a costly business. Maintaining old infrastructures costs money, as do expensive maintenance services, inefficient employees working in different applications to perform the same task, not collaborating effectively.

There are also costs around the risk of losing data or running into compliancy issues such as not being able to have the latest security updates on you servers, because of old technology. Freeing up some of these costs through consolidation and rationalization, lowering your running costs, allows you to reinvest in new technologies that will drive your business forward. 

Applicability of content

Delivering the right content in your business processes to the right person at the right time and within the right context is crucial if you want to maximize the efficiency of your organization. Imagine, no more endless searches: what you need is right there when you start up a process. Not only that, you can rely on it being the right version.

What organizations need to do to get there (and stay there) is keep their repositories clean and have the right contextual information with the content. The apps you use need this context to deliver you the right content. Therefore, when you are rationalizing and consolidating, regard this as an opportunity to improve the content. Move and improve.

Get the true value out of your most important asset: information

All of the above can be summarized in one goal: to be lean, agile and connected to squeeze the most value out of the asset that is the most valuable for a lot of organizations: information. So how do you set about achieving this? You consolidate, rationalize and integrate.

How to approach this

You cannot build your organization and digital transformation program on silos and a distorted application landscape. The fundamental action you need to take first is consolidate and rationalize your IT landscape before you can connect and integrate. But how? Here are some thoughts on that.

Think of consolidation and rationalization as two separate programs. Although they might overlap when there is a repository and application one-to-one that can be consolidated, there is value in splitting it up to get results sooner.

Start setting up the consolidation program by making an inventory of applications and repositories with foundational functionality. Examples are: document management, records management, CRM, project management, collaboration, HR and so on.  

See what overlap you have on these foundational groups. From my experience, this is mostly the low-hanging fruit. As an example, you have two departments, which previously had their own IT budget, using different systems for document management. Consolidate this.

Build business cases for each project in the program. Get alignment and budget by defining business cases for each consolidation. Most of the time this is quite straightforward and potential ROI can be easily gauged with savings in licenses, maintenance, infrastructure, and cost of risk of losing data and compliancy issues.

Set up an application rationalization program. This also starts with creating an inventory but is focused on business processes and end-user functionality, rather than foundational functionality. There may be overlap with consolidation but setting this up separately provides the right focus.

Final thoughts

Having done many content migration and improvements projects, I found a pattern. Each and every time, the solution and value that was delivered paved the way for the digital transformation of our client. A great many projects that involve moving and improving content are part of consolidation or applications rationalization programs. Due to the technology changing ever more rapidly, such programs are no longer one-offs, but a key competency that is needed continuously for organizations to remain competitive.

Sjoerd Alkema is director of Content Services at Xillio, a specialist in content migration and integration software.