Organizations around the world have rushed to digitize in the last few months, with varying challenges and degrees of success. What lessons can we draw from this unplanned acceleration of digital agendas? People Matters asked Jason Brouwers, Head of APAC, Japan, and China for World Wide Technology, for his take on the kind of challenges organizations face as they digitize and how they can avoid the more major pitfalls. Here are the highlights of what he shared.
What's your view of the current acceleration of the digital agenda?
I think companies do feel compelled to digitize right now, and there are two opposing factors at play. One is the urgency around COVID, and the other is long-term business plans—where they want to take the company and what solutions they want to present to their customers in the future. Digitization really challenges everyone in that respect, forcing them to balance the now and the future.
In your experience, what do organizations commonly overlook in their initial rush to digitize?
Many organizations started out thinking that they could get everything done in a remote environment, but later realized that the most important thing they have to adapt and make more robust is security. Because without that properly secured environment, they are putting their profitability at risk.
Most companies—not all, but a lot—are still thinking of security as perimeter security, which is about stopping external attacks from getting into your environment. But really, security is about being secure everywhere. It's about things that are already inside your network, and that includes people bringing in insecure devices or performing actions that expose the network to the outside.
Besides security, what other challenges have you seen organizations encountering as they digitize?
Sometimes, their existing solutions don't work well in the current environment. Many organizations tend to digitize in a way that replicates exactly what they were doing physically, and it doesn't tend to work that well.
There's a disconnect between the traditional procedures that they might have followed in the physical environment and how that would work in the new world. An obvious example is the protocol around video meetings and simple things like when to have your video on and off, or even how to look at the camera.
Another issue is with their setup. Sometimes, we get on calls with our customers and the video or the audio is very poor. And that's not because of the connection: it's the way their network is set up. They might not have a proper hub where they are; they might be trying to drive it out of a hub in the US or the UK, and that creates issues.
And we have also seen cases where an organization's capacity is based on a traditional MPLS environment (an older, widely-used network protocol that is considered reliable but with bandwidth constraints and lack of security) and they are unable to take advantage of service providers that could offer better data and bandwidth. In fact, we have had a lot of conversations with our customers around changing to SD-WAN (a newer network protocol that is more flexible and secure), so that they need not be locked in to one provider and one type of service.
How can they avoid these problems?
Testing is a key part of it. You build a plan, you work out what you want to digitize, and then, before you take it live, you absolutely have to test it, both in a test environment and in a real environment. So for example, we have an Advanced Testing Center that we can use to replicate a customer's environment, to identify the points where their network is not ready or does not have sufficient security, where it does not have the capacity to handle the load.
With testing, it's also possible to trial various different vendor solutions and see how these work singly or together, without having to actually spend money on these in the real environment. That saves a lot of risk and time, and allows problems to be remediated before they ever come up. This is critical for certain organizations. Take large financial institutions with a trading environment—they have to be highly secure, and they also have to be high speed, and there cannot be hiccups during the actual operations.
What about those companies that need to completely overhaul their legacy systems? What challenges are they looking at?
We estimate as many as 50 percent of large established enterprises will need a complete overhaul of their DC environment to reach their digitization objectives. These organizations will have a much steeper time and cost curve to adopt than newer organizations, and the percentage will vary widely.
The factors will vary depending on the life cycle of physical and software assets, the age and generation of equipment, efficiency of power and cooling, and operational cost. Advances in environmental efficiency and performance, flexibility and high scalability will also be considerations for the transition from on-premise control to cloud.
But it's not all bad. Sometimes, this overhaul could be the making of a company, because it gives them the opportunity to change the way they do business.
What are some points organizations should consider as they digitize?
Firstly, it's important to consider why you are digitizing, and whether it will create less friction and be more profitable. Will it allow you to bypass the competition?
Also, when you're implementing a digital solution, you have to make sure that it's very customer-centric. You have to ask, what are you trying to achieve with your customers? Both your external customers or your internal customers—your staff?
Sometimes our customers tell us that even though they want to digitize and adopt a new solution, they also want to reduce costs.
But even though you want to be cost-conscious, you also need to look at the future value of what you're implementing. You need to consider how much your current platform will cost you to maintain or rebuild in the future, and the time and competitive advantage you will lose.
It's important to reduce costs in the here and now, we all understand that. But it's also important to ensure that you are not walking away from a future advantage.