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Choosing your Battles in an Era of Digital Transformation

December 10, 2018 - 5 min read

Instead of taking on every issue with equal gusto, we would all be well advised to focus on the battles that are most solvable and whose outcomes will have the greatest impact. The concept of choosing one’s battles is particularly true for IT teams in an era of digital transformation.

IT teams are under more pressure than ever to provide a modern infrastructure setup and applications that can help businesses remain competitive. But digital transformation is complex, and pressure on IT isn’t just being applied by one department. It’s coming from the business units, finance and legal, and all network and security infrastructure owners. Each of these areas has individual requirements for tackling transformation, and trying to cater to all their needs at the same time is almost impossible. IT teams have to pick their battles wisely to avoid hitting an impasse on the transformation journey.

Changing demands

IT teams have always been under pressure to deliver, but the technology environment has changed significantly from even a decade ago. Back in 2008, cloud computing was in its relative infancy—AWS had only been relaunched in its current format two years earlier—and many organisations relied on traditional technology and software procurement cycles, which included roadmaps that looked three to five years ahead. IT teams were expected to adopt the technology that could support the business’ wider progression plans for the entirety of that timeframe, and there was often little tolerance for failure.

Today, however, the rigid roadmap approach is obsolete. Technology is evolving every day, and businesses that only look to change after multiyear planning periods will forever be playing catch-up with competitors making use of disruptive capabilities. Whether it’s advancements in data centre consolidation, the Internet of Things (IoT), greater use of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) offerings, collaborative tools, or any of the countless others, companies can’t afford to switch off from external evolution at any point.

The changing ways of working are having an influence too. More individuals are working from home or other locations outside the office, millennials want access to more intuitive business applications rather than clunky software, and the C-suite wants to make better use of big data and IoT to make processes more streamlined and cost-effective. All these changes add up to a lot of requirements to be juggled by IT teams as they strive to become a facilitator of digital transformation rather than a bottleneck. 

Taking a step back and seeing the bigger picture

However, IT can’t simply become a team of “yes” people. For every capability that technology can unlock, it raises questions around business performance, change and process management, and, of course, security. How can the ever-increasing number of users embracing new cloud technologies and applications be protected? How can sensitive data be locked down to avoid overexposure? What’s needed to ensure compliance with GDPR and other data laws? How can you gain complete visibility into data flows and cyber threats—both internally and across the broader threat landscape? Will the current internet setup be sufficient for the expanding geography of users and applications? These are a few examples of the complexity involved in adapting to the current transformation trend.

Attempting to satisfy all requirements at the same time is too complicated, and IT teams risk losing sight of the bigger picture. They should, therefore, take a huge step back and come at things from a different angle. Instead of thinking about technology that can satisfy one or two requirements, they need to find tools that fulfill multiple purposes at once. Not only does this represent a more cost-effective alternative, but it also provides time and resources for IT to then focus on other issues.

Enterprise-wide transformative technology has come a long way and can now help businesses overcome many issues at once—all with a relatively small investment of time and resources. However, enterprises have to plan their transformation strategy with the bigger picture in mind—it is not only about moving applications to the cloud. Organisations have to consider the consequences such a move will have on the entire network and security infrastructure. With an increasing number of employees working from branch offices or on the road and accessing their data in the cloud remotely, latency can become an issue with the traditional hub-and-spoke network setup. These days, employees expect hassle-free connectivity to enterprise networks and data. However, in traditional network setups, traffic is routed back to the corporate data centre for security scans, and this hampers performance. The same situation can arise when it comes to enabling remote access VPN for mobile users.

In other words, taking one step towards digital transformation without taking the bigger picture into account can be counterproductive, opening up new battles that result in unhappy users contending with a sub-standard experience.

Before moving applications to the cloud, companies should explore how this step could affect network traffic patterns and then plan accordingly, taking local internet access into consideration. Similarly, software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) can help to solve one battleground, but not without security requirements at branch offices being given due consideration.

Ultimately, IT teams that attempt to handle individual issues and requirements as they arise will soon become overwhelmed. With numerous tools and solutions available, it can be tempting for businesses to start adopting new technologies on a case-by-case basis, yet this often results in bloated networks, overlapping technology, and costly and unnecessary licences. When IT teams take a step back and choose their battles more wisely, they are better positioned to use their expertise to suggest and adopt the technology that will empower the entire organisation to thrive.

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Alex Teteris is Principal Technology Evangelist at Zscaler and based in Europe.



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