You Cannot Succeed at Digital Transformation Without Planning for Scale

TL;DR:  Digital transformation == scale, just by its nature.

Digital transformation affects all areas of a business, from the way leadership thinks of opportunities to the way developers build applications, and it carries challenges throughout that chain.  One of the biggest challenges for IT will come from achieving scale, often in unexpected places.

Why does digital transformation automatically mean scale?

Looking back at my last post on the journey to digital transformation, there are a few points where it should be obvious that you should be prepared to scale up.  In the digitization phase, for example, it makes sense to plan for managing a large amount of content and metadata.  Whether you are migrating from a legacy system, consolidating multiple repositories or ingesting a bunch of paper, your target repository will need to be ready to handle not only what you are bringing in today but what you plan to create and manage for the next several years.  Deploying in the cloud eases this burden significantly, freeing you from having to provision a ton of storage or DB capacity that will sit idle until it is used or deal with adding capacity to an on-premises solution.

Digitalization also drives the need to scale up.  Processes that were once done completely manually now get done via software.  Along the way a ton of useful information is captured.  Not only that information that is required to complete the process, such as attached documents, form data, assigned user, etc, but also metadata about the process itself.  How long did it take for a specific step to be completed?  Was it reassigned?  To whom and how often?  What is the current active task?  How many instances of each process are in flight?  All of this data is collected in a process management system.  The more processes move from a manual process to automated or managed processes, the bigger this pool becomes.  The net effect is an explosion in the amount of data that needs to be handled.

If digitization of content and digitalization of process lead to the need to scale, achieving digital transformation takes the problem and dials it up to 11.  Digital transformation will flip things around and turn more people that were previously consumers of information into producers, whether they realize it or not.  An employee working with a digital process may see some similarities in the types of information they are working with as they did before transformation, but behind the scenes there is a lot more data being created.

Alfresco’s platform is built for this kind of scale in both content and process.  It is built on proven, scalable and performant open source technologies, and has been deployed by thousands of customers around the globe in support of large, business critical applications.  Alfresco provides guidance in several areas to help you size your deployment, build in the cloud, and make smart decisions about how and when to scale.

What about those unexpected areas of scale?

Scaling your content and process platform as a part of a digital transformation strategy is expected from day one, and should be part of the roll out and maintenance plan built before the first application goes live.  It may start with scaling content and process technology, but it does not end there.  Let’s look at some common drivers of digital transformation.  A few days spent reading a lot of articles, literature and opinion on digital transformation yields a wealth of reasons why companies might pursue it:

  • Improve the customer experience and become more customer centric
  • Get leaner, meaner and more efficient
  • Make better business decisions
  • Responding to an increased pace of technological change
  • New competitive threats or market opportunities
  • Demand for real time information and insights

Take a look at that list.  Achieving any of these things will require more information to be captured and analyzed.  Getting more customer centric means understanding what your customers need, where they are dissatisfied with the current experiences you offer them and what you can do to improve them.  Becoming leaner and more efficient requires detailed metrics about processes so waste or delays can be identified and trimmed.  Better business decisions and real time information mean drinking from a firehose of data from across the business.

Achieving digital transformation requires you to plan for scale and not where you might expect.  It doesn’t just require you to plan for more content and more processes, but also for how to handle the data about those things that you will need to capture and analyze.

The non-technical side of scale

Ultimately digital transformation is not a technology problem, it’s a business problem.  It is unsurprising then, that we’ll be faced with challenges that we didn’t expect as we scale up that have nothing to do with technology.  Take, for example, support.  If your digital transformation rests on open APIs provided by a stack of homegrown, cloud and vendor provided services, how do you route support tickets?  If a user reports a problem, how can you narrow down the source and make sure that it gets handled by the right team?  A support team can be quickly overwhelmed if they need to sift through a dozen irrelevant error reports to find the ones that they can actually address.  The more services you rely on, the harder this problem becomes.  This is where detailed monitoring of the service layer becomes important.  Guess what that creates?  More data.  If you are using Alfresco technologies for content, process and governance, you have several options for keeping tabs on your services.

There are other non-technical areas that will be affected by scale as well.  Documentation and discovery, for example.  As the number of services rolled out in support of transformation increases, developers and business users alike need easy ways to find these services, and to understand how they work.  This in itself becomes another service.  Change management is another area that a business needs to be prepared to scale up.  Digital transformation increases the pace of change in an organization by enabling more rapid response to changing business conditions or new opportunities.  Without a solid framework in place to evaluate, decide on, execute and communicate change, digital transformation will have a hard time getting the traction it needs.

If you take away one thing from this and other articles about digital transformation, it’s this:  Achieving transformation requires scale from your systems, processes and people and not just those that deal directly with technology.  Don’t underestimate it and find yourself with a plan that cracks under the weight of change.