A word I am increasingly hearing tossed around is “digitalization”, something that probably makes you scratch your head and wonder what it is trying to say.
Yet, it isn’t so difficult of a concept. If you think of the rise of computers, and workstations in the 1980’s and 1990’s, with the systems that they brought along, email, ERP, CRM, communications, and others, the workplace changed tremendously.
These innovations brought quantum jumps in productivity, enabling efficiencies that were unimaginable in the pre-computer era.
Yet, each of these innovations were lead through the IT or Information Technology group in an organization. Systems were planned for, bought, installed, and brought up under the auspices of said IT group. The down side is that if your group, say “marketing” needed something that wasn’t planned by the IT group lead by the CIO, you were out of luck.
As should be obvious, this placed a lot of power and control within the grasp of the CIO. Not that it was used irresponsibly, but they controlled the budget, and how it was allocated.
The rise of the services
Then in 2006, Amazon began offering the infrastructure on their premises, making it possible for even small organizations to present a robust, reliable, web scale operation to the market.
AWS was born, and soon it was being leveraged for solutions that the functional groups were clamoring for.
Marketing wants a marketing automation platform? No longer do you need to find an enterprise SW vendor, or a VAR who can build a deployment in your data center. A small company can build a solution on AWS, with as much scalability, and redundancy as they need, and sell to the marketing team directly. All delivered over the internet that you currently have available.
These services allowed a great deal of flexibility, but it also was a scary thing for the CIO. No longer in the driver’s seat, they are often playing catch up, working to normalize the landscape after one of these services were already bought by a functional group. Marketing, using their own budget, was buying what they needed to drive their results.
The whole SaaS world had begun. Instead of racks and racks of gear, custom software deployments by vendors like SAP and Oracle, with thousands and thousands of consultant hours to customize these solutions to your needs, running an instance in house, and deployments that can run to years for completion, a SaaS solution can be piloted in hours, deployed company wide in weeks, and customizations can be quickly done in the flexible code of the vendor without enormous costs or time impacts.
Not the be all, end all
Of course, there are some hidden hazards. Early in the SaaS rise, security was a bit hazy, and some big scares happened. Also, disasters could negatively impact accessibility (there was a major outage in one of the main regional data centers for AWS in October 2012 that highlighted the need to plan for hazards).
Additionally, with distributed data centers, comes the risk to personally identifiable information, and the patchwork of laws and regulations around the world. Largely, this is being addressed with region specific data centers, and careful compliance with local and remote regulations (yet the politicians seem to love messing with this, stay tuned for ever changing requirements).
Security, early was a concern, and remains an issue, as the bad guys continue to be ever creative to get at the valuable data. But, the one thing that the Edward Snowden revelations brought forward was the need for increasing vigilence, both to keep the bad actors, as well as the state actors at bay. Today, encryption everywhere, and architectures to prevent, or at least reduce, exposure are the norm.
Where we are today
Yet, at this point, the solutions that are targeted at the enterprise are solid, robust, secure, and very cost effective. From outsources IP Telephony, Software Designed Network solutions to connect regional offices (supplanting the costly complex MPLS solution that once displaced leased line connections), collaboration, issue tracking, HR systems, payroll and benefits administration, CRM and marketing automation, and literally dozens of other packages, all instantaneously deployable, in whatever quantity you need.
If you need 50 seats of Slack to start, you can get it. If 2 quarters in, you find you are only using 25, you can reduce to that level, or if you expand the deployment, you can add 500 seats, with a simple transaction. No hardware, no network upgrades, you just call your rep and go.
The transition to the cloud, to software solutions, to each functional group being more independent will increase. The pace of innovation, and the growth of services that are provisioned as needed, and billed as a subscription versus a capital expense will continue unabated.
Even the largest enterprises are changing direction, placing trust in worthy systems, albeit with some caution.
Savvy CIO’s are learning to work closely with the functional groups to assist in the selection, and deployment of these solutions, aware that they no longer hold all the cards, but are trusted advisors. This change in mentality is accelerating.
All the while, systems that were once deemed critical infrastructure are being replaced with services delivered by reliable, trustworthy vendors.
And the march of technology continues.