If you’re in the midst of implementing a digital transformation for your business (“de rigueur” this year, along with outsourcing selfies to your personal drone), it’s likely you’ll be spending a fair amount of time thinking about what to do with the IT applications.
Much has been made of modernizing the legacy applications to enable the transformation. And whilst this is a critical part of the approach, it’s clearly not the whole story.
What seems to be emerging instead is a clear way to support the digital transformation using a more holistic approach, something we call modern applications. Whereas modernization tends to focus on how to fix or develop what you have today, modern applications focus more on leveraging what you have in combination with assets that exist outside the traditional IT estate.
A subtle difference? Maybe, but the results can be dramatic.
Let’s look at how an ecosystem of modern applications can support business needs in new, dynamic ways and at reduced cost.
Let’s say you’re a logistics company running a fleet of trucks (or drones), and you want to find a way to increase their availability by providing some new functionality. (When they’re running, you’re making money. When they’re sitting idle, you’re not.) The traditional approach would be to upgrade, rewrite or replace the COTS or the mainframe application. That requires considerable investment and a major IT program; it’s costly, time-consuming and risky.
But with modern applications it’s a different story.
The approach starts with first selecting a suite of cloud-native platforms that, when joined together using application programming interfaces (APIs), can deliver large parts of the end-to-end service you need. This creates an eco-system of leveraged (cloud) assets and then integrating them with the homegrown (legacy) assets. Integrating the cloud-native platforms (in our logistics example, this may include SaaS, map apps, geometric sensors, mechanical sensors, analytics) is relatively simple using their APIs. Opening up the legacy may require a little programming to first build the connectors and then create APIs.
What’s the benefit of this approach?
By bringing together a solution set of loosely coupled and predominantly standard components, you can create unique and differentiating business processes that are highly flexible and ultra-efficient, at lightning speed.
In our logistics example, the business can now remotely track the location of the truck, measure time on the road, monitor performance, run diagnostics, advise alarms, send intervention notifications, provide virtual reality support to the driver and upload the remediation actions and driver time sheets to the control center with minimal if any programming of new functionality. Additionally, the project release times are dramatically reduced (from months to days, weeks to hours, days to minutes).
As this approach to modern applications gains momentum, the role of central IT will evolve from provider (“tell me what you want me to develop to support your processes”) to enabler (“let’s open up the owned and leveraged IT assets through a repository of securely managed APIs/platforms/applications/devices”). This will increasingly allow the user developers to rapidly innovate and iterate new solution assets that are in turn made available for colleagues to leverage.
Really, there are three tenets to this approach:
- Platforms that define the eco-system of modern applications. Finding the optimum combination of owned and leveraged assets is a key objective of the IT strategy.
- Integration that evolves from system (point to point) to service (many to many). By creating a managed inventory of shared APIs, IT builds its capabilities exponentially and rapidly improves solutioning cycles.
- Solutioning that devolves from central IT to the user developer community. Shifting the capability to build solutions to the end consumer improves relevance and timeliness.
We are just getting started in seeing the endless possibilities of connecting people, places and the Internet of Things. Taking a modern applications approach to your IT will serve to more quickly enable the digital strategy and, perhaps more importantly, make your business more agile.
Mike Williams is CSC’s Global General Manager of Application Services.