IT Integration Strategy: A Digital Transformation Roadmap

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Business Integration and What It Really Means

In a digital world, technology has naturally become the backbone of every business. Take a peek under the IT hood at pretty much any company today and you’ll see scores of different systems, technologies and applications that keep the whole business ticking over from frontend to back. In the past, these technologies sat isolated from one another, or at best may have been connected in a point-to-point fashion. Today’s IT leaders and CIOs, however, are tasked with making all these disparate apps and systems work together. Why? Because the competitive pressures of the modern e-business environment demand it, that’s why, and a modern IT integration strategy is the only thing that will give your organization the 40,000-foot big picture view that you need.

Mobile apps, CRM systems, ERP systems, security systems, IoT, enterprise SaaS applications, the cloud – today’s organizations are brimming with technology. Depending on the size of the organization, its age, culture, and industry, the number of applications the business relies on to complete critical daily tasks can run into the hundreds. A recent article in Trend Micro cites figures revealing that the average medium- to large-size organization has anywhere between 300 and 500 apps in place.

(Image source: chiefmartec.com)

And here’s the problem. Gone are the days when a company’s technology suite was centrally owned by IT. Today, companies – and separate departments within those companies – are free to choose the technologies they need to execute their own, often siloed, business strategies. For example, the research and development department may be quietly experimenting with IoT technologies to better understand customer intent. Meanwhile, the head of human resources is exploring a number of SaaS-based talent management and employee engagement applications, while over at marketing, the CMO has employed a digital agency to implement a new loyalty management application. All of these initiatives will require some level of IT integration with core IT systems, even though the IT department itself is barely involved, and in some cases may not even be aware of them at all.

Organizations need to manage this explosion of applications, systems, and the data they generate if they are to see real value from these investments and not fall behind their competitors. To put it another way, it’s essential that IT departments break through silos in order for the modern enterprise to excel in the digital landscape. And to do that, it needs a thorough and well-planned IT integration strategy.

Why You Need an IT Integration Strategy

In the modern business environment, success depends less on which application, vendor or data source an organization uses, and more on how it goes about connecting them. Without a robust IT integration strategy, this becomes an almost impossible task. The fact of the matter is that point-to-point integration does not scale, and one of the biggest challenges going forward for IT is how it will manage if the company starts running not only hundreds, but thousands of SaaS applications – many of which will be beyond the IT department’s control.

Take marketing, for instance. According to the latest annual Marketing Technology “Martech 5000” Supergraphic from chiefmartec.com, there are now 6,829 marketing technology solutions from 6,242 unique marketing technology vendors available. Who’s controlling how many the marketing department is using, what they’re being used for, and how (if at all) they are being integrated with core IT systems?

(Image source: chiefmartec.com)

And it’s not just marketing. Sales, customer service, HR, finance – you name it – all have their own “Xtech 5000” solution pools to fish from (even if there isn’t a pretty “supergraphic” available to hang on their wall). Throw into the mix the hundreds of startups out there developing blockchain applications, and organizations really could soon find themselves with twice or three times the number of SaaS products supporting a myriad of business processes and goals.

And this is all well and good – but without an IT integration strategy, much of the real value of the products being used is lost because their data is kept in silos and often doesn’t touch core backend systems. To give you an example, connecting CRM (customer relationship management) systems with order processing or billing systems can help to build a better understanding of the customer, the customer journey, and the whole customer experience.

Indeed, connecting and consolidating information from various apps and data sources is one of the biggest obstacles in gaining such a 360-degree view of the customer. So much critical information is housed between different and disconnected databases, third-party and homegrown apps. The barrier to accessing this data is not due to a lack of skills or resources, but the lack of a coherent IT integration strategy to connect the dots and make the information available centrally to view, analyze and use.

However, point-to-point integration with backend systems is time-consuming, costly, and frankly too clumsy to keep pace with the explosion of enterprise SaaS deployments. Rather, organizations need to think of their business applications, data sources, devices and systems as one complete whole, and not just a list of separate, disconnected projects. They need a plan for strategic alignment – an IT integration strategy.

Digital Transformation

For startups and new market entrants, technology-enabled business processes are all they have ever known, and so IT integration becomes an exercise of connecting and consolidating existing systems that have been with them from day one.

But for companies that have been around for more than a few years, a digital transformation is required in order for them to continue competing successfully. For these organizations, the goal is to advance their enterprise IT integration strategies in line with their digital transformation journeys.

Digital transformation is about bringing the organization forward into modern ways of working and operating to fulfil customer needs and expectations. As BPM and ITSM software provider Navvia puts it in its Digital Transformation Roadmap publication, “The degree of digital transformation required will depend on several factors, including the nature of the industry in which the company competes, the age and size of the company, the number of legacy tools and processes that must be transformed, and the motivation of company owners and leaders to impact change in their businesses.”

How effectively the company can transform itself will be critical in determining how successfully it will be able to compete in the marketplace, Navvia continues. But simply deploying new customer-facing applications, upgraded websites, chatbots, SaaS marketing applications, CRMs, collaboration platforms, new recruitment and employee engagement tools, and goodness knows what else isn’t enough for an effective digital transformation. Before the organization can turn these things into a competitive advantage – or even bring itself on a level playing field with existing competitors – it needs to be able to access and connect them all together, no matter where they live across multiple clouds and on-premises environments.

Binding Technology Initiatives Together

Traditional, point-to-point IT integration architectures simply can’t keep up with the speed and volume of integrations a company will need to digitally transform. Modern IT integration requires speed, flexibility, security, and the ability to scale.

Gartner gives the example of an organization implementing an artificial intelligence (AI) solution into its web-based customer services platform to answer customer queries more quickly. Such a solution would need constant and seamless connectivity with customer data. Next, as part of the organization’s ongoing digital transformation initiative, it introduces a new customer-facing IoT initiative, enabling customers to submit their queries via their smart speaker devices. All of a sudden, the company is dealing with an exponential increase in data volume and velocity stemming from thousands of endpoints. In order to process it all and enable real-time analysis (which should also feed back into the AI system), migration to a cloud storage and compute platform is required.

In most cases, the traditional, task-specific IT integration toolkit would be incapable of addressing this level of complexity – and so the organization is left with lots of nice new tools and services for customers, but no way of connecting it all to gain competitively advantageous business insights and achieve optimal business outcomes.

Gartner describes undergoing a digital transformation as being akin to upgrading to a dream car. Though attentions are drawn towards the vehicle’s sleek aesthetics, high speeds, and aerodynamics, we often fail to take a look under the hood, even though that’s where we find the real magic – the high-performing and super-efficient engine that powers the machine. “Looking under the hood is a vital step for application leaders delivering digital transformation,” says Gartner. “They must focus on more than potential increases in agility, profitability and new revenue streams. Behind these top-level improvements is the vital integration work that binds different technology initiatives together, making the collective output – or business outcomes – greater than the sum of its parts.”

Put simply, to make a success of digital transformation – and avoid making a pig’s ear of existing processes by hastily throwing a ton of new technology and applications into the mix – organization’s need an IT integration plan in place. They need a digital transformation roadmap.

A Digital Transformation Roadmap

In order for an organization to make digital transformation a success, everything needs to work together. Applications need to be connected and integrated with existing processes, as well as with the employees who will be using them on a daily basis.

Of course, every company is unique, which means so too is the scope and effort required to achieve a successful digital transformation. And this is where a digital transformation roadmap comes in. As Navvia puts it, “Your digital transformation roadmap is the plan for coordinating and driving change throughout the organization.”

Navvia highlights that although the details of each company’s roadmap will naturally be different, there are a few core elements that every digital transformation roadmap should include.

Define Where You’re Trying to Go

Companies undergo digital transformations because they have a vision of an “ideal state” they are trying to achieve for their business. Leadership needs to be able to articulate this vision (what it looks and feels like, and why it’s important) in order to secure buy-in and support from employees and partners, as ultimately it is an organization’s people who will be responsible for making any initiative a success. As such, leaders need to answer one deceptively simple question when they begin designing their roadmap – What does digital transformation really mean for my company?

A Realistic Strategy to Get There

Will your digital transformation take place over the course of months or years? Will you be taking incremental steps, or getting all your ducks in row before executing one big-bang overhaul? And what about the details? Digital transformation means big changes for your business. What are those changes, and which ones will you be implementing first? Answering these questions thoroughly will be essential not only to the eventual success of your plan, but to getting the buy-in and support you need to implement it in the first place.

Key Activities that Will Occur Along the Journey

Drilling down further into the details of your strategy, your digital transformation roadmap must include the key activities that will need to take place in order to support the transformation. These will of course include technology projects and an associated plan for the necessary IT integration, but organizational restructuring and business process modifications must also be taken into account and detailed thoroughly.

The Milestones on the Road

Digital transformation is a journey, and, like all journeys, the path from one destination (your present state) to another (your ideal or target state) won’t be a straight line. Along the road will be a number of intermediate states your organization will achieve as it progresses, and these milestones should be outlined on your digital transformation roadmap. They will serve as an invaluable reference to ensure that you are remaining on-course, as well as a means of measuring progress.

Why You Need a Digital Transformation Roadmap

Transforming your business digitally takes time and resources. As such, integrating new technology to improve your business on both the frontend and back should be done in stages. Without a digital transformation roadmap, you’ll quickly find yourself wandering around in the dark, not knowing where you’re going, nor if you’re moving in the wrong direction.

Digital transformation will include a number of technology projects, and a plan for IT integration must be behind them all. As new technology solutions are released on the market, your various departments may be excited to try them out, or perhaps they’ve seen a competitor using a particular solution, so they feel they need to have it too. Many companies make the mistake of implementing all the hottest new technology, only to find out later – after a lot of expense – that it doesn’t work for their business. A digital transformation roadmap will put pay to such occurrences.

Your roadmap defines your organization’s needs and priorities. It is designed to identify technology gaps, and determines a coherent IT integration strategy for the applications and solutions you will employ to fill them – always remembering that the true value of IT integration is about process flow efficiency and freeing critical information from siloes, no matter where that data is and who needs it.

Your roadmap will also enable different teams to work on different parts of the transformation, yet still stay aligned. What’s more, your IT integration strategy should also include a plan for how you will train employees to use the new technology, and how they will transition into this new phase of your business.

In sum, Navvia outlines five best practices for establishing a digital transformation roadmap to chart the path to success.

(Image source: navvia.com)

Final Thoughts

Whether integrating siloed business units and disparate applications or selecting new technology solutions to support digital transformation, an effective IT integration strategy will be key to ensuring your business avoids catastrophes and stays on the path to success. Only with a roadmap as a guide will you be able to reach your destination safely and effectively, and reap all the benefits digital transformation has to offer.

The last word goes to Navvia: “The business environment is changing fast. To compete, companies must modernize, provide customers with the new products and services they expect, and update their internal operations to take advantage of modern technology. Those companies that do this effectively will achieve significant competitive advantage in the marketplace, as well as increased profitability from automation and informed decision-making. Developing and implementing a roadmap for your digital transformation effort can significantly increase the likelihood of success in realizing your company’s vision for the future.”

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Terry Brown

Terry is an experienced product management and marketing professional having worked for technology based companies for over 30 years, in different industries including; Telecoms, IT Service Management (ITSM), Managed Service Providers (MSP), Enterprise Security, Business Intelligence (BI) and Healthcare. He has extensive experience defining and driving marketing strategy to align and support the sales process. He is also a fan of craft beer and Lotus cars.