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How Architects Shape Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation

Our previous blog post in this series began a deeper dive into the role of enterprise architects in planning the journey, building an effective transformation roadmap, and creating an environment capable of dealing with complexity. This blog continues with how enterprise architects work closely with senior business leaders, and provide guidance and direction to shape and drive additional aspects of transformation planning and execution. In particular, it will discuss how they identify and clear obstacles, shape digital delivery capability and build delivery teams, and monitor technology developments.

 

Identifying and Clearing Obstacles

Aside from budget availability, there are obstacles to execution that can render delivery teams unable to make effective progress in digital transformation. A common obstacle is navigating the process to identify, extend or utilize the existing systems that will continue to live and play an important role in providing core retail data and functions to new digital channels. Even if earmarked only to support transition arrangements, this may mean the continued operation of the system for another 2-3 years. 

Enterprise architects are key resources who take ownership of analyzing the business and IT landscapes to identify potential obstacles that may need attention, including process or system interdependencies, manual processes, systems approaching end-of-life, regulatory and compliance obligations (especially where third parties or government are involved), people skills, organizational change management capacity and maturity, industrial relations, and readiness of business partners (e.g. franchisees, suppliers) to embark on the transformation journey. The processes that identify and structure programs to harvest value from legacy systems become key differentiators in successful digital transformation.

 

Creating Digital Delivery Capability 

An important early step is to begin to develop or acquire the digital business skills and associated technology development capabilities that are needed to quickly and iteratively build new business models, products, and customer experiences. An approach used successfully by a number of organizations is to create a new digital delivery team as a separate department within the organization. This multidisciplinary team should work collaboratively with business thought leaders and be positioned with a clear line of sight to customers. 

Speed of delivery, innovative solutions, and fast test-and-learn cycles are key aspects of this model.  

This type of digital delivery function requires a new model for technology delivery and operations that marry iterative development of new business process capabilities and retailer-defined front-ends that provide dynamic customer experiences with valuable, stable and reliable (and slower to change) legacy back-end transactional systems. 

 

Building Development and Delivery Teams 

Underlying digital delivery capability is the need for quickly building teams with the right mix of new technical skills and business knowledge to implement real transformational change. Skills such as design thinking, UX design, software engineering, agile development, automation, and cloud deployment are the new currency for successful digital transformation.

New software architectures that offer greater modularity, granularity, security, and re-use, such as APIs and microservices, along with powerful automation enable rapid development/test/release cycles to deliver working code into production sooner.

Agile methodologies and framework and modern continuous delivery software engineering approaches are instruments in the toolbox. Vision, leadership, plans, people, and organizational ability to execute are critical for properly using these tools to build and deliver new solutions.

 

Monitoring Technology Trends and Developments

Another responsibility for enterprise architects is to remain vigilant to industry trends and new technology developments and decide if/when these should be adopted by the organization.  

Digital technologies are evolving far faster than previous generations of technology, driven by a combination of the tech giants (Amazon, Google, Atlassian, et al) with deep R&D pockets, the open-source software movement, and cloud computing (AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, numerous SaaS vendors). These three forces are producing a rapid succession of new software architectures, engineering approaches, development methods and frameworks, programming languages, tools, reusable code libraries,  and deployment models, and the like (microservices, APIs, Agile, automated testing & release, DevOps, continuous delivery, etc.).

While these enable fast, iterative delivery of new digital solutions and empower teams to be more innovative, they also add to the chaos and complexity of IT landscapes. Many of these technologies are freely downloadable or available with the swipe of a credit card. If not managed carefully, they can quickly create new legacy or siloed systems and technologies that will burden a business, add to costs, and impede agility. 

As custodians of the organization’s enterprise architecture, the enterprise architecture team can  provide expert guidance and govern the adoption of these new digital technologies and delivery methods. Few retailers have the right skills already on-hand to shift to continuous delivery, APIs, and microservices. They quickly find they are competing for this talent with many industry sectors, such as finance, gaming, and social media that may be attractive to younger technologists and developers. Retailers need to plan how they will acquire or develop these skills, and retain and continue to further develop this expertise. In addition, retailers need to focus the efforts of these high-value resources to deliver differentiation to the business and ensure they are not bogged down on delivering critical but not market differentiating features.  This need for focus and fast return on investment is a key factor where enterprise architects can provide key guidance to find and leverage platforms and engines that support the transformation journey while imparting control to the retailer.  

Don’t miss our next post in this series on retail digital transformation that will focus on building technology knowledge among senior executives, justifying investments in technology assets, and the importance of protecting against oversimplification. Subscribe below, and we’ll let you know when it is published.

 

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