Ambassador Insights: Enterprise Digital Transformation

Content By Devops .com

Digital transformation has been on the minds of many organizations for a few years now, but since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year the need to transform IT infrastructures has taken on a sense of urgency. The rush to work from home coupled with the shift to online everything has pushed organizations to adopt the tools and technologies necessary to enable IT agility for all users.

In this inaugural episode of Ambassador Insights, featuring DevOps Institute ambassadors Sean Davis, information security advisor, DevSecOps, at TransUnion; Jennifer Fischer, executive director of the Center of Innovation and Professional Studies at Felician University; and Pankaj Gupta, senior director of Product Marketing, Cloud ADC, and SD-WAN at Citrix, we take a look at some of of the factors driving digital transformation, the need for security in digital transformation initiatives and how organizations can get started on their transformation journeys now, if they haven’t already.

The video is below, followed by a transcript of our conversation. Enjoy!

Transcript

Charlene O’Hanlon:  Hey, everybody, this is Charlene O’Hanlon, Chief Content Officer at MediaOps, and I am just thrilled to pieces to be introducing a brand new segment that we have on TechStrong TV which we’ll also be running on the DevOps.com website. It is a panel discussion that I’ll be having monthly with DevOps Institute ambassadors—you see three of them right here on the screen with me. As I said, it’s the first in what I hope will be a series of monthly panel discussions with these ambassadors and other ambassadors on the future topics that we have on DevOps.com.

The first inaugural discussion will be on Enterprise Digital Transformation, and the featured topic will be changing every single month, so this week it’s Enterprise Digital Transformation, next month it will be on Cloud Native.

So, I’m looking forward to all these discussions, but I wanna go ahead and kick off this first one with our speakers today. First up, we have Sean Davis, who is Information Security Advisor, DevSecOps, at TransUnion. Hi, Sean, thanks so much for joining me today.

Sean Davis: Thanks for having me, Charlene.

O’Hanlon: Next up, we have Jennifer Fischer, who is Executive Director of the Center of Innovation and Professional Studies at Felician University. Jennifer, thank you so much for joining me today. Good to see you.

Jennifer Fischer: Thank you, Charlene. Pleasure to be here.

O’Hanlon: Alright, and last but certainly not least, we have Pankaj Gupta, who is the Senior Director of Product Marketing, Cloud ADC, and SD-WAN at Citrix. Pankaj, thank you so much—as always, great to see you.

Pankaj Gupta: Thank you, Charlene. Glad to be here.

O’Hanlon: Okay, great. Well, as I said before, the topic of this panel discussion is on Enterprise Digital transformation, which I know is a huge topic to swallow. There are so many things that we can say about Enterprise Digital Transformation, but it’s certainly a topic that has been on a number of organizations’ minds, especially since the onset of the pandemic and the rush to basically align their business practices with digital transformation efforts to be more productive and to stay relevant in today’s fast-paced business environment.

But as I said before, a lot of things have changed since the onset of COVID, and I want to kinda maybe set the stage a little bit by asking you guys—where do you think digital transformation and these initiatives have kinda progressed since the onset of COVID-19 and that rush to remote work that so many organizations have had to kinda go through? Whoever wants to start?

Gupta: I can take the first crack, Charlene. This is an excellent question. The impact of COVID is twofold. First of all, it’s realization by IT and business for the need of the digital transformation. So, that’s first, is the faster realization of the need for digital transformation.

 And the second thing is about execution speed of digital transformation has increased tremendously due to COVID in the last one year or so. IT and business are more in lockstep than ever before. IT is more aligned now with the business outcomes. In the last 12 to 18 months, we have seen four phases of it. The first was, it started just with business continuity. How do I get my business moving in this new COVID environment? Then focused more into employee productivity, because as they started working more from remote.

And then, more people started working remote, workers started working from remote, then security became very paramount, that, “How do I secure all of them?” And I think the next phase which is coming is that digital transformation will be more about hybrid workforce; some of the employees coming back to the office. So, that’s the fourth phase which I see for that.

And in this environment, talking to customers, I have seen CIOs, the number one priority is to keep employees engaged, remain productive from anywhere, from any device they are working. They want reliable connectivity for every employee whether they are working from home. They also want us to ensure that same application experience, whether they are there in the office or now working from home.

But what is also keeping them awake is that now these workforces working from home and home networks are not as secure as the corporate infrastructure. So, when employees access these applications or direct Internet access, their endpoints or home network doesn’t become an entry point for vulnerabilities into the infrastructure.

O’Hanlon: Right, right, right.

Fischer: Yeah, I fully agree, and I echo the need for a focus on security and a remote workforce. I think that really will become the foundation for digital transformation going forward. And I think it’s really interesting to look at the longer term impacts, transformational impacts on some key industries. So, when we think about things like telehealth and online learning and consumer facing applications like in retail and grocery and food delivery and those types of things, you know, you really have to plan for this hybrid environment as we’ve discussed going on for an extended time.

And, you know, whether some of it will ever truly sort of come back, right? I think, to some degree, you know, some of the convenience and the productivity and the benefits that have been realized through this will be here to stay for the longer term.

Davis: Absolutely. I’m thinking about—the pandemic has been a really great pressure test of a lot of these concepts that we’ve heard for years across the industry, remote work being one of them. You know, everyone says, “Oh, we get better productivity because there’s remote work.” But what this seems to have done is, it’s really allowed the business to pressure test how well they can pivot. What does that mean for their customers? Because now customer needs are different, what they’re looking for that’s a priority to them is a little bit different. Internal needs of the organization are different. Now, you know, you’re shifting focus from just delivering those products to ensuring they’re highly secure, right?

So, a lot of these things we’ve been preaching in the industry for a very long time, especially around DevOps and DevSecOps, are really starting to take a front seat in organizations. One of the brilliant things that I’ve seen because of the pandemic over the last year is, even organizations who don’t have formal transformation initiatives and efforts in place are forced to still go through some type of transformation with their organization to maintain competitiveness or even survive. Because now it’s not just about thriving in the environment, it’s about understanding how to pivot to even survive. We’ve seen a lot of retail industries go bankrupt, we’ve seen a huge shift in real estate, right—so, how businesses decide, even with their hybrid strategies, how they’re gonna renegotiate contracts with all of this office space that’s sitting idle right now, and does it make more sense for them to shift there?

So, there’s a lot of operational considerations that are being made by organizations as well as some unique opportunities and unique challenges are starting to be presented. I think HR is starting to take a front seat a lot more in initiatives. You look at employee wellness—it’s more important than it’s ever been, and it’s giving the opportunity for these guys to stand at the front lines and finally be cheerleaders or their organizations in a way maybe they haven’t had an opportunity to have a spotlight shined on.

Because a lot of us think HR sits in the background, and now, a lot of their programs are really pivotal and the cornerstone of how businesses are going to move forward and look at employee care, satisfaction. You know, onboarding is a lot different. You know, it’s pretty reveletional to see just a lot of these things we’ve been talking about in the industry, even before DevOps, that people have played around with and said, “These are better concepts or better ways of business,” but now we’re actually pressure testing them through a real world tragedy and pandemic and seeing how that plays out and what that looks like for each and every organization.

O’Hanlon: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting, because we’ve been talking about digital transformation for years now, and there was a lot of talk, but not a lot of action. And I think it was because a lot of organizations really just couldn’t wrap their brains around it. You know, they didn’t have, like, a reason to do it beyond, you know, providing customer satisfaction or keeping up with their competitors.

But, you know, having this pandemic occur kinda gave them a reason to really go and say, “Alright, this is what we need to do to (a) keep our employees productive, (b) provide that top quality customer experience, and just kinda keep the wheels on the bus.” And, you know, before, it was more like—okay, well, we’ll see these, we’ll measure by certain metrics and maybe we’ll see an increase, maybe we won’t. Is that enough for us to do digital transformation?

But I also think that it’s important for—and Sean, you alluded to this—digital transformation impacts so many different areas of the business, it’s not just about improving customer experience. It’s not just about making employees more productive. It’s about keeping them same, you know, [Laughter] with the HR apps and things like that and employee wellness. It’s amazing how, by having that laser focus on digital transformation, once there was a reason to do it, a real, legitimate reason to do it, companies that have undergone the digital transformation and are still undergoing them have really started to thrive and they’ve been able to pivot their business successfully. And that, to me, I think is—you know, it’s a success story. If you really take a seat at, you know, take a look at what’s been done so far and just the fact that so many organizations have been successful so far in their efforts.

And I didn’t want to take that off the rails, but I wonder how much of that is, when we’re talking about DevOps, where does that fit into a lot of these kinda success stories, if you will, with the organizations? I mean, is it a central core of digital transformation efforts, or is it more of a tool, if you will, within a larger process? Whoever wants to answer that one.

Davis: I’ll hop in first this time, if you like.

O’Hanlon: Yeah, sure.

Davis: So, with DevOps, I think there’s a unique opportunity that a lot of organizations are taking. At the core of most digital transformations, at least I’ve been part of and been privy to from peers in the industry, they’re very centered around technology. You’ll hear the term “every business is a software company” being thrown around. Now, while that may not always ring true for everyone, I believe the spirit of what they’re trying to say is, there’s a better way for us to use technology to enable a better customer experience, a more valuable outcome or our customers, and through leveraging that technology, we’re able to see better returns and give back to the community in a lot of different ways beyond just our products.

DevOps, I think where the real value comes is, there’s been this evolution over the last year or two where people are starting to realize that a value chain, or the supply chain of an organization and the value that’s being delivered doesn’t end when the product is in our customers’ hands, but it’s when value has been delivered to our customers’ customers, right? So, we go to that Nth degree to make sure that not only are we just selling something and saying, “Hey, have a great day” because we got it in your hands as fast as possible, but we’re able to use feedback loops and telemetry to actually say, “How successful is this for your customers? You know, what type of experience are your customers having? How can we work with you and partner to have a deeper relationship than just a buyer and seller?” Right? So, we’re starting to see a lot of that proliferate the industry.

The pandemic’s also provided us a really great opportunity to take a step back, because everyone is slowing down, everyone’s having to adjust and pivot and say, “How do we overhaul all the systems?” Right? Instead of looking at this, you know, where, “Let’s improve this silo” or, “Let’s improve this area of the business,” we’re able to start bridging a lot of those areas instead of just saying, “Well, you know, let’s throw the hammer down and start busting these silos”—

O’Hanlon: Right.

Davis: – “let’s start bridging a lot of these areas and understanding where the challenges are.” It allows us as leaders of our organizations to dig much deeper to understand broader problems with the organization, and we can see that, once again, going back to how that’s being pressure tested, right.

We all know, as building continuity plans, that looks really great on paper, but if it’s not put into practice every year, and what better way, unfortunately, to practice that than actually experiencing a real outage, a real security breach, a real pandemic do we put those things through the paces to say, “Is the theory and the practice that we put on paper actually practical and applicable to what we’ll do in real life?” and then suss out where those problems or challenges are with the execution of that plan to be able to reinforce that plan and strengthen it so we can deliver better value, both internally to our organization and externally to our customer and market.

Gupta: I think before the pandemic, for many of the organizations, digital transformation was an initiative. It was a goal, it was a project.

O’Hanlon: Mm-hmm.

Gupta: But during the pandemic, digital transformation has become a necessity.

O’Hanlon: Yes.

Gupta:  And when a project becomes a necessity, that means that what you’re really looking for is the agility and speed and ability to respond faster, almost in real time. And this is not just about IT, this is about wall to wall, end to end processes. And IT is that connecting tissue of the overall digital transformation, and the foundation of that is the DevOps. Because DevOps brings automation, brings ability to respond faster. And the technology trends which have happened in the last five years, like the emergence of the cloud, ability to auto scale in cloud, ability to automate things from the cloud, more and more people are working remote. Ability to deploy automation tools which are delivered from cloud, because IT is not going back to the office.

So, DevOps has become a very critical component to achieve that speed. Every company’s starting point is different. For cloud native companies, they already have a lot of implementation of their IT into the cloud already—if not, more and more companies have started moving. And that is actually creating new opportunities for the DevOps engineers overall. It is their skill set which is tremendously needed in this marketplace, and it will continue to grow. And that’s where the places like DevOps Institute help to build that skill set for IT teams across the world.

Fischer: Yeah, absolutely. And I would add that, from the point of view of transformational outcomes, you know, one of the key things there is making sure that cultural change has been institutionalized. And so, you know, from the standpoint of DevOps, and sort of coming back full circle to your question, Charlene, around, you know, is it a core or is it something broader—it’s both, right? Because, of course, it’s underlying the technology and the ability to achieve success is there, right, within the pipeline.

But beyond that, you know, there’s relevance as well, even in business functions, if we’re talking about the opportunity to identify new revenue streams or looking at the overall impact of building a continuous learning culture and the ability to accelerate change—these are things that translate to every area of the business. So, from my perspective, you know, DevOps really has that overall end to end impact to be able to deliver against. And I totally agree with my co-panelists that the pandemic has been that driving force to be able to surface that and really, you know, sort of shine a light on the value that it can add in a time of crisis. But from a long-term perspective, the value certainly continues to be there.

Innovation as well has a significant role to pay here, too, right? So, just in terms of being able to innovate faster, to be able to look at that pivot point as was described earlier that, you know, that’s a huge learning curve. I mean, there’s some pain that went along with that, you know, having to do it through the pandemic, but there’s also some long-term gains in being able to understand resiliency and responsiveness in that time of crisis.

O’Hanlon: Yeah, it’s really, it’s been amazing for me to see how quickly organizations have been able to undergo these digital transformation efforts and really understand what their business needs. It’s almost like they—you know, they just kinda launched, if you will. It’s just like, from zero to 60 in, like, nothing.

Fischer: Exactly.

Gupta: Mm-hmm, yeah.

O’Hanlon: But, that said, are we too late for organizations that haven’t started their digital transformation processes yet? I mean, those that may be a little slow to start, they recognize the value, they just haven’t been able to kinda get their stuff together yet to do it, but you know, is it too late for them? And if not—I hope not, I hope not—but if it’s not, what are some of the things that maybe they need to keep in mind as they start to think about undergoing a digital transformation process? You know, what are maybe some of the best practices that they need to consider?

Jennifer, I’m gonna let you start with this one because, you know, this is your turn, so. [Laughter]

Fischer: Sure, sure. And I think, you know, interestingly, I think the same principles hold true, right, in terms of best practices for digital transformation, whether we’re talking about, you know, in terms of the pandemic or not, right?

O’Hanlon: Mm-hmm.

Fischer: The key thing, the most important thing is that introspection and insights, right? So, really understanding and being honest about and knowing your business, right, understanding what those end to end processes are, knowing and understanding your marketplace, knowing and understanding your customers so that, to Sean’s point, when you do wanna deliver to that Nth degree, you’ve got the insights there as part of your end state, right, that you wanna achieve.

So, I think all of those things hold true in either case, and then bringing them together into a well-defined strategy that reflects—honestly reflects, right, the strengths and weaknesses of your own organization. And then, last but not least, I think something that often gets not as much attention as it needs to, having metrics in place, right, so that you’ve got that continuous learning ability over time and being able to come back and not only say, you know, “Did we achieve what we set out to?” but on an ongoing basis, where do we need to continually pivot and shift our efforts to make sure that we stay.

And, of course, as goals change—I mean, we talked a little bit before about what happens when this is done, right? So, be it a hybrid workforce or some of the other trends that we might expect to see in 2021 with DevOps and, more broadly in business and in the economy, how do we help ourselves and our business partners to be able to continually pivot in that very agile way? And, you know, so to me, it’s about those three things, right? Having the right insights, the right strategy and tactics to find, and then third, the right metrics in place to keep you on point.

O’Hanlon: Alright. Sean or Pankaj, do you guys have any best practices you want to share?

Davis: Sure. So, I want to answer your earlier question—no, it’s not too late.

O’Hanlon: Okay. [Laughter]

Davis: There is no such thing as too late. Please, if there’s any business out there, you have not gone through a digital transformation now, it is never too late.

O’Hanlon: Good.

Davis: Now, the second part of that I will caveat with, because I think it just needs to be said. A lot of the practitioners feel this way, but it’s not often announced, and I don’t believe it’s always heard enough—transformation is not about just carrying you from one state to the other. I really wish that the industry as a whole would start to adopt digital evolution. Because that’s really the truth of what we’re doing. We should be evolving every single day. We’re adapting to the pandemic, and then we will adapt to the next event that occurs within our industry—good or bad.

We’re constantly adapting to the needs of our employees. We’re adapting to these new technologies and frameworks and ways of doing business every single day. That’s an evolutionary step that will never change. The transformation is just the spark, the catalyst, if you will, for that evolution to begin and to be recognized and, you know, as Jennifer had mentioned earlier, institutionalized in the organization, right? And that’s your culture, that’s your people, that’s your technology, whether it’s DevOps, whether it’s agile—whatever it is, right? There’s never, it’s never too late to start.

From the perspective of best practices, I know I’m gonna sound like a broken record to all those that have probably seen millions of videos on the culture of transformation, but start with your culture. And I don’t just mean implementing programs that are making onboarding easier or customer satisfaction—employee satisfaction. But I mean, really start by taking stock of where your organization is right now. You don’t have to be light years ahead, you don’t have to be like Netflix, you don’t have to be like Amazon or Microsoft. You are your own unique entity. You will be the next whatever company, right, that somebody is going to want to model the great things that you do.

I always think back to the TPS system, Toyota Production System, right? Toyota was massively successful in being one of the best manufacturers in the entire world despite giving the secret away to the rest of the world and all these other manufacturers adopted it, but they still were not able to achieve the same level of performance as Toyota, because it was built by Toyota, for Toyota. This was the way they did business, they felt this worked best for them.

And I think that’s a sorely missed or overlooked area in a lot of transformations is—there’s so many frameworks, there’s so many ways of doing it, there’s so many quote-unquote best practices that are out there. Take a look at where your organization is. Take a look at where your people are and think about where you want to be. And then find things that align to that, that help you be successful, and eventually, you’ll start noticing you’re creating your own processes—you’re creating your own frameworks, you’re creating your own ways forward, and then share those with the world, right? Because it’s not just enough to consume something, see that it works, and move on, but take the lessons that you’ve learned and the things that you’re creating and share that out in the world. Maybe someone else is able to use that and perpetuate their business in a positive direction.

O’Hanlon: Alright.

Gupta: I think Sean and Jennifer covered many, many great points, and there are so many great practices. We are in 2020, so if you sum all the numericals in 2020, it comes to the fore, and I’m going to cover the 40 best practices.

First, I think Sean and Jennifer did a wonderful job explaining that embrace the cultural shift. It is a new way of thinking, it’s a new way of doing. But to succeed in this cultural shift, IT skill set is the most important part. You must shift the culture, all ________ aligned, but if you don’t have a skill set inside that organization, you will not succeed. So, as you are embracing this cultural shift, invest in the IT skill set. That’s the first.

The second one is design and build for speed. Because the automation and the speed to respond to the market differentiates the winners versus losers.

So, the philosophy should be to automate everything you can, and that’s where the DevOps comes into the play. Look for every possibility which you can automate. And automation requires the DevOps skill set, but it also looks at your applications in a different way. What I can modernize so I can reuse those functions—that’s what the microservices kind of application brings into that.

DevOps is also about modernization and connecting them together, so they work like a machine, one after another, one feeding another. So, that’s that whole part.

Also, start thinking, as we move into 2020 or 2021—how do I build a self-correcting infrastructure? And cloud is already giving you auto scale, resiliency—all those pieces into that. We don’t have to go into detail, but when you’re building and designing for the speed, see what are things that can achieve that.

Third thing, which is going to be more and more critical, is the security first, security first, security first.

O’Hanlon: Yes.

Gupta: The recent SolarWinds example taught us so much. A small component on a broader enterprise, a small crack or vulnerability can impact the whole ecosystem.

And in this world of application and API, where API has become the lifeline of the businesses and more and more digital transformation related business, are you protected your applications in API? As we move into the world of the multi-cloud, do I have a consistent security posture across multi-cloud? So, those are some of the things, that security first rather than the bolt-on.

O’Hanlon: Mm-hmm.

Gupta: And the last is that build for visibility. What I mean by invest into your observability stack, build into tools and mechanisms to give you a visibility inside what is happening in your infrastructure, what is happening in your application. Because if you don’t see, you can’t fix it.

To summarize—embrace the digital shift, embrace the cultural shift, but make sure you have the right skill set to do that, design and build for speed, security first (no more bolt-on security) and visibility, visibility, visibility. Because if you can’t see, you can’t fix it.

O’Hanlon: Excellent. Excellent. Well, all are great points, all are great best practices, and I want to thank all of you, all three of you for your expertise today during our discussion. Great stuff.

If organizations have not begun their digital transformation efforts, now is the time. I think every organization understands the importance of digital transformation now more than ever, and it’s great to hear that it’s not too late—thanks, Sean. And it’s security, as Pankaj and Jennifer both mentioned—super, super important, and it should be an integral part of digital transformation efforts.

We have lots of information about digital transformation and what’s happening in the space in general and some—you know, again, some of the best practices on DevOps.com. So, I do urge everybody to check out the website and read up what we’ve got on digital transformation.

Guys, before we close things out, any parting words, any parting advice on digital transformation or DevOps in general?

I guess not, alright. [Laughter]

Gupta: This is the time—this is the time that will create the stories which you will tell to your grandkids.

O’Hanlon: True. Absolutely.

Davis: Yeah, I think focusing on doing what’s right for your organization and doing what’s right for your customers, take care of your people, take care of your customers, don’t just do what’s easy. Because there can be so much change that’s going on that it’s very easy to say, “Okay, well, we can revisit this,” right, and generate a lot of cultural debt that never gets paid back off.

Fischer: Yeah, I was thinking similarly, you know, there’s—in some way, too, you know, the reality of the pandemic conditions has been a level of exhaustion, I think, as well. And even despite that, it’s important not to keep focusing ahead and making sure that things that might be beneficial, particularly, coming up on the radar, trends for ’21 that could be taken advantage of—you know, don’t lose the momentum. Even though it’s been an exhausting past number of months, keep the momentum going and take advantage of the exciting trends that are on the way for 2021.

Davis: Absolutely.

O’Hanlon: Excellent. Alright. Well, on that note, I do want to thank all three of you, Sean, Jennifer, and Pankaj. Thank you so much for your time today, thank you so much for your expertise, and love to have you guys back on a future panel discussion or even on TechStrong TV. So, thank you, again, I appreciate it, and thank you, all, for watching and we’ll see you next time.

Gupta: Thank you.

Davis: Thanks, Charlene.

Fischer: Thank you.

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