We live in a rapidly-changing always-on digital world. Organizations around the globe are undergoing a rapid digital transformation, relying on data and automated processes to become customer experience focused businesses. However, this opportunity requires the right software infrastructure in place—one that is flexible and scalable and able to meet the dynamic challenges of the 21st Century business.
There’s been a lot written about the importance of software infrastructure, however, there are several key features that CTOs continue to overlook when transitioning to an experience-led business. Follow these seven tips to save you time and heartache in the long run.
1. Consider the Lifespan of Your Software
Companies tend to overspend or underspend on software applications and infrastructure rather than build modular-platforms that work with short-term budgets and scale to meet long-term needs. A lot can happen over the course of a piece of software’s lifespan—which, incidentally, is typically seven to ten years. Vendors can stop supporting certain features, versions or the solution altogether. Environments become obsolete, or software no longer delivers the performance or efficiency you require. Most often, however, is the fact that your organization’s needs are constantly changing—requiring infrastructure that can adapt to meet dynamic requirements.
As you plan your new project or develop a broader IT strategy for your company, think carefully about how it pertains to current needs as well as your long-term business plan. Do you plan to use the software for more than a few years? Will it scale with your growth projections? Is it compatible with existing hardware and other solutions? Can you rip and replace easily if you really needed to pivot? These questions are worth considering from the start.
2. Choose the Right Technology Stack
A lot of factors go into choosing the right technology stack—and perhaps no other decision is more critical. Java or.Net? Oracle or SQL Server? Office 365 or G Suite? Each platform works for different scenarios, and it’s your responsibility to make sure decisions are aligned with the best interests of the company as a whole. The marketing and finance departments may have different needs, but digital transformation requires data fluidity across these silos.
Make sure you choose a technology stack that works for the entire organization in proportion to business priorities. Java is great for cross-platform reach but if only 3-4 percent of your workforce is made up of Apple users than maybe a stack that works better on Windows machines is the better decision. Generally, ensure the platform is robust, is widely supported and vendors are keeping their services and products up to date with technology advancements. It’s fine if the stack is multi-vendor yet compatible on fabric level—but make sure infrastructure is interoperable across the board. It needs to be scalable and flexible enough to adapt to changing needs as the business grows or shifts focus.
3. Set Up the Right Software Architecture
Most organizations build software silos that aren’t properly integrated for digital transformation. Data that inform the supply chain, manufacturing, operations, and support are rarely connected, resulting in disparate decision making, redundancy, a lack of context and a lot of manual, labor-intensive processes. Organizations need to have a long-term, comprehensive software infrastructure blueprint that they can then build off of as conditions change. Network and platform should be engineered to be modular yet integrated so each system works independently and as one.
4. Decouple Systems Effectively
Digital transformation can have one unintended impact on productivity. With systems tightly integrated and sharing data back and forth, even a small change to one system can directly impact other systems across the organization. Systems should be integrated, but architected in an asynchronous way where they are able to act on data whenever and at their own pace. Otherwise, a system that relies on the automated actions of another system is completely dependent on that system running optimally and in a consistent way.
Decoupling systems keeps the entire operation running smoothly—even when a wrench is thrown into the works. Processes not affected can continue without interruption and resources can be applied appropriately. This also mitigates the impact of change management as IT can be assured that taking one system offline for maintenance or upgrades will not bring the whole operation to a halt. It’s also important that data is exchanged asynchronously across systems—where data is sent and dealt with at their own pace so automated processes aren’t stopped. The best way to decouple systems is to identify the single-most autonomous process, simply automate it and then go from there.
5. Build Infrastructure that Can Scale Up and Out
By now you should realize that scalability is critical to building an exceptional software infrastructure for digital transformation. But do you plan for scale up (upgrading hardware capacity) or for scale out (extending the server/process fabric with additional hardware devices or virtual machines)? Why not both? Different types and degrees of growth require different scaling strategies, and it’s important that you bake in both capabilities in the software infrastructure from the beginning.
6. Standardize Nomenclature
Every industry and business have their own IT and operational language—usually punctuated by proprietary naming conventions that only serve to confuse people, not in the know. Often, language differs between departments, resulting in further miscommunication and tension among groups. Developers and stakeholders work more closely in an experience-led digital business with mixed teams working to develop solutions. It’s important to standardize nomenclature so that everyone can communicate and collaborate effectively. A good way to do this is to assign numerical codes to entities that can populate records, reports and other documentation. That way everyone is on the same page, human error is reduced and references are applied consistently.
7. Publish a Release Cycle
Release cycles serve as a roadmap for software development, laying out the progression of a solution as it evolves with new features, functionality, and support. Everyone in the organization should be aware of release timing so they can plan for potential disruptions or training. Understanding the schedule creates a routine that users and other stakeholders can take into account so they aren’t surprised or caught unaware of changes to the software they use on a day-to-day basis. Microsoft was famous for its Patch Tuesdays, giving customers and users the heads up that changes were going out on a weekly basis and to watch for updates. The exception to this rule, obviously, is critical updates which need to be pushed out immediately.
Digital transformation is changing the way organizations around the world develop, roll out and use software—making the infrastructure that runs these applications critical. Software infrastructure needs to be flexible and scalable and meet the short-term and long-term needs of the entire business. Doing it the right way from the start will pave the way to success.