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Motivated by the pandemic to speed up its digital agenda and reduce costs, one Fortune 50 company confidently set out to meet unprecedented business challenges.

What it found surprised leadership. Despite viewing itself as digitally advanced, the company discovered critical gaps in its use of technology. IT lacked the right skill sets, efforts to build a modern infrastructure were falling short, and automation initiatives produced few of the projected enhanced capabilities or cost savings.

It’s an all-too-common scenario: the company’s digital agenda wasn’t delivering value back to the business, especially in meeting the needs and expectations of its customers and employees. Although modern business relies on technology more than ever, the greatest challenge that companies like this one face isn’t about bits and bytes but developing a plan that makes it all work in unison.

What we’ve learned over time is that outputs are just as important as inputs. By defining the desired business outcomes and fully capitalizing on the right technologies, companies can build the digital foundation to power the experiences, workflows and activities that differentiate them in the marketplace.

Lost in the digital fog

We often see confusion among clients as they obsess over sophisticated experiences that are dependent on advanced technologies such as machine learning and big data analytics. The optimal path forward becomes opaque and uncertain.

For example, we worked with a client that had deployed white-label software to create a high-quality customer experience (CX). The company viewed the end-to-end digital platform and the data it generated as a competitive advantage. But it had developed so many customer journeys that the effort to support them became costly, and the company was uncertain that it could sustain the experience as it grew. It hadn’t counted on the expense of transferring voluminous amounts of data to and from the public cloud, or the operational complexity of owning the data cross the customer lifecycle. We’re now supporting the client as it explores a more sustainable structure. Taking time to define the solution’s desired outcomes as part of the blueprinting/planning phase could have helped the company avoid the confusion.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are companies that fail to recognize the importance of delivering with speed at scale and often struggle with digital overhauls. For example, they fail to acknowledge that they lack the right skills, and they frequently don’t invest enough in building scale to reach or exceed the competition’s speed.

Companies in this situation often become lost in the digital fog as they lack the necessary skills and suffer from disjointed architectures and suboptimal IT partnerships. They experience cost overruns that are rarely if ever justified with measurable business returns.

The digital stack needed to drive a modern business

Powering a modern business into the fourth industrial revolution requires organizations to master the digital stack. That means connecting the stack to outcomes that start with experience — for consumers, employees and partners — and extend to the instrumentation across the technology landscape. It takes software fueled by intelligent solutions and data running on connected cloud-based systems to provide the just-in-time experiences customers are looking for.

To create a holistic digital stack that’s extensible and continuously evolving, C-level leaders must consider the following primary factors in the context of desired business outcomes.

  • Develop a clear technology vision that provides a beacon to illuminate a path forward.

    While this guidance may seem obvious, it underscores how the role of leadership has changed within organizations. Today’s leaders require digital literacy to manage adaptive cultures, reimagine the business and drive employee engagement. Developing a clear vision ensures that they lead with a plan tailored to meet the company’s strategic goals.

  • Set up a future-ready technology organization to deliver digitally.

    Build teams that not only understand today’s technologies but also know how to leverage modern ways of working such as Agile and DevOps. Team members need to understand the latest technologies and how they fit into a future-ready IT architecture that’s fit for purpose. There’s also a human element that pivots around team members’ day-to-day work. Be sure associates understand how IT modernization and digital initiatives impact their roles and responsibilities, and how it fits into the organization’s strategic plan and key performance indicators (KPIs). This means creating a “what’s in it for me” messaging plan that demonstrates, for example, how new automations change business processes, or how advanced analytics will enable better decision-making. Also required to set up a future-ready organization is a detailed transition plan for aligning the future state and new ways of working. A successful plan requires precision focus on finding the right skills and supporting technology to deliver digitally.

  • Define a simplified architecture to streamline legacy environments and processes.

    Create an overarching architecture that eliminates silos and streamlines organizational processes. But remember this is a two-step process: First define a functional architecture, and once that is completed, work on an IT architecture that identifies target state and supports development of a blueprint. Be sure to utilize design-thinking and modern architectural approaches such as microservices and application programming interfaces (APIs) to provide connectivity and improve experiences to previously disparate solutions.

  • Implement foundational technologies and processes.

    Provide the backbone for digital technologies. Key examples of foundational technologies and processes include but are not limited to cloud platforms (private, public and hybrid) and any particular hyper-scaler. Other foundational elements include Agile management (Jira, Rally, Planview), DevOps orchestration (version control, app performance monitoring, and deployment), development and collaboration tools (Slack, Visual Studio), and test and deployment automation (Jenkins, AWS CodeDeploy, Octopus).

    Remember that just having the foundational technologies is only one piece of the puzzle. To extract real value, the tools need to be deployed and integrated across the enterprise.

  • Modernize the technology landscape.

    Interestingly, we observe that many businesses view this step as their starting point — and then wonder why they fail. Modernization isn’t a one-time step. Delivering business outcomes takes continuously modernizing your organization’s application and technology landscape to remove technical debt and free up investment capital.

    To avoid failure, it’s best to start small with modernization initiatives, conducting proofs-of-concept or minimum viable products (MVPs) in business areas that are on the path to becoming digital and utilize the defined vision, architecture and foundation. Examples where this journey can begin include adopting a cloud-first mindset in which companies retire legacy applications that no longer serve business needs and utilize microservices to modernize functionality. Creating an abstraction layer to legacy platforms such as mainframes avoids the rise of “new legacy”; that is, modern applications that are still tightly bound to outdated platforms to access data and conduct transactions.

These primary factors ensure teams adapt to new technologies and modern ways of working. Additionally, change management and training activities (including cross-skilling and upskilling) will be pivotal to ensure that team members have the knowledge and understanding to deliver on the business vision and expectation.

Even digitally advanced companies can struggle with IT modernization, as we witnessed with our Fortune 50 client. After revisiting the required operating model, we’re building out a new roadmap for the company that’s focused on taking digital to the next level.

By emphasizing outputs and then implementing the optimal IT operating model, organizations gain the clarity to deliver better experiences and ways of working — quickly and effectively — that generate continuous value across the extended enterprise.

Read parts 1, 3 and 4 of this series to learn how how ecosystems power a modern business.

This article was written by Rupert Chapman, Vice President of Digital Strategy, Cognizant Consulting; James Houghton, Global Leader, Cognizant Digital Business Consulting; and Kyle Robichaud, an AVP within Cognizant Consulting.

To learn more, please visit the Cognizant Consulting and Digital Strategy sections of our website or contact us.