In light of the events of 2020 that have impacted every aspect of our lives - economic environment, labor market, personal situations, and business reality - digital transformation initiatives may seem like a luxury. However, those same events - and the need to continue to adapt (or attempt to adapt) - to such rapidly changing conditions indicate a greater need for digital transformation than perhaps any other time in recent memory.
A recent Harvard Business Review article, “Adapt Your Business to the New Reality” captured this sentiment most concretely this way:
“In times of crisis, it’s easy for organizations to default to old habits—but those are often the times in which new approaches are most valuable. As companies position themselves for the new normal, they cannot afford to be constrained by traditional information sources, business models, and capital allocation behaviors. Instead they must highlight anomalies and challenge mental models, revamp their business models, and invest their capital dynamically to not only survive the crisis but also thrive in the post-crisis world.”
The promise of digital transformation is at least in part the promise of agility -- the ability to identify more accurately and react more quickly to changing customer demands and market conditions. In this unnaturally compressed timeline brought about by COVID restrictions, such agility is not simply a competitive advantage, in many cases, it’s a requirement for survival.
In short, there is no better time to embrace and accelerate digital transformation than right now.
A compelling argument for open source
In a recent virtual roundtable hosted by EDB, we sat down with open source leaders, including Roberto Giordano, Capital Markets Database Services Manager at the London Stock Exchange Group, and Marc Linster, CTO at EDB, to understand digital transformation in the current business climate, and the role of open source in such initiatives.
Linster opened the discussion with this declaration, “There is now more opportunity than ever for digital transformation, and it’s moving very quickly. You have to seize this moment in order to create new value for your business.”
However, despite that opportunity, the panel acknowledged that the uncertainty of the current environment warrants different considerations, particularly on the economic front...and an even more compelling argument to adopt open source.
Given the financial ramifications and economic impact of COVID, panelists highlighted a general wariness of heavy investments - particularly on unproven ventures - and a desire for extremely short payback cycles. In particular, the discussion highlighted the value of being able to experiment and innovate without committing to exorbitant licensing fees. Some panelists also commented on the ability to delay monetary investments until production, after concepts had been proven, thereby reducing risk and significantly shortening a given project’s payback cycle.
Yet our panelists also acknowledged that there are risks: While the ideal of digital transformation is certainly compelling, the journey there can be a dangerous one.
In the discussion, our panelists highlighted three factors that had an outsized effect on mitigating that danger and driving the success of digital transformation projects:
Embed innovation into your organization
While it sounds rudimentary, panelists indicated that while companies almost universally claim to embrace innovation, they rarely consider how long-standing policies and procedures and the lack of proper tooling has a chilling effect on experimentation.
“The first step is confirming that the right policies are in place to allow developers to just download and try new things out,” explained Linster. “But you need the right tools in place - code scanning infrastructure as an example - to guard against virulent licenses or even malware. With the right infrastructure, your team has the freedom to innovate without introducing unfettered risk into your environment.”
By simplifying the adoption of open source at the organizational level, you can get the most from open source technologies during your digital transformation. That simplification is the embodiment of a cultural change explained our panel - through internal procedures such as approval processes, code scanning, encouraging openness to change, providing support for the bottom-up innovation process, and allowing teams to “fail fast.”
Adopt agile practices - and adapt them as your work structure changes
At the heart of any digital transformation initiative is a drive for innovation. Disruptive by its very nature, digital transformation requires “cross-departmental collaboration in pairing business-focused philosophies with rapid application development models”, as described by CIO’s Clint Boulton.
Given the scope of change that digital transformation can represent, some organizations fall into the trap of multi-year, multi-million dollar, monster projects -- a strategy our panelists vehemently dismissed. Instead, the group endorsed agile development to enable development teams the space to fail fast and also demonstrate quick, consistent wins.
The panel highlighted the value of iteration - the ability to cycle through proof of concept (PoC), minimally viable product (MVP), and rapid incremental releases speed up the processes and the outcomes while reducing the possibility of errors.
However, Giordano warned of the challenge of executing agile practices remotely for teams that are accustomed to in person engagement. “When everyone is remote, it can be difficult to replicate some of the intense collaboration that agile methods depend on. There isn’t a big board for you to gather around, and you may also miss the casual interactions in the kitchen or while getting coffee that can help get everyone aligned.”
That means everyone has to work a little harder to connect, explained Giordano. Sometimes that might mean 50% more meetings in the day or the exploration of new online tools that replicate the feeling of being in person.
“It’s really important to recognize that people need time and sometimes assistance in adapting to new situations,” continued Giordano. “The working environment we have today is different than what we had at the beginning of 2020 and will be different still in a few months.”
To adopt an agile mindset, you need to give yourself the opportunity to innovate faster. Linster pointed to microservices as one mechanism for doing so: “Digital transformation requires a future-proof architecture - modular building blocks that are reusable again and again. By making these ‘lego’ blocks smaller, you can push small changes out and have better control over their impact. The buzz word here is ‘microservices.’”
This style of development is well suited for rapidly changing markets, Linster commented. “You’re still innovating, but you’re keeping your innovations small so you can release it more quickly. If your code breaks something, it will only impact one or two things instead of 50, making it easier to fail fast and change things.”
That’s where Postgres can really help, concluded the panel - it serves as a great building block for microservices because it’s “extremely nimble and extremely capable.” In addition, it relies on a great stream of communication from the open source community, which itself is constantly evolving and innovating.
Times of uncertainty can either breed fear or breed innovation. Our panel felt that with the right approach - faster innovation, smaller pushes, and a “fail fast” mindset - coupled with the right tools (like Postgres), you can drive a digital transformation initiative forward productively and cost-effectively.
Ultimately, the transformation isn’t about technology - it’s about your business, and creating an organization agile enough to adapt to even the most trying of circumstances.