Digital transformation is whatever you want it to be

Published on the 12/04/2017 | Written by Donovan Jackson

Digital transformation_Mulesoft

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”…

It’s down the rabbit hole for digital transformation as it becomes increasingly clear that it can mean anything you want it to mean. Such is the transformative power of the hype which so often engulfs the tech industry as it latches on to the latest catchphrase and uses it to sell, sell, sell. We’ve even recently seen what is now one of the world’s biggest and youngest tech services companies, DXC, explicitly bake digital transformation into, if not its DNA, then certainly its name.

More evidence of the madness comes on the back of a recent chat with MuleSoft founder Ross Mason. Fresh from a recent listing on the NYSE which saw it emerge as a somewhat unheralded unicorn – that is, boasting a market cap of nearly US$3 billion – Mason paid a visit down under.

Firstly, though, he was surprisingly laconic about a listing which has, by all accounts, shot the lights out. “There’s no change in the strategy and direction which we have been executing on for the last few years; the reasoning [for the listing] is that this is the next stage of growth for us. It’s a move out of mum’s house into the big wide world,” said Mason.

But on to the jibber jabber about the buzzphrase du jour. Mason said MuleSoft tends to look outward at what digital transformation means for its customers and serve that need. It completed a recent survey to support that view, which, he said “Helps us to better understand what digital transformation means to customers.”

And, continued Mason, “There is a really wide playing field on what people think digital transformation is. On this year’s study, it was a bit more normalised, but last year it was pretty crazy.”

The biggest answer, then, was ‘going paperless’. “We thought that had happened in the 2000s or even the late 1990s, but it turns out there is still a lot of swivel-chair integration going on.”

This year, however, Mason said it is apparent that the relentless digital transformation message is getting to market. “A lot of organisations are actively undertaking digital transformation initiatives. They are readying for change – but there is no agreement on what that change is, yet.”

It’s back to Alice in Wonderland; Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Mason said that as every company is leveraging software, the role of central IT isn’t just starting to show cracks, but the foundation is crumbling. “There are too many requests and those are not well triaged. The IT department is still saying ‘no’ more than ‘yes’, so it needs to figure out what it needs to do to support business now or in the next 5 years.”

In the conversations MuleSoft has with customers, Mason said, ‘going faster’ is a common refrain. “But there is also a need to change the approach as just going faster doesn’t necessarily work. For example, shifting to new delivery styles [DevOps] will make you faster, but doesn’t change what you’re building.”

And, neatly, that is where APIs come in.

Their role in digital transformation, said Mason, shouldn’t be underestimated. “APIs are a very good way to exchange information or capability between two parties. We’ve seen that play out on the web, with 16 000 open APIs available. Value is delivered when consumers can access and build new value on top of them; in the enterprise, it is the same thing.”

Not reinventing the wheel, in simple terms. “APIs can unlock enterprise data and assets and make them more accessible to consumers in that enterprise.”

But IT departments aren’t accustomed to building reusable components, with the traditional focus instead on delivering one-off projects then moving to the next.

Mason did note that more organisations are joining the dots where APIs are concerned. “There is recognition that there is something of value, but they are trying to figure what it is and how to achieve it. But people are switching on that reusable assets are valuable.”


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