Digital transformation: Why digital transformation is the ultimate in future-proofing

Digital transformation is about improving speed and flexibility, satisfying customer expectations, and adding extra security in a changing environment

Nick Connors, group chief executive, TEKenable: ‘We had our contact tracing system in the HSE, and it wasn't compromised at all during the attack on the HSE’s systems’

At TEKenable, which specialises in working with enterprise-grade clients, digital transformation is an ongoing process of responding to the future, but that invariably means taking account of what has been done in the past.

“What we find with many organisations is that they have grown through acquisitions, and this means they have a lot of technology,” he said.

Often the technology is in need of serious consolidation. One client had 39 ERP systems, for instance. Naturally this is inefficient and caused siloing.

It is also understandable, however. When one company acquires another, it is typical to let it bed in for a few years, and, in practical terms, that will mean leaving the existing technology stack for some time.

The nettle must be grasped sooner or later, however, but the first question is likely to be: where do we even start with such a major project?

You start in small chunks, said Connors.

“You have an elephant, and you're not going to eat it all at once; you do it one bite at a time. You need to map out where to start and typically it's with the customer-facing aspects. You have a younger generation coming up and they are used to phones and computers so you need to meet their expectations,” he said.

Customer-facing applications can typically be rapidly moved to the cloud, leaving back-office functions integrated and, thus, able to remain in place, albeit with a plan to migrate those in time.

Much of TEKenable’s cloud work is focused around Microsoft Azure, and for good reason: the majority of businesses are already deeply embedded in the Microsoft ecosystem, so using Azure gives them a head start.

“Most organisations, they all use email and most use Office 365, so we are extending functionality out from there. It's all integrated. Six or seven years ago, [the cloud] was not like that,” said Connors.

Another advantage, he said, is that Azure means rarely or never having to truly start from scratch.

“There's huge functionality in their platforms, so when you're starting you’re already well down the road. You can do things quite quickly and show them how it's going to work – within weeks and months,” he said.

Critical infrastructure

Another aspect common to most digital transformations is a recognition of the threat landscape, which keeps getting worse, with ransomware, zero-day attacks and malware as a service all becoming increasingly common.

The Covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact as well, with businesses rushing to get online in order to simply keep the lights on.

Indeed, one survey carried out by PWC in the United States said that as companies rushed to adapt to pandemic-inspired changes in work and business models, many left security behind. Half or more of the CISOs and CIOs questioned told PWC that they haven’t fully mitigated the risks associated with remote work (50 per cent), digitisation (53 per cent) or cloud adoption (54 per cent).

This level of unpreparedness is demonstrably a problem, Connors said. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Russian hackers have attacked organisations in 42 countries that are supporting Ukraine, he said, and some 29 per cent of those attacks have been successful.

Moving away from vulnerable legacy infrastructure can help to deal with this, he said.

“We don’t sell security, but it has really come to the forefront, as legacy technology is really exposed. We had our contact tracing system in the HSE, and it wasn't compromised at all during the attack on the HSE’s systems,” he said.

Indeed, the fact that it was not compromised was not the only remarkable thing about TEKenable’s contact tracing application. It also demonstrates that digital transformation can result in the rapid development and deployment of robust applications.

“We have a real concrete example [of digital transformation] in the contact tracing system we had for the HSE. Britain took a lot longer [to develop theirs] and still failed. We had something up in a month and it functioned,” Connors said.

Rapid development does not mean writing applications that cannot stand up to the heat of use. In fact, said Connors, the digital mindset means selecting a methodology that cuts down on bugs.

“Yes, you're writing some code – you're not writing hundreds or thousands of lines, where one line going wrong will cause you great problems,” he said.

The lesson is, Connors said, that digital transformation brings tangible benefits to organisations, and it is now a possibility for all of them.

“The bulk of what we do now is digital transformation and I would encourage people to talk to our customers. All of them, bar none, would say ‘why didn't we do this years ago’. Of course, the technology wasn't available years ago."

The technology is available now. What needs to be available alongside it, though, is a willingness to move forward.

“What matters most is turning that [old-fashioned] mindset around so that the business takes ownership of the project,” he said.