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Expectations and Adaptation: Tackling Today’s Most Pervasive Customer Challenges

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Winning strategies sometimes stop working. The key to enduring success is to be vigilant and ready to adapt when that happens.

Having spent much of this past year on the road meeting customers, I've learned firsthand how organizations are struggling. They are trying to reconcile today’s extreme pace of change with rising customer demands. They’re serving customers who don’t always know what they want, while facing constant pressure to innovate, compete, and respond to unforeseen market developments (e.g., COVID-19).

For many of our customers, these rapidly changing dynamics have become a catalyst to embark on large-scale transformations. It’s no surprise then that our recent State of Application Services research found that 80% of organizations are on a digital transformation journey.

While digital transformation journeys can take several forms, the outcomes organizations seek from those journeys are common: improved customer experience, business agility, and a clear return on investment. In order to compete, companies have to be able to deliver a superior customer experience—buyers know they have a choice and will exercise that power. Organizations must also continually improve business agility, because companies that are able to respond more quickly to market opportunities and changes have an advantage. And, more so than ever before, organizations expect a tangible return on investments in digital technologies and initiatives.

In pursuit of these outcomes, companies are encountering several challenges, which I’ve now heard countless customers describe in an eerily similar way. I’ll break down a few of them here.

The first is infrastructure lock-in, which limits an organization’s ability to move an application from one environment to another (e.g., from on premises to public cloud, or from public cloud to another public cloud). Nearly nine out of 10 organizations are pursuing a multi-cloud architecture, largely because they want to be able to take advantage of the unique value propositions in each environment. At the same time, many organizations are now far enough along in their adoption of public cloud to realize that they’ve simply traded being locked into their on-premises infrastructure for being locked into another infrastructure environment.

Another challenge is around complex compliance and policy requirements, which ultimately can slow time to market or damage the end-customer experience. The threat surface area is rapidly expanding as applications are disaggregated into composite services and distributed across different environments. Customers are increasingly forced to choose between getting an application to market quickly or taking valuable time and expertise to solve for the specific business risks a breach of the application might present.

Customers are also experiencing tremendous tool sprawl. Each new infrastructure environment (e.g., Kubernetes, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure) and each new application architecture (e.g., microservices, serverless) that customers adopt brings with it a host of new tools to develop, deploy, manage, operate, and secure applications. History tells us that old architectures and infrastructure generally live on with the new—just look at how many organizations continue to rely on mainframe for some critical capabilities. The sheer number of tools in use across a diverse enterprise application portfolio is untenable in terms of operational complexity and cost.

Which leads me to the number one challenge that our customers face: lack of visibility. Not a single customer I’ve met with feels comfortable with the visibility they have into their applications. Most large organizations are unable to pinpoint how many applications they have (most don’t even have a common understanding of what defines an application). Nor do they know which environments those applications are running in. And if they don’t know those two things, they surely don’t have a handle on all the threats and areas of risk across their application portfolios. Even for their most important applications, most organizations are not able to consistently monitor SLAs around availability and response times. In many cases, unless an end user reports it, they don’t know when their applications have stopped running.

How is this possible? How is it possible that Domino's offers better visibility into pizza delivery than our most sophisticated customers can get with their most valued assets—their applications?

As alarming as these challenges may be, they also represent an opportunity to take the next big leap. What’s on the other side is worth it: the visibility and agility required to continually adapt to serve customers and maintain a competitive advantage.

What's so incredibly exciting about where we are today at F5 is that we too are adapting our solutions in this time of extreme acceleration: of bold digital transformation initiatives, of rapid application development and deployment, of public cloud and software-first strategies—and at the same time of application portfolio sprawl, security breaches, and escalating risk.

Our mission in 2020 is to take our portfolio of solutions, from BIG-IP to NGINX to F5 Cloud Services, Silverline, and Shape—and better adapt them to the realities customers face today so they can deliver the digital experiences that will drive business success tomorrow. Here at F5, we have embraced adaptation as a steady state of being.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll post more in this space to explain how we’re doing it.

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