Six Technical Capabilities to Accelerate Digital Transformation

F5 Miniature
Published January 05, 2023

In the 21st century, a wave of digitization has boosted the development of the global economy and ushered in leapfrog changes.

Looking at the world today, every industry—from banking, manufacturing, retail, media entertainment, to education—has begun to actively execute a digital strategy. As a result, there is a growing trend of transformation from traditional businesses to fully digital and automated enterprises.

With the power of digital, businesses will focus on user experience while reshaping the technology foundation to create more value. However, constrained by limited budgets and a shortage of technical talent, many companies are choosing to rest on their core businesses and innovate only at the edge.

Conservative business operating models and cultures, characterized by a lack of adaptable risk management and security strategies, applications and infrastructure that rely on human intervention, and lack of insightful technical capabilities, have become a liability to business growth. As digital transformation drives enterprises toward the goal of adaptability, enterprises need to rely on the application of innovative technologies to solve the pain points in the above areas in order to improve the efficiency and speed of enterprises, release enterprise adaptability and innovation capabilities, and lead the realization of digital transformation.

In 2019, we published a three-phase digital transformation framework, which the subsequent years (including a pandemic) have borne out. Digital transformation continues to advance, and digitization is driving business innovation. At the heart of digital transformation is innovation through optimizing business and technology. Even if digital transformation has become the main theme of enterprise strategic transformation, enterprises that want to use digital transformation to lead change need to identify their own technical capabilities and understand the characteristics of each stage of enterprise development, so as to create a customized transformation strategy.

The Three Phases of Digital Transformation

We divide the digital transformation development of enterprises into three stages:

  • Task automation, which improves efficiency by introducing applications into business processes and shifting complex, manually completed tasks to automated execution.
  • Digital expansion, in which a new generation of applications will scale digitally as enterprises begin to automate with cloud-native infrastructure and software development, enabling end-to-end processes across the enterprise to be digitally completed.
  • AI-assisted business, in which there is a further deepening of the digitization process of enterprises. Application platforms, telemetry, data analysis, machine learning, and artificial intelligence technologies will be integrated into the business processes of enterprises, through artificial intelligence to assist business to improve the productivity of enterprises.

With research from F5's State of Application Strategy 2022 Report and numerous industry examples, we know that most enterprises today are in the second phase of their digital transformation, which is characterized by a focus on modernizing applications and operations, and a growing desire to adopt cloud and edge technologies to accelerate innovation.

Six Technical Capabilities to Accelerate Digital Transformation

The urgent pursuit of digital transformation makes the advancement of new digital IT architectures inevitable, but today's mainstream enterprise architectures lack the necessary factors of agility, scale, security, and observability, which are the key to driving technological change and circumventing increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks.

Therefore, we have summarized the six core technical capabilities that enterprises must have to help them cope with the risks and challenges they face in the process of digital transformation.

  1. IT Infrastructure: The acceleration of digital transformation has driven the rapid distribution of societies, users, and applications to the cloud and edge, and traditional enterprise infrastructure architectures have been replaced. Today's enterprise IT infrastructures are delivering system, network, and storage resources in a unified, more efficient way across data center, cloud, and edge environments. It is no longer fixed or static but is based on dynamic and distributed concepts that support the resource resiliency of other infrastructure environments.
  2. Data: Even under traditional architectures and policies, enterprise data can function properly in today's environment. However, businesses now need to scale their data to break down data silos, including leveraging telemetry to collect real-time operational data, executing new strategies to provide more accurate, sharp insights, and driving automation and decision-making. In addition, traditional data strategies should be modernized to accommodate and meet the needs of the users concerned and compliance with the requirements of the business data privacy policy.
  3. App and App Delivery: Applications are the lifeblood of a digital business. Digital businesses rely on applications to deliver customer-facing services and to automate back-end business workflows. An application in a digital business is considered agile and dynamic, in that it scales as business demand increases. This contrasts with the notion of an application in a pre-digital business and in the traditional enterprise architecture where it is considered static and fixed. This concept of “applications as dynamic digital services” leads to the emergence of application delivery as a key part of an application’s life cycle. Today, app delivery has evolved into a distinct discipline of technical capabilities and best practices necessary for scaling, distributing, and delivering applications over a diverse and elastic infrastructure environment including public cloud, edge, and private data centers. As pressure to improve performance increases and users expect more from digital experiences, businesses need to deliver applications more frequently and dynamically to meet the changing business conditions. This is bound to put application delivery on the technology agenda of digital businesses.
  4. Observability and Automation: The adaptability of any organism is closely related to its ability to receive signals and adjust automatically. Like life, the digital enterprise must be able to obtain the most powerful set of digital signals possible to ensure that it can process and analyze signals and adapt to changes in the environment internally and externally. Observability injects the digital enterprise with the signals (i.e., data) it needs to adapt with minimal human intervention (i.e., automation). With observability and automation, organizations have access to a comprehensive, closed-loop feedback mechanism that allows technology leaders to focus on innovating and improving the business, rather than just focusing on core business capabilities.
  5. Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) Practices: Incorporating desired business outcomes into service level objectives (SLOs) and operating an entire digital service with minimal intervention is a new skill that requires new practices and approaches. This can be achieved by adopting a SRE approach to operations. “Minimal human intervention” means that human governance—and sometimes action—is still needed. SRE fills the need to operate digital businesses based on data and applications by leveraging automation that focuses on meeting SLOs linked to business outcomes rather than purely technical measures. Adopting SRE is a critical, organizational change that is necessary to run a digital business effectively and take full advantage of the benefits of data and automation.
  6. Security: Security is a key area of enterprise digital transformation, and secure deployment and policy enforcement needs to permeate every layer in the digital IT architecture. While the tools and techniques to enforce security policies and provide digital businesses with the insights needed to manage risk vary from layer to layer, we’ve found that there is a broad need for enterprises to detect and eliminate security threats, but not at the expense of the business. In addition, the traditional binary security strategy based on rigid IT architecture will no longer serve the business and can even become a hindrance to the development of the enterprise. As a result, organizations need to find the necessary balance between security and performance in their risk strategies.

For CIO and IT leaders, accelerating digital transformation requires thinking about how the company's technology capabilities match their business strategy to help them move forward in an evolving environment and ultimately achieve digital transformation.

This article excerpts from a new book by F5’s Lori MacVittie, Distinguished Engineer and Principal Technical Evangelist, and Geng Lin, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Enterprise Architecture for Digital Business: Transforming IT.