Digital transformation: The term has been batted about since it was coined more than a decade ago. I think we can all agree, though, that the “use of technology to radically improve performance or reach of enterprises” really gained momentum when the COVID-19 pandemic set in.
As we all remember, the entire world went digital within a matter of weeks, and enterprises raced to fulfill the skyrocketing consumer demand for digital products and services. In fact, according to McKinsey, global businesses accelerated the adoption of digital offerings by an average rate of seven years — in a matter of just seven months. I distinctly recall one customer of ours describing how they had to create 70,000 home workers in three days!
The same McKinsey report shows that most business leaders anticipate society’s digital shift to be permanent. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon certainly thinks the increased use of digital apps and services is here to stay. He recently announced a 26% increase to Chase’s technology budget, focusing the $12 billion investment on ratcheting up Chase’s portfolio of digital apps and services.
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Providing innovative technologies is just half the job, though. There’s a lurking problem for business leaders: They can’t afford to let these systems fail.
One hiccup in today’s elaborate IT ecosystem can cause a cascade of problems. And when one of these hiccups crashes an app or service, companies risk disrupted revenue streams, depleted stocks, interrupted supply chains, lost productivity and displeased customers who can be quite vocal about their dismay. (Just ask enterprises like Slack and Facebook.)
Maintaining uptime is imperative to business continuity, but ensuring availability is difficult. As businesses digitally transform and move their assets to the cloud and consumers utilize more digital innovations, IT environments grow in scale, complexity and fragility.
Consequently, keeping apps and services constantly running must be a primary business objective. While leaders traditionally farmed out these responsibilities solely to the IT department, technology has become so critical to business success that availability can no longer stop there. It must be a culture and leadership issue.
Here are five steps executives can take to start embracing availability:
Elevate availability to priority #1.
When considering an enterprise’s numerous priorities, executives should take stock of availability’s critical importance. Does the company employ a virtual or hybrid workforce? Does the company interact or transact with customers online? Is revenue generated from online transactions? The questions can continue based on the industry, but chances are that most modern enterprises would agree they rely on a suite of apps and services for desired business outcomes.
Given the critical nature of digital apps and services — and their ability to work seamlessly — executives should consider creating a culture around availability as a key performance indicator. Practically speaking, executives can and should treat availability numbers similarly to sales figures or other revered business metrics. One senior leader should be held accountable to the availability metrics and deemed responsible for relentlessly scrutinizing and reporting on these figures alongside the business’s other KPIs.
If executives really want to underscore the importance of availability, they can incentivize their workforces. Business leaders can make availability a compensation-affecting business objective, like beating profit or sales targets. And they can tie these availability metrics back to the bottom line.
Tout IT talent.
In the era of “every business is a software business,” enterprises can no longer tuck away tech talent out of sight, removed from customer interaction. In fact, they should do the exact opposite, showing off their IT departments and making them part of the business’s core value proposition. Actively marketing a company’s tech and nerd credentials will drive confidence in the brand’s digital presence.
Naturally, elevating the IT team goes both ways. Executives must also show genuine trust and respect for these professionals. Even without extensive technical knowledge, business leaders can provide advanced tools that make teams’ working lives easier by automating and improving service assurance. And they can give them the freedom to use modern paradigms like DevOps and CI/CD pipelines. An IT team with respect, resources and support will have a foot up on delivering innovations and protecting their availability.
Treat unceasing innovation as standard.
As most executives know, today’s world of digital business demands continuous innovation as a minimum requirement for keeping pace with competitors. This unceasing innovation requires executives to drop risk-averse postures and embrace reinvention.
Of course, amidst digital innovation, reinvention and even failure, availability remains a top priority. Executives need tools that allow businesses to experiment and sometimes falter with the least amount of negative business impact. After all, stagnation is no longer an option.
Unleash the inner Dimon — invest!
If an enterprise relies on various digital apps and services for business continuity, executives should guarantee the entire infrastructure supporting those technologies is unparalleled.
While only the lucky few have an extra $12 billion on hand to invest in technology, executives should advocate for a big piece of the pie to go toward technology investment. And technology investment shouldn’t stop at tools. Forward-thinking enterprises invest in next-generation tools alongside talent, training and time to innovate.
Cultivate a leadership team with technical know-how.
Executives should ask themselves a simple question: does anyone on the most senior team have “coding” in their past or even present core competencies? While leadership teams are usually stacked with impressive qualifications — CPAs, MBAs and JDs — few include engineers with practical coding experience. But given the importance of technology, executives should surround themselves with true technology practitioners.
A chief digital officer (CDO) can become a business leader’s availability czar. With a depth of engineering experience, this role can help executives understand and benchmark their companies’ digital performance and balance digital transformation efforts with operations management.
Following these steps sends a clear message both internally and externally: innovating is no longer enough — these innovations also need to work. If executives want to maximize their digital investments and thrive in a digital-first world, they must embrace availability.
Phil Tee, Ph.D. is the co-founder and CEO of Moogsoft, a leading provider of artificial intelligence for IT operations (AIOps). Phil has founded and led numerous companies, including Micromuse, RiverSoft (IPO) and Njini (acquired by Riverbed). As an innovator and pioneer in artificial intelligence, Phil has authored numerous peer-reviewed journals researching the very underpinnings of artificial intelligence, graph theory and network topology, as well as the filing of more than 70 patents in the application of artificial intelligence.