How companies can digitally transform like Netflix, Apple, and Amazon

SPR's Justin Rodenbostel explains how companies can succeed with their digital transformation efforts by taking initiative and preparing for the transition.

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For TechRepublic and ZDNet Dan Patterson talked with Justin Rodenbostel, the executive director of open source application development at SPR, about how a business can rise above others and be successful through a digital transformation.

Dan Patterson: Digital transformation is an undeniable component of every company, whether they're SMB startups or enterprise companies. But digital transformation is not easy. Justin, thank you for your time today. I wonder if we could start by first defining what digital transformation is to most companies. Every company is unique and has their own path, but when we talk about digital transformation, what exactly are we talking about?

Justin Rodenbostel: Sure. And you're right, it is loaded. It's a loaded term that a lot of people use to mean a lot of different things. The way that we like to think of it is, it's kind of a call to action for modernization, specifically using new technology, technology that's recently been introduced to uncover, capture, protect, previously unrealized market share. The popular examples that you think of is Netflix where it pivoted from DVD delivery to a streaming service. That's an example of a super effective transformation.

Patterson: What are some of the road blocks or challenges that companies could experience while they're undergoing a similar type of pivot?

Rodenbostel: Honestly, the number one hindrance is companies that don't take on the initiative to start with. I think that also comes with a lack of preparation. Part of this transformation implies that the organization is already doing a fair amount of research and development. That your organization already has a relatively mature delivery team that's capable of acting on the research and development that the team has been doing. It's kind of a mixture, right? You have to be prepared. You have to have a capable team. And you have to make the investment. You have to understand what that investment entails.

Patterson: Massive technology companies like Apple and Amazon have learned to move quickly by creating small teams. Amazon has the two-pizza rule, that a team cannot be larger than what it takes two pizzas to consume. How can you get even a massive enterprise company, let alone a startup, to behave in a way that they are all on the same team, and small teams inter-operate with larger teams?

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Rodenbostel: That's a good question. I think that it goes back to modern delivery methodology. It goes back to executives enabling innovation by creating these small teams that are kind of separate from constraints of the larger enterprise, where success can be realized more rapidly, and then publicized. So where the interaction comes in is after, let's say some research has been acted upon by a small team that has an investment to uncover an innovation that might capture some of the market share we talked about earlier, that accomplishment needs to be publicized and championed by executives so that other teams kind of get excited and wanna participate. And then you can start to analyze which barriers can be broken down between these small, innovative teams and the larger enterprise. Like how teams communicate, the tools that teams use, how teams are organized, how teams even handle technical things like how environments are provisioned, and how people do their day-to-day work.

Patterson: I loved your example a moment ago of Netflix's pivot from the queue to streaming. It almost goes without saying, but I want to make sure that we kind of hammer on some of these points. What are some of the advantages to undergoing a digital transformation?

Rodenbostel: In Netflix's case, if you think of the way that infrastructure has managed, the way that streaming media technology works, the way that available bandwidth became all of these things enabling, and also the awareness of the streaming media markets, enabled Netflix to seize on this opportunity.

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