IT Playing Strategic Role In Digital Business Transformation – Forbes

Digital transformation is a phrase which gets used often these days. Personally, I prefer “data-driven transformation.” Digital transformation has been going on since the merging of IT and business in the 1970s, or possibly before. What is driving the latest, and potentially most disruptive, wave of change, is the skyrocketing amount of information we are now able to capture, analyze and learn from. These insights are changing the very way we do business and interact with customers.

Previous phases of the evolution of digital technology laid the foundations, but the era of the Internet of Things– with everything connected, online and communicating – will be more transformative still.

Never before has IT played a more pivotal role. Traditionally seen as a tool to keep business processes running efficiently behind the scenes, in the age of Uberization and Big Data, IT has become the business process. Companies and organizations which effectively navigate and harness the flood of available data – from within and from external sources – have got a bright future, while those that miss the boat will flounder. And more likely than not, IT will be the deciding factor.

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I spoke to Mark Hill, Vice President of Digitization at Cisco, about his thoughts on the important shifts going on in the industry, and how IT is helping companies develop new business models to adapt to market and competitive forces, fundamentally changing companies’ relationships with their customers.

As new business models emerge, the ability to securely access information from multiple sources becomes more critical than ever. Speaking about his company’s recent breakthrough in detecting malware inside encrypted data without the need to decrypt it, Mark says:

“There’s this huge debate in industry – privacy guys are saying ‘you can’t look at my data to make sure it’s secure, because I want privacy’, and security guys are saying ‘So how are we going to understand if there’s a threat hidden in your data?’ So, we figured out how to do security analysis without decrypting the data – we are the first in the world to do that, and we do it because we have so much data to look at – billions and billions of encrypted packets running over our networks – and that gives us insights into behavioural patterns, and from those we found we can identify security issues without even looking at the data.”

It’s a great example of a response to a vital real-world issue – balancing security and privacy – solved with a new way of looking at an abundance of data. And of course, it was a solution engineered and implemented entirely through IT.

“This is a technology that changes things- it allows big enterprise customers to do things they could never do before. I don’t have to go to my customers and business partners and force them to have a less private connection with me, I can connect deeply without having any privacy issues.”

IT as corporate visionaries

Change of this sort is inevitably leading to IT taking on a more strategic role in the business. “Now I have to start looking at – who’s in my IT environment” Hill says, “I need people who understand our objectives and can help me figure out how technology can enable new business models.”

Company objectives can change overnight,and the speed and volume of data-driven insights is accelerating. Many, Cisco included, recognize customers’ needs for a more flexible, more agile approach to consuming and managing IT. Cisco is addressing this on multiple fronts, including taking on the perennial issue of complexity in software agreements.

“As companies seek to develop new business models and create new revenue streams, they need a simple, flexible way to manage their software investments. Our new Enterprise Agreement encourages customer growth. We offer a 20 percent growth allowance and a unique “True Forward” provision. Before now, software vendors used a “true up” approach that included retroactive billing for over-usage.We’re not going to do that. We want to encourage customer growth, not penalize it”

Businesses need simplified access to ongoing innovation – digital (or data-driven) transformation is not a process which is embarked upon, completed and laid to rest. Remaining on the cutting-edge requires consistent investment in analysis, tools and training. “They [businesses] are on this journey of digitization and no one really knows what they are going to need – their needs and requirements will change over a period of time. Whatever they decide to do at the start will probably be wrong – because things change so rapidly.”

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