Application Transformation 101: Quick Study Guide

Application Transformation is a core component of an IT organization’s transformation from a “technology provider” to a “business enabler”. At its core, this transition revolves around three core principles, namely value creation, transparency, and collaboration. At first glance, you may be asking “what about technology? This is IT after all, isn’t it.” To that I reply, in the new economy, technology is a catalyst for change and primarily a means to an end, and that end is to create value for the organization.

Technology for the sake of technology is interesting but of limited value unless it is applied against the corporate strategies.  Case-in-point, the iPhone/iPad. By itself the iPhone/iPad is nothing more than a “very expensive cutting board” (see German iPad Commercial). The true value of the iPhone/iPad is not the touch technology, ulta-light compute platform, or simplistic design rather it is the comprehensive ecosystem of services (iTunes, AppStore, and countless 3rd Party services) that deliver value to their customer and drive revenue through the front door

Processing 460563761The most successful IT organizations are those that can seamlessly weave technology into the business fabric to provide new and/or improved services to internal and external consumers in-line with market demands and technological advances. Take Netflix as an example, within the last 4 years Netflix has revolutionized how we watch video from DVD mail order subscription services to high-def, streaming video. This type of success can only be accomplished through synergistic goals rooted in deep collaboration between all stakeholders along the product development lifecycle, especially the business. In short, this means that developers, testers, release mangers, operations engineers, and product owners are partners in the development of new products and services. The ability to rapidly prototype, introduce new technologies, and test new ideas, like Netflix “Streaming-Only” service in 2010, is only possible when these cross-functional teams are working in concert toward a common goal, namely to create value by promoting stable changes into production.

Collaboration at this level requires trust and that trust is based on a series of transparent process and practices that equip decision makers with the critical data around opportunity size, opportunity cost, release capacity, and market readiness. It is this last concept that completes the transition from technology provider to business enabler. By being transparent with respect to cost, schedule, capacity, throughput, etc., IT levels the playing field in the boardroom and changes the conversation from “why can’t we do that?” to “what should we be doing to move the needle on strategy understanding our collective constraints?”; this is the transition from gatekeeper to enabler.

Narrowing the focus a bit, what does this specifically mean for IT and Applications in the future? What business drivers are incenting this need to change? And, what are the core future state requirements that must be considered when planning a transformation in the applications space?

The drivers behind application transformation are not revolutionary or even new. Yet, the pace of technology change, the lower barrier of entry into the market, and the availability of cheap and/or free (open source) labor has greatly increased the urgency to transform. As expected, the common drivers behind transformation are as follows:

  • Improve speed and agility so that the organization can create value more quickly and pivot in response to customer feedback, market demands, new technologies, etc.
  • Improve cost benefit ratio of the application portfolio and development processes so that funding and time commonly associated with maintenance, enhancement, and support can be redirected to more strategic endeavors like mobile or big data.
  • Improve quality by building it into the design and moving forward in the SDLC to minimize and/or contain risk associated with market trials, production releases, compliance, security, etc.

While there has been little change to the drivers of application transformation, advances in technology such as cloud computing, mobile devices, and platform automation to name a few have drastically changed how users expect to consume these services and as such how these new services are being built. 3990818Unlike previous decades where IT could dictate how consumers interacted with technology, IT consumer expectations today are now being set by external technology and service providers like Apple and Amazon; and, they are setting that bar very high. As mentioned above, IT has the opportunity ‘to either disrupt or be disrupted’. Without transforming how applications and services are built and consumed, IT will struggle to meet the fast, simple, and self-service bar by the new economy. So what does Application Delivery look like in the new IT shop?

In a nutshell, it looks like an App Store or Services Portal. The future state requirements for a modernized Application Delivery shops are as follows:

  • Self-service catalog enable through a user portal. Automated, traceable service requests & fulfillment
  • Business aligned services managed through service frameworks and accessible through externalized APIs.
  • Standardized tool chains that allow for deep automation and workflow orchestration.
  • Composite applications built from lightweight, event-driven, micro-service architectures run on hybrid cloud that can be assembled on-demand to address common business and customer usecases.
  • Deliver services at the convenience levels of commercial service providers. Access to services through device of choice.

In the Part 2, I will cover the common transformation framework that lays out the key components of application transformation.

About the Author: Bart Driscoll

Bart Driscoll is the Global Innovation Lead for Digital Services at Dell Technologies. This practice delivers a full spectrum of platform, data, application, and operations related services that help our clients navigate through the complexities and challenges of modernizing legacy portfolios, implementing continuous delivery systems, and adopting lean devops and agile practices. Bart’s passion for lean, collaborative systems combined with his tactical, action-oriented focus has helped Dell Technologies partner with some of the largest financial services and healthcare companies to begin the journey of digital transformation. Bart has broad experience in IT ranging from networking engineering to help desk management to application development and testing. He has spent the last 22 years honing his application development and delivery skills in roles such as Information Architect, Release Manager, Test Manager, Agile Coach, Architect, and Project/Program Manager. Bart has held certifications from PMI, Agile Alliance, Pegasystems, and Six Sigma. Bart earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of the Holy Cross and a master’s degree from the University of Virginia.
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