Opinion

What’s App in the world of business?

Neelam Dhawan | Updated on January 23, 2018 Published on October 20, 2015

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IT is no longer a backroom thing. It is the defining disruptive element, and this has still not sunk in



Once upon a time, IT’s only focus was managing back office operations. From keeping the email server running to monitoring financial systems and optimising general databases, tech managers worked hard to preserve the status quo. Those days are now in the past and IT managers must keep up with the changing digital landscape in order to remain competitive.

HP recently surveyed 150 enterprise IT and line-of-business leaders in India and found that there’s a widening gap between the leaders who want to use IT as a powerful business tool (to disrupt their industries through digital technologies) and the laggards who are more concerned with just keeping the lights on (embrace digital technologies but lack a clearly defined digital vision). Unsurprisingly, the research showed that leaders were most likely to disrupt their industries while the laggards were destined to be disrupted.

For example, 97 per cent of the leaders identified in the survey had already embraced digital technology in some form. Of those, 90 per cent had made an outsized commitment to the cloud and new forms of delivering IT application services. Because of their decision to embrace this new technology, 41 per cent showed better business results compared to prior business performance. These are the new IT leaders and their influence is growing.

How are they gaining an advantage?

Critical upgrades

Many are embracing a new style of business in which the underlying platforms are automated, open and optimised, agile and analytically driven to deliver business operations digitally.

The form these innovations take varies by industry. From banks that allow customers to deposit cheques with a photo, to grocery stores that allow for home ordering via apps, digital leaders use new platforms and architectures to move quickly and deliver business outcomes. The best among them utilise four attributes.

1 Automation Leading IT platforms are automated all the way from the app to the infrastructure. Rather than developers having to fill out a ticket and wait for the operations team to release one or more virtual machines, the infrastructure matches resources to the code as it’s developed, tested and deployed. In this instance, the platforms are managing infrastructure in much the same way the developers expect — using Restful Application Program Interfaces (APIs) and modern development software to create common tool chains. This is a critical upgrade in which infrastructure moves from static to fully programmable.

For example, imagine a bank wants to update its app to distinguish between photos of cheques meant for a business account from those meant for a personal account. The developer shouldn’t have to order additional resources to get the job done. Instead, the tools already in place should be tuned to direct the necessary infrastructure to develop, test and deploy automatically. When you get to this “Big A” automation (common tool chains and processes from an app to a modern, programmable infrastructure), you have a legitimate foundation for an innovation factory.

More optimisation

2 Open and hybrid optimised Innovative platforms are no longer 100 per cent home-grown because that need no longer exists. Similarly, data centres are no longer physical buildings, but collections of IT resources without boundaries delivered on demand. Apps are just as flexible, made extensible through micro services, accessed through APIs and delivered (and paid for) only as needed. As important as it is to have common tool chains and capabilities as described in the “Big A” above, building on top of an open, extensible and hybrid environment is also crucial for promoting innovation. Picking the right environment matters.

Open platforms that are widely supported and reinforced by common APIs that perform predictably in any region are a must for creating disruptive apps.

Consider Uber. The car service didn’t have to create localised SMS for every country where it operates to communicate with customers. Instead, adding that feature required an API, good developers and a trusted third-party service to plug into its app infrastructure. In this case, Uber partnered with Twilio.

The same argument can be made on the infrastructure side where securely deploying bare metal, a storage service or a virtual machine should be exactly the same inside your data centre as it is from an external service.

3 Agility Platforms must be able to grow and change. Agile infrastructures account for this by allowing developers to securely source tools, systems and digital resources from other providers, anywhere in the world, when the app requires it, all without disrupting users.

Now, think of home grocery delivery services. Most apps allow users to create a list, but completing the order requires an API to connect the user’s grocery list to the store’s inventory database to check stock, and then requires another API to forward the order to a third-party logistics provider to schedule delivery. Using these third-party resources allows the developer to write a complete app and allows the store to deliver a complete experience to the customer. Choosing the best development platform is important to ensure you have the agility to deliver in the open and hybrid world.

4 Analytically driven Advanced control systems will provide great feedback loops. That means capturing Big Data and using fine-grained analytics tools to detect patterns that can become opportunities for automating and optimising the underlying infrastructure, allowing for critical and continuous improvement.

Most retailers go through some form of this process every holiday shopping season, but usually without the benefit of deep insights. Instead, many overbuy compute resources to ensure that e-commerce sites don’t go dark. By contrast, analytically-driven platforms manage higher holiday traffic by feeding insights to developers who securely leverage data from around the world and program the infrastructure to respond automatically when certain patterns emerge.

Need for commitment

Talking about a responsive platform is very different from building one. That requires an uncommon level of commitment. So uncommon that 61 per cent of the organisations in India surveyed lacked the qualities to be considered a digital disrupter. These are the mainstreamers and the laggards who are content to follow the digital status quo and hope for the best.

Conversely, the remaining 39 per cent are the digital pathfinders who see IT as their strategic business tool. These pathfinders will emerge stronger for having embraced a new style of business in which discussions about technology begin and end with business goals in mind. This is a future that is available today and made real by modern infrastructures that are automated, open and optimised, agile and analytically driven.

The writer is the country managing director of HP India

Published on October 20, 2015
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