Dear Executives, There’s a Missing Link in Digital Transformation: Legacy IT Isn’t a Buffet



You’ve seen this at every lunch buffet. Someone piles too much food on their plate, with eyes bigger than their stomach. This always reminds me of an old proverb: Don’t bite off more than you can chew. It occurs to me that as enterprises scramble for digital transformation, could they face the same problem?

A month ago, I came across a revealing survey. While 70% of C-level executives view their company’s digital transformation to be ahead of competitors’, only 30% of non-executive managers agree. That’s a significant discrepancy! Could it be that rank-and-file employees feel certain barriers more acutely? Because as digital transformation puts more on IT’s plate, aging infrastructure may have trouble digesting it all.

There’s certainly a reason for this digital appetite. And though many drivers exist—cloud, mobile, analytics, and social—one stands out. Until the cloud came along, there was never such a rapid way to scale technology. Now, suddenly, today’s companies realize business is a disrupt-or-be-disrupted affair. Executives feel the pressure for their IT teams to deliver Silicon-Valley-style innovation. But in the process, many IT departments are realizing they aren’t well-equipped to do so.

What’s the perspective from IT?

Part of the problem stems simply from bandwidth limitations—traffic from digital projects begins to clog the network. But that’s only scratching the surface. One day, the eureka moment finally occurs: Legacy infrastructure isn’t designed to support digital services! It’s from a much older era than the cloud.

Take it from a networking perspective, for instance. Spending countless hours using CLI just to make a minor change to the way an existing app is delivered seems very ineffective and to be a patched-together method. Deploying a new application or network service? Just think about how long that would take.

Next, think about this. If the very point of digital transformation is developing new applications and services for new customer and business demands, shouldn’t the network and other elements of the underlying IT infrastructure also evolve for today’s world?

This is something most IT teams already know. Just look at the new methods they’ve implemented. Faced with business pressure for quick innovation, IT teams have had to find new ways to balance agility with reliability. Some have adopted a bi-modal approach. DevOps is also becoming increasingly popular. Merging development and operations teams is about having the best of both worlds: shorter development cycles mean quick fixes to issues, while increased rate of delivery allows continuous improvement.

Such tactics are natural in a cloud context, but enterprise IT teams are still being held back by legacy infrastructure. If C-level executives really want to beat competitors at digital transformation, this is a gap they need to bridge.

New technologies, hear me roar  

Today, many solutions can fill in the missing link. Renovating legacy networks is possible. Software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) uses automated, intelligent routing and gives administrators centralized control and zero-touch deployment across all remote locations, both existing and new. Unlike current, outdated approaches to networking, SD-WAN is designed to handle the speed and flexibility needed in the cloud era.

In addition to abolishing legacy networks, technologies exist to enhance IT workflows. Take application performance management, for example. With comprehensive, real-time information on application issues from the server to the end user, rates of app improvement can be accelerated. These technologies can help give business executives the confidence that new apps and services deliver the superior experiences that today’s digitally-native users expect.

Tackling other cloud challenges

Remember how the cloud is driving digital transformation? Well, it also brings other challenges. For starters, there’s the issue of distance: When users aren’t located close to the cloud app’s hosting location, performance and user experience suffer. Then there’s the problem of losing visibility. When performance issues do occur, the insights needed to troubleshoot aren’t always readily available. That’s because apps run in a cloud provider’s environment, which IT no longer has direct access to or control over. Lastly, don’t forget about the one issue that’ll make any C-level cringe: security breaches. With increasingly distributed and hybrid IT environments, it becomes trickier to protect sensitive corporate data, the lifeblood of their business.

Now, the point is not to belabor all of the barriers that confront IT—technology already exists to overcome these difficulties. WAN optimization improves the performance of on-premises, cloud, and SaaS apps delivered across long distances. Monitoring abilities can be extended into the cloud. And a software-defined edge can protect data by centralizing it back to the secure corporate data center, without compromising performance or user experience. But here’s the kicker. None of these solutions are useful unless business leaders realize what IT has already known: it’s time to move past legacy systems.

Food for thought

When 70% of C-level executives are confident in their digital transformations, but only 30% of managers are, there’s a gap in awareness. To return to the buffet metaphor, remember how every digital transformation project tosses more onto IT’s plate? Well there’s one key difference here. Unlike a lunch buffet, deliverables and expectations are at stake. Discarding food you can’t eat is easy (although wasteful!). In the competitive field of business, digital transformation is a matter of survival and success. So how will IT teams digest all of today’s demands? Maybe it takes the right suite of solutions.


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