Digital Transformation Means Making Hard Things Open and Easy


Enterprises are rushing to embrace the cluster of technologies known as digital transformation, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), hybrid cloud, and the Internet of Things (IoT). In "Predictions 2019: Digital Technologies Shift from Visions to Realities," three senior Riverbed execs weighed in with their vision of what 2019 holds for digital transformation, which includes technology mashups driven by customer demands, human experts harnessing machine learning, and organizations facing new business decisions as a result.

We spoke to Riverbed CTO Hansang Bae to go further in depth on these insights. He told us that the key, transformative qualities of all these trends are openness and availability:

  • Open APIs and low-cost access to compute resources have made projects that would've once seemed out of reach easy to experiment with and scale up as needed.
  • But organizations need to embrace these new possibilities, and recognize that users — including internal users — will come to expect the ease of use that's now possible.

"Back in the day, we used to call it 'the priesthood of mainframe,'" Bae says. "People submitted jobs to work on this mysterious data, and the priest of IT would say, 'I’ll run this for you and get your answers' — and making that job seem difficult was a badge of honor. But if IT takes that attitude now, they'll be deader than a doornail faster than somebody can tweet about it."

Open, easy, and ready to use

Technological revolutions happen when things that used to be hard become easy. Ford didn't invent the automobile, but it invented a simplified system to build them that made them affordable for ordinary people. Apple didn't invent the MP3 player, but it designed the first one that was easy enough to use to drive mass adoption.

The tipping point for many of the technologies behind the digital transformation has come, as Bae puts it, "at the intersection of openness with massive compute and massive infrastructure that you can dial up on demand." For instance, powerful open search database tools like Elasticsearch, combined with the open source Kibana visualization library, can help hobbyists make graphs and visualizations that just a couple years ago were the sort of thing that only the pros who worked on CNN's election night coverage could handle.

Meanwhile, public and hybrid cloud platforms are simple and cheap to use, meaning that virtually everybody has access to supercomputer-quality compute resources — no petitions to the priesthood of the mainframe. "This is a big equalizer," says Bae.  "Anyone can use AWS or Azure to compete. You don’t need $4 billion investment in a datacenter just to try out an idea."

Making things easy is hard

Bae emphasizes that many of the advantages of digital transformation will come from changing the way things are done internally, where the "priesthood of the mainframe" mindset is sometimes still in place. "We still have the inertia of tried and trusted applications, and that makes things very complex and siloed," he says.

The old attitude of IT was embodied by a metric Bae calls "mean time to innocence" — that is, how long it takes a tool to prove to your boss that your particular silo isn't to blame for whatever's going wrong at the moment. Today, performance information from across your enterprise, about everything from application logs to packets to routing to end-user device health, can be considered as a source for a single data lake that can be analyzed using big data techniques to help zero in on what users need.

"When we say digital performance, we're talking about the emotional experience that people have when using a system," says Bae. And to get at that emotional experience, you need to do more than just collect data. "You have the ability to track things at a granular level for every user — mobile, desktop, or otherwise. But if you can’t translate that to why people are bailing out on your shopping cart, what good is it? A bigger and faster and stronger and more resilient system in the backend doesn't mean anything if all your users are pissed off."

"That's the end user experience that we at Riverbed talk about," he concludes. "And getting at that user experience helps you figure out what you can do to be more productive, to save money, and to get an edge on your competitors."

Begin your transformation

Companies that want to lead digital transformation need tools to do it. For more information on how Riverbed can help, check out our digital transformation resources, or download the Riverbed Global Survey where these issues are discussed in depth.  You can also learn more about how to marshal end user data into true digital experience management.