Javed Sikander, CTO of NetEnrich talked to Emerge about discovering the strategy behind digital transformation and not just the tactic.
Javed, tell me a little bit about yourself and your experience.
NetEnrich is a major service provider of managed services, everything from IT operations to digital transformation of data centers to public cloud or private cloud. As CTO for cloud services, I focus on cloud transformation by helping customers understand why they should move to the cloud. I was with Microsoft for ten years working on Azure, and then before Microsoft, I was in the industry for ten years in the Bay Area, working with some startups.
Do you separate digital transformation from normal business practice at this point?
I think about digital transformation as three key pillars.
One is the service experience transformation, which is for the users of technology in your environment and the way they interact with services. One of the things that's happening is a very proactive push for decisions and information first, and then decision making.
The second one is the transformation from an operations point of view, moving from your own data center, everything running in one place and then moving to the cloud world. So the operations transformation is not just about keeping my hardware running anymore. It's about ensuring that my services are running to the most optimal level. And that leads to better planning and better optimization.
That lets me predict how much compute capacity I would need. And I have all the data to understand what were the peaks of my usage, so I want to add technology to optimize my use over a period of time. From an operations point of view, it's not just about keeping the hardware running. It's about ensuring that the service platform is up and running, running optimally, optimizing the systems and forecasting when I would need additional computer storage.
Now, the third transformation is to deliver development for people who are app developers and people who are building capabilities. They need the tools to automate the DevOps pipeline, which is, I think, a transformation in itself because it gives me the agility and the speed now that I need in this new distributed micro-services based environment of the public or hybrid cloud.
If you were to advise a CIO who is thinking about a digital transformation initiative because the CEO said, “we need to do digital transformation,” but they don't know what that means, what do you think the CIO needs to understand at that point?
I think the first thing they need to understand is why before they know how. Is it about doing new things, providing new experiences to the users? Is it about saving costs?
For a lot of CIOs, digital transformation is more about enterprise agility than anything else. That means, how can I deploy things faster, or build things faster. Can I give my business the edge that it needs to differentiate itself from others? And that agility comes from digitally transforming their organization.
Then bounced back at to the CEO and ask, Why are we doing this? What do you intend to get? Or if they don't know, make suggestions about what they should be doing.
Not every digital transformation happens the way it was envisioned. So how would you tell an IT leader to monitor their progress and get a heads up about things going wrong? What are the KPIs they need to look at that would let them know?
Digital transformation is a journey. It cannot happen overnight. One of the key factors for working with customers for us is that we will ensure that you will be the first to know when something happens. Let's say, one of my servers stopped working. The CIO and IT department need to know about it before the business users know. The IT needs to be the first to know and to be already working on finding solutions and fixing issues. So that means constant monitoring of every aspect of your infrastructure and providing a single pane of glass to provide alerts and notifications.
It’s necessary to see how your entire IT environment is doing with different levels of granularity. For the CIO, for example, I want to see all my critical applications, red, yellow, green. I want to see a dashboard where I see all my key workloads and whether they're running fine or they show alerts in yellow or red so action can be initiated immediately.
Maybe you can tell me about an experience that you've had in a transformation effort that was either significant or difficult and put you to the test.
One customer that we have recently worked with wanted to move their data center to the cloud. They have some 20 odd applications running in three different data centers. And their goal for this was consolidation as well as a reduction in cost. They were getting to the point where they had to refresh the hardware in the data centers. They were looking at ways of getting away from that. So we transformed the entire IT environment so that all the 20 different applications would run in a public cloud in Microsoft Azure. And one of the challenges we had was a lot of the legacy applications that they had; stuff that would not run in the cloud.
The approach that we took is that during this transformation, we also reduced a lot of workloads in the sense that we got down to the basic principles. We decomposed all the applications into the individual services that they provide. You look at service dependencies and decide what services are required, what kind of databases. So we mapped out what the organizations needed. We had to reverse engineer lots of the applications and workloads that they were running.
A lot of the workloads needed to be rewritten entirely, or we needed to find new services to do the same thing that those workloads are doing.
So that's one of the kinds of the challenge when it comes to digital transformation. Understanding what exists today and having a clear picture of its functions. That's a very complex picture with hundreds of different database services and requirements that take months to build.
So what was the effort in terms of time and human resources?
This is a mid-market to smaller customer, and it took us about a year. Maybe about eight to 10 working years of work to get there. But at the end of the whole cycle, our customer has a much better experience for the users.
Business users have the information they need to make decisions, and the applications that they need to run their business are all running in a public cloud in Azure. All highly available, highly monitored. So then they gained the agility that gives the organization the ability to make changes and do more.
You've been in kind of work for quite a while. Do you see your job changing? Will you continue to pursue technology in this way or are there other areas you would like to pursue?
The way I see my goal is that there is a lot of stuff out there to build upon. And obviously with AI and machine learning customers will need systems built. There are a couple of factors that I am taking into consideration as we design new or restructured systems for our customers. I believe there is plenty of work to be done in this arena to keep me occupied and interested.
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