Kill something, then hire cleaners to mop up the blood if you want to build a digital business

You live on a steaming dunghill of complexity, vendors want to keep you there and your CIO's way out is early retirement

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Kill something, find a leader, stop thinking about apps and start thinking about products, get seriously good at agile development and realise there is no finish line.

Those are just some of the things organisations aspiring to become digital businesses need to achieve if they're to succeed according to Gartner's veep and fellow Andrew Kyte.

Speaking at the firm's Application Architecture, Development & Integration Summit in Sydney today, Kyte offered colourful advice on how organisations with mature application estates can become digital businesses – fast-moving organisations that can rapidly iterate the services they provide to customers and staff.

Getting to that state requires mandatory engagement with continuous delivery, Kyte said. But that's not easy given that most organisations have “30-40 years of investment in yesterday's techs and architectures.”

Those investments were mostly in silos and meant that no organisation can honestly say it consciously designed the state it's in today. Kyte describes that state as “a great stinking dunghill of complexity” that inhibits efforts to increase the pace of change. He also outlined the kind of paralysis that IT organisations face as they try to put their existing infrastructure and practices to work, which we've summarised in the table below.

Current state Barrier to becoming digital
Our current apps aren't well adapted to digital businesses But we can't throw them out
Our IT team have skills in our current apps We can't just change all the staff
Our outsourcing deals need months of negotiation to vary anything, which makes continuous delivery hard to even contemplate We can't just change our outsourcing deals ASAP
Existing governance mechanisms are bad for digital business We have strong governance for very good reasons

How to escape this mess?

“The first people to hire when doing digital businesses is cleaners,” Kyte said, “because there will be blood on the floor and the ceiling. If you do it nicely, it will fail. The sword of leadership and grit is needed.”

That leader likely won't be the current CIO: Kyte says he's heard at least one say he'll retire before trying to build a digital business. Whoever gets the gig will need to ruthlessly re-think the way an IT organisation goes about its business, re-skilling people, introducing more re-use of work and moving to a mentality where IT provides products to users and those products rely on apps and infrastructure as services.

“The future of software is services, services integration and being brilliant at integrating,” he said. That approach delivers the kind of software that knowledge workers appreciate, which is important because many IT organisations application development efforts have previously been focussed on process workers.

Kyte said there's no such thing as a one-off digital transformation. “You will not achieve digital business transformation in months,” he said. “It is a multi-year journey with no finish point. It will be years of continuous change and evolution.”

To make the trip less onerous, he recommends that you “stop being a slave to your vendors, who are happy not to give you a vision of the future and keep you on yesterdays's architectures.” Never customise software again, stop building silos and push back against those who say they're necessary. And while it's important to keep current apps working beneath the surface of a digital business, it is important to “kill something” if only to show that not every app deserves to live forever.

Kyte says organisations will also need to master DevOps and other agile methodologies to have a shot at becoming digital businesses. Once the blood's all been mopped up, obviously. ®

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