Our view on IT developments
"The winner will be whoever accelerates most," says Roeland Kuipers. We're in a period of acceleration, with 'data' and 'cloud' being the key words. What's going on in IT, and where is it taking us? We carried out interviews with CTO Roeland Kuipers, CIO Ilja Heitlager, and Customer Director Peter Siepel about IT developments and their possible consequences for organizations and their IT strategies.
Ask the right questions
Roeland: "Thanks to the cloud, there are now virtually no limits to computing power, memory, and the other capacities needed for data-driven business. The available potential of the cloud creates an acceleration in tailor-made solutions that open up concrete business opportunities, which also represent a threat to those who don't keep up.
The entire IT world exists due to the fact that we can do something with data, that we have the resources to pose intelligent business questions to collections of data, and to create value with the answers. 'Data isn't the new gold; data is the new oil. It only has value once you refine it.' That's the key thing when you're talking about Big data, Machine Learning, AI, and the Internet of Things. You have to refine the data around a concrete question and be very specific when posing the correct question. We try to make that question very precise, ideally starting with an operationally oriented issue from which we can derive a use case." An example is what we're doing right now for a new customer, where we apply industrial IoT to further optimize an already highly automated production process.
Another change is a new appreciation of the future value of data. "Inspired perhaps by Google, Facebook and the like, the market realizes that data that is collected today can have value in the future, even if we don't yet know the right business questions. We have become better at dealing with unstructured data, in part due to the shift from data warehouses to data lakes. This means that we can cast the net wide: first collect the data, then ask the right questions, now or in the future." Peter adds: "Bearing in mind the regulatory developments related to the processing of data".
More power to all
The rise of low-code applications also supports the democratization of IT. Ilja: "Low code makes automation accessible for a much larger group of people. Simple processes can be automated by business developers and 'citizen developers' or 'citizen coders'. Empowering people through automation matches Microsoft's new focus on first line workers: the two billion people who are often the first point of contact for customers: the shelf fillers, security guards, and customer service people. Simple tools give them access to information that they can process and make use of."
Cloud services enable small, specialized actors to have access to enough power to be effective; the cloud has democratized IT. Roeland Kuipers: "Every startup now has unlimited computing power, memory, and storage available on a rental basis, which means that big prior investments in hardware and architecture are no longer necessary. Hardware and architecture can now grow as the company grows and according to use. The supply of complex technology 'as-a-service' plays a role in this. These are off-the-shelf services that provide applications in fields such as Machine & Deep Learning, Analytics, the Internet of Things, Natural Language Processing, Databases, and services relating to security and compliance. Examples are services that transform text into speech and vice versa, or platforms on which you can easily build IoT applications, but also services in the fields of customer service and eCommerce. This year we saw new products in eCommerce recommendation services on the basis of machine learning, and services that can be used to make control models for robots, and even for satellite ground stations 'as-a-service.' You don't need to have any deeper understanding within your own organization to implement these products. The heavy lifting has already been done. Actors can grow quickly by cleverly linking different ready-made services and capacities. Moreover, renting capacity creates more scope for experimentation: whatever proves not to be cost-effective can just be cancelled."
"Data isn't the new gold; data is the new oil. It only has value once you refine it. We have become better at dealing with unstructured data, in part due to the shift from data warehouses to data lakes."
Comply looks like the only option
There are many organizations that will shift to the cloud in the next few years. Roeland: "Many organizations are now thinking about a transition strategy for their current IT landscape, which often includes a lot of legacy IT. Replacing particular applications by SaaS & Cloud-Native services is often part of that transition strategy. In the future we expect such services will be less friendly for legacy IT. SaaS/Cloud suppliers serve their customers from a single platform and their platforms will continue to develop, with new functionalities and changes in existing functionalities. In some cases this will affect the application landscapes linked to the platform. Customers will be forced by the SaaS/Cloud supplier to implement these changes to avoid problems. Once you could continue to work with older versions of software, but now the SaaS/Cloud supplier will set a deadline by which you must conform to the changes.
Strong benefits are that SaaS and Cloud services provide a guaranteed level of hygiene and security, which is not a luxury nowadays. Specialized suppliers can also keep you informed about new possibilities in their field, so you can save time on that. Many new and improved functionalities automatically become available on the SaaS & Cloud platforms that are part of your IT landscape, so you don't have to commit a lot of development time yourself. These are big advantages."
Keep your eye on what matters most
"The modular character of the cloud entails the risk that you may lose track of which IT components support your mission-critical business processes." So it's important to retain control of your own 'cloud ecosystem', or delegate it to a single reliable partner. Another point to watch is a smooth transition to a data-driven business in the cloud. Peter notes: "Data-driven business involves not just using the latest cloud solutions, but also cleaning up your existing data jungle. You can stop support for part of your existing data warehouse landscape, let it die off in a controlled manner, and build the new, regulated world parallel to it." That requires a clear view of the future, and decisiveness.
Prepare for embracement
We think two things will be more essential than ever: courage and confidence (and the subsequent consequences). Courage to proceed without nailing everything down in advance, and confidence that your own capabilities and your external partners will help you to smoothly enter and control the digital transformation. Roeland: "Acceleration is a given: the winner will be whoever accelerates most. It's all a matter of knowledge, asking the right questions, identifying applications, and staying creative and Agile. So it's bigger than just an IT issue: you have to build agility and flexibility into your strategy, processes, and organizational structure. Expect unknown possibilities to arise and prepare to embrace them. When you consider that Amazon Web Services (AWS) introduced ~1400 new services & functionalities in 2018, you realize that you can't screw the chairs to the floor in a three-year project, because you have no way of knowing now what opportunities would then be excluded."
Mindset for the future
Ilja: "You need a different mindset. You have to be enthusiastic about learning new skills and be confident that you can do so. The knowledge you already have is not useless, but it's not enough. It takes courage to recognize the gaps and to say what you need if you are to grow." That growth mindset is more necessary than ever, now that developments are so rapid. Wanting to learn and to co-create, and being open to input from experts and your partners is the way to keep ahead of the field and the same is true for us."
Labs: Empowered by curiosity
The Schuberg Philis Labs team explores new technologies and their wider impact. This is where we get our hands dirty experimenting with new technologies, creating proofs of concept, MVPs, and staying on top of innovation. Of course, this knowledge is shared throughout the company and used to support our Greater Customer Teams and customers. We also go beyond what's right in front of us by considering ethical and social aspects related to IT. Labs is more than an R&D facility: it's a resource that has allowed us to incorporate continuous questioning, teaching, and learning in Schuberg Philis.