Rocket DiGIT recap: Preparing infrastructure for digital transformation

Last week at the Rocket 25 DiGIT Conference in Frankfurt, Germany, I had the pleasure of meeting dozens of customers from Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and the UK.  I also had the honor of presenting a conference-wide presentation on preparing infrastructure for digital transformation. This was a first-time presentation of my thoughts on this topic.  Like all first-time presentations, it will be better the next time that I share this with others.  I structured the presentation into three sections:

  • Digital Transformation
  • Customization of IT
  • Cultural preparation

Digital Transformation

The transformation that I see taking place today has many similarities to other transformations that we have experienced in IT.  We start with a traditional (or existing) set of business models and processes and we exit the transformation with a new set.  We transform as organizations due to external influences.  I provided only three of these influences, as follows:

Consumerization of IT:  This is the concept that IT should be as easy to use as an “app store” is on mobile devices.  We want a capability, so we go to the app store, look at the options, select one, and use it.  No approvals, no RFPs, no significant budget needing allocation.  If we like the application, we keep it.  If not, we delete it–WITH NO REPERCUSSIONS.  The consumerization of IT is all about making our organizations more like “app stores.”

Globally connected society: Systems that were designed without the requirement that all customers have mobile devices must adapt.  Scaling from bank tellers as gatekeepers to information to enabling each customer to check balances from a mobile app requires thoughtful design.

Current disruptive technologies:  Disruptive technologies are those that cause a shift in how we currently operate.  Thirty years ago, the relational database was a disruptive technology.  Twenty years ago, Java was a disruptive technology.  Those disruptions caused transformations in our organizations in the same way that today’s popular disruptive technologies cause us to transform.

Mobile:  I shared two stories here.  One was a VP of Development from Citibank, who said at the 2015 IBM InterConnect conference that her team realized a while back that “…people don’t need banks — they need banking.”  This may seems obvious to us now, but it wasn’t a mere five years ago.  I also shared a story of how we are seeing a transformation from people subscribing to services to a model where devices are self-subscribing to services.

Analytics (aka Big Data):  I always like to talk about Ralph Kimball and Bill Inmon. They were my heroes when I was working on TPC-D benchmarking in the mid-90s.  They developed a data warehouse architecture that enabled analytical applications to access data via SQL that would not have been possible to run against the system-of-record data that was in a mixture of database stores that were never designed to be joined and used together.

This required an extract-transform-load process which created an entire industry to create such complex tooling.  I shared a few stories of how our customers today are not tied to this legacy architecture or the insane complexity of these ETL tools via data virtualization.  For more info on this, you’ll find plenty of info our our website.

I also spoke a little about Apple’s new car platform and posed this question: “Do you think that Apple is moving into the transportation industry?”  Thankfully, I saw many heads waving back and forth when I asked this.  I contend that Apple is not entering this market.  The market that they are in is the “data” market.  Data is powerful.  You can’t manage what you don’t measure.  Are we all instrumenting our own Internet of Things?  We should be.

Cloud:  Two more stories–the first was about a recent mainframe user conference in the U.S. in February (SHARE).  I was invited to be on a panel, addressing the topic of how the mainframe fits into a cloud environment.  Most of the attendees, it seemed, were there to hear others versus sharing their experiences.  This resulted in the panel espousing their own thoughts.

I shared two of (what I believe to be) the easiest ways for mainframe customers to embrace the power of the cloud.  The first is having applications in a cloud environment (public or private) accessing the on-premises data on the mainframe.  Two years ago, this was a ridiculous idea.  Today, my CIO delivers 5ms network access time across continents.  This now enables a class of applications to be supported in such an environment.

The second is leveraging cloud-based storage.  My last check of Amazon’s S3 managed storage was about one cent per GB per month.  We all have archived data that has little in the way of speed requirements for retrieval, and yes, the data would be encrypted before being sent to a public cloud.  Leveraging this in a mainframe environment is no different than any other enterprise system.  My second story centered around the sweet spot of hybrid clouds.  How do you eat a whale/elephant?  One bite at a time.  So why do you feel like you need a bifurcated cloud versus non-cloud architecture?  Hybrid clouds are not only a great on-ramp, they just might be the landing spot for most of us for many years.

Changing and transforming are what keeps our organizations alive and vibrant.  Organizations that have competition, and are not in this continuous cycle of transforming for improvement, are destined to become irrelevant.

Digital Transformation

Customization of IT

Different from “Consumerizaton of IT” that I mentioned above, this is focused on being customer-driven.  That buzzword seems to have been dropped from our diction, but it is still critically important.  In IT, we sometimes have a problem with defining our customer.  We can usually identify the customer of the larger organization, but sometimes we fail to apply this to the direct customers of IT.  At that same SHARE conference, we had a lunch roundtable discussion with system administrators/programmers.  The melancholic tone was one of not being appreciated or understood.  I asked the group if they knew what languages their application programmers used.  Not a single one could answer with any confidence.  These were smart people who had a lot to offer, but it was not being tapped.  Sad story—I hope you don’t have this in your organization.

Culture transformation

Any organization that has more than a few people is organized into teams, departments, units, divisions, etc.  And this grouping creates silos—boundaries and obstacles to people working between these invisible lines of organization.  All organizations desire to have highly-adaptive teams—teams that can come together for a specific outcome and then go back to their “day jobs” or assemble for a new purpose.

Digital transformation is not just about technology.  Technology is best when used as an enablement.  The last story that I shared during this presentation described how Rocket is addressing this important aspect in our own transformation.  Each year, we gather the top leaders of the company in Boston.  Two years ago, we asked the leaders what was important to them and what should we be focused on for the next 25 years of Rocket.  One of the 14 groups said that as a leading software company, we needed to bring our creative talent together for a hack-a-thon.  Last December, that group got its wish.  We invited the entire company to submit project ideas, hoping that we would get enough to actually pull this off.  We expected maybe a dozen submissions.  Instead, we received ten times that amount.  The excitement from just this call for projects was overwhelming!

Rocket Build Montage

We painstakingly selected 17 projects and over the course of a 36-hour hack-a-thon, which we called Rocket.Build, we saw some amazing results.  Teams self-formed.  People who had never met each other physically and were in different business units were suddenly working together.  It was intense.  It was fun.  One engineer said “This is the most fun I’ve had since leaving college!”  Of course, there was pizza and appropriate beverages around the clock.  After some much-needed showers, each team shared their projects.  We awarded trophies, but every team was so energized to continue and do more.  Additional stories and info on this event can be found in other blogs entries.

After sharing this story at last week’s DiGIT event, one attendee remarked that this sounded great, but that there was simply no money or time to do this.  With perfect timing, my boss and CEO, Andy Youniss, asked if he could respond to the comment (yes, I gave him permission).  He said that Rocket didn’t have the time or money to do this either, but we did it anyway and challenged the entire conference to do the same.

Transformations are not led by doing the same thing in the same way.  I hope this information inspires you to lead your IT organization in a new way.

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Bryan Smith is Vice President of R&D and Chief Technology Officer at Rocket

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