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Digital transformation challenges in the age of mobility, cloud and big data

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James Donelan VP Engineering, MuleSoft

"Digital transformation" is the new corporate obsession. According to an Altimeter report, 88 percent of companies in 2014 underwent some kind of digital transformation; however, many of the top-ranked digital transformation initiatives cited in the report aren't really transformative at all. For example, investing in social media platforms, updating corporate websites to be mobile-friendly, and improving the speed at which changes can be pushed to web platforms won't transform a business. Instead, these are just more touch-points in a business' IT infrastructure that require management and support.

Real transformation

The real digital transformation leap occurs when siloed technology efforts are united around a common vision and supported with integrated infrastructure. A key piece of that integrated infrastructure is a connectivity layer that makes it easy to connect all the touch-points in the enterprise: applications, legacy systems, data, devices, and cloud. Just as important is the ability to change how these touch-points interact and communicate with each other. This level of connectivity gives businesses the agility to pivot quickly in markets, accelerate product development, reach buyers on new channels, and analyze data across all customer touch-points in real time.

There are a myriad of challenges for architects and engineers working in IT organizations who are asked to support digital transformation. To solve these challenges, asking the right questions is imperative. For example, how does a business quickly integrate with a new partner and leverage its data and services to propel into a new market? How does a business quickly expose data from its locked-down legacy mainframe to mobile developers churning out real-time mobile apps for users and mobile workforces? And how does a business easily integrate with the dozens of SaaS and cloud systems necessary to invigorate its technology stack and allow it to focus on the things that matter? How does a business accomplish all this in a way that allows it to remain agile and easily change processes over time?

One approach to solving these challenges is through the use of APIs. They offer large traditional companies a way to leverage their existing technology investments to maintain stability and digitally transform the business.

The new normal

Let's look at a real-world example of how a company can digitally transform using API-led connectivity. Imagine a media/TV network company battling the effects of consumers going mobile. For more than 20 years, this company built a technology foundation based on the assumption that its customers watched TV shows and movies on their TVs from the comfort of their sofas. This assumption was correct until recently.

Quite suddenly, this company was plunged into today's instant gratification economy, where consumers expect access to what they want, when and where they want it, requiring the business to change its pace—fast. The media/TV network company needed to provide additional content channels to its customers, including on smartphones and tablets. To survive, the company was forced to pivot and create new business models to syndicate content to partners and provide new ways to engage and interact with customers through multiple channels with a 360-degree digital view. In essence, the media and TV network company needed to transform its business to meet the needs of consumers in today's digital age.

The way forward

How can APIs help with this? Using an API-led approach, developers can quickly build out composable APIs to support user authentication, access digital libraries, stream content, access customer information, and process payments on demand. It doesn't matter where that data is coming from or where those features are living—whether in legacy mainframes, cloud media servers, SaaS applications, or third-party providers and new partners.

Using APIs, mobile developers can quickly build out streaming applications for Apple and Android devices that offer a great user experience. The same APIs can be used to make that content available to third-party providers on platforms such as Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, and Chromecast. APIs can also be used to mash-up data coming from social media monitoring and social engagement platforms where users might be tweeting about their favorite shows or complaining about streaming bandwidth. This data can be integrated with information held internally about their most-watched and highest-rated shows and with CRM data in Salesforce, giving businesses a complete 360-degree view of their customers. All this can be done without ripping out or tearing apart existing infrastructure.

In many cases, consumer demands are evolving much faster than businesses are able to keep pace with. Large traditional companies struggle to transform their processes quickly while maintaining the stability they're accustomed to. To achieve the best of both worlds, APIs offer a way for businesses to easily manage interactions between legacy IT systems and front-end applications to digitally transform businesses without completely disrupting them. Connectivity is a new path to revenue and is the glue for digital transformation.

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Read more articles about: Enterprise ITDigital Transformation