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Innovate and deliver: How to do both during your digital transformation

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Jerome Labat Chief Technology Officer, Micro Focus
 

During a digital transformation, you've got to innovate and transform IT while keeping the services that run the business up and running.

At Micro Focus we started by classifying your IT portfolio into the key service areas—we call them the four pillars—that can help frame the digital transformation conversation as it applies to IT.

These were established service offerings, which consisted of ERP and back-office systems for our support organization; standard service offerings, including purpose-built applications and associated operational services supporting our product engineering teams; emerging service offerings that support our new SaaS offerings; and rapid prototyping services that our developers use to quickly create and deploy something new.

My team has spent the last year modernizing and transforming our IT service portfolio and rethinking our teams and the way they work. Here are three key lessons that we’ve learned about the digital transformation process as it affects IT, and how your IT organization can keep up with digital transformation efforts.

1. Adopt a divide-and-conquer approach to transformation

While we divided our IT portfolio into the four areas listed above, we ultimately split the workload in tackling the transformation work around those areas. We assigned the established service offerings to the CIO office, where they were a more natural fit, while the product teams and the CTO office, by proxy, owned the standard service offerings and emerging service offerings, which are both key day-to-day functions for us. (We plan to look into the fourth area, rapid prototyping, later).

At Micro Focus, we build, sell, and support software. Essentially, we’re split between back-office and front-office functions: Our CIO office is transforming core business functions through automation and integration in the back office, while the chief product officer (CPO) and CTO teams focus on the engineering process and the delivery of products—the front office.

While my team and the CIO’s IT team worked together across many aspects of all four categories, we found that we could be more effective by splitting up our primary activities this way as we attacked the front line of digital transformation.

2. Use a software factory approach to product development and support

Standard service offerings, including active applications and services that have been purpose-built for the business (think software engineering pipeline tools and infrastructure), are our company’s big revenue drivers. These services are the core of the enterprise, and we must constantly maintain and update them to keep our customers happy.

The questions we had to ask ourselves in this area were:

  • How do we transform IT while we’re deep in the trenches of day-to-day product maintenance?
  • How do we get better at building software and supporting software?
  • How do we accelerate product delivery and improve the consumption of new technology?

We’re addressing those challenges by building a set of foundations we'll use to sustain our product offerings. That includes a standard technology stack to keep our products running. Foremost, however, has been our software factory approach, a core initiative that provides an integrated set of tooling, services, data, and processes that our engineers can leverage throughout the product development and operation cycle. (Here's how you can build your own software factory.) This has allowed for faster and more consistent iteration, supported the evolution of our product portfolio, and sustained our transformation to a scaled agile organization.

Our software factory is key to all of this, and the overall lesson we’ve learned is that we can become more efficient and create products more effectively by using a factory-like experience that normalizes the manner in which we modernize, build, and support our products.

3. Leverage SaaS to prepare for a new way of selling products

Conceptually, our transformation work surrounding emerging services has many similarities to the work we’ve done in transforming our standard service offerings: Specifically, we are working to create an environment in which all of the product teams in the company can find all the technology tools they need to do their work. Again, our software factory is a key tool in our arsenal, but there’s more to it when it comes to emerging service offerings.

For these offerings, SaaS is arguably the most critical delivery technology we're contending with, since it’s a key component of modernizing our product and business model. As such, we’re bringing agile development and SaaS concepts into our centers of excellence and using them as catalysts to revamp our business processes. Under SaaS, the modernized delivery model is a companion to the software factory, and it’s helping us practice a new way of doing IT.

The key lesson we learned, however, is that none of this work can be done in a vacuum. It requires the support of the entire technology organization—in our case, that’s the CIO office—and the product teams.

For example, when a customer has a problem with a product, we connect our enterprise support system with the software factory and translate that problem into a defect. We then translate that into a “user story,” a patch, and then send it to the customer, where we translate it into a resolution. The whole process is a closed loop, and it is integrated throughout the enterprise.

But you can’t just create a software factory or similar solution and force it onto the engineering team so it can build software more efficiently. You have to create these solutions within the context of the business, with outcomes in mind. It has to be in partnership with the entire enterprise.

The right structure is key to digital transformation success

As your organization’s digital transformation progresses, think about a structure that can support IT during the process. To structure our organization and its capabilities, we used the four-pillars concept, and then split up the job of attacking those pillars between the CIO and CTO office teams. A different structure may work better for your organization.

Your goal should be to frame your transformation in a way that helps you clearly define deliverables and objectives, so you can continue to go to market even while your company is reinventing itself. Having this framework in mind helps you create a culture of progress while shaping the ultimate direction you want your teams—and your enterprise—to take.

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