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Florence Nightingale: Lessons for digital transformation

Lessons for digital transformation
(Image credit: Pixabay)

During the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale pioneered new hygiene practices such as regular handwashing as an effective form of reducing infection rates amongst soldiers. This tale of medical innovation spans borders thanks to its immediate contribution to stopping the spread of disease. Having grown up in South Africa myself before moving to the UK, I can attest that the significance of her story has remained the same, no matter where it’s been told.

Imagine if the nurses of her day had the same access to data that we do now. It certainly wouldn’t have taken another 125 years, until the 1980s, and a series of bacterial outbreaks, before handwashing and cleansing became staple hygiene habits.

With new medical challenges emerging in the wake of COVID-19 reinforcing the need for new and improved hygiene habits, could we see today’s pandemic as a similar turning point - but this time in the adoption of digital infrastructure and services? The notion of digital transformation isn’t anything new, yet it has been accelerated by a widespread need for accessible, online services.

IT management now find themselves at a critical point in history. How and where they invest will be under scrutiny like never before as employees, customers, and partners all look to technology to provide the answers to the challenges that lay before them. Yet innovation for innovation’s sake will likely lead to overspend and underwhelming returns. Both are consequences that must be avoided, particularly during a time that looks to present ever more complex economic and environmental challenges.

One small step, one giant leap

Expectations of what is or will be normal have changed in many ways. How modern businesses operate has transformed dramatically compared to just six months ago. In this time, the spotlight on technology and its ability to adapt and thrive in changing circumstances has never been greater. Employees are living, working and interacting with one another remotely or in new environments and having to handle responsibilities, like child-care and home-schooling while working.

Accompanying this change must be a technology strategy that is well suited to modern circumstances. For IT leaders, this means tearing up the investment playbook. The legacy approach of 18-month budget and procurement cycles that rely upon a capital expenditure model and forklift upgrades are an ill-fit for today’s business operations, with plans often changing rapidly to reflect new and unexpected requirements. Instead, investment should center on flexible consumption models which allow for fast and scalable digital projects and ultimately, for businesses to innovate at the speed that suits them.

Moreover, as the economic uncertainty grows, budgets are going to be tighter than ever. For IT leaders, this can pose a headache when trying to get approval from the CFO on new IT infrastructure or projects. The benefit of embracing a flexible consumption model is that businesses can avoid the ‘big bet’ that often accompanies capital-intensive transformations. Instead, they can aggressively drive modernization projects with low risk of rising costs, budget depletion, or vendor lock-in.

Do not write-off On-Prem

During times of flux, the challenges of planning ahead on IT spend and infrastructure are compounded. It’s easy for leaders to under or over provision, or focus on the wrong solution for their business transformation. Research shows that migration to cloud computing services remains the top priority for many business leaders undertaking digital projects, thanks to its ability to scale, provide easy data management and keep costs down. While the current situation may have accelerated cloud adoption, it’s not the only option. Enterprises prioritize simplicity, agility, and flexibility: cloud traits that also exist on-premises. Now more than ever, there remains a need for a hybrid approach to IT.

While it’s true that cloud architecture can allow enterprises to stretch their IT strategies, uplevel applications quickly and retain large data sets, on-premise resources still have a critical part to play in business operations. For those forward-thinking business leaders with one eye on using emerging technologies such as data analytics and deep-learning in their strategies, on-premise equipment is invaluable. It can make data work harder and better for them, allowing them to power mission-critical applications that are not currently best suited to the cloud - such as those that need extremely low latency and high throughput.

By making on-prem just like cloud, customers have an option to: leverage private or public clouds alongside on-prem, depending on the workload and the business objectives. And by leveraging a flexible consumption model, customers can accommodate their ever changing business needs.

Importantly, this hybrid approach does not need to weigh heavy on budgets. Under a flexible consumption model, whereby leaders scale infrastructure on-demand, the total cost of ownership is driven down. Suddenly, critical technologies are affordable and accessible to companies of all sizes, no matter the size of the balance sheet. In turn, this alleviates capital for investing in other areas of the business.

The new world order

Whether the sector is retail, manufacturing or financial services, all business leaders have to align their corporate strategy to their technology strategy, and this is made easier when the benefits are risk-averting. One of the constants will be leaders’ affinity to scrutinizing financial spend and cutting back where possible. The new world order for technology deployment must therefore be in flexibility.

Flexibility provides control over cash and capital commitments in the short as well as long term, purview of data storage and the option of owning or subscribing. It is the backbone of rapid decision making and the ability to outpace competitors to market with product innovation. In the UK, the opportunity to build business applications fast and on-demand will be critical for struggling markets like retail. Organizations across the sector are under significant pressure to accelerate their innovation programs, in light of the changing landscape they have no option but to operate in. Ultimately, only flexible consumption models can talk to this level of accessibility and risk-aversion.

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it

Unlike the bacterial outbreaks in the 1980s, today’s pandemic must not be viewed as a sole catalyst for change, but an acceleration in momentum towards more efficient IT spending and the growth of digital services. However, despite this spotlight on digital projects, many businesses do not have the capital at their disposal for significant IT overhaul. What’s more, CFOs and business leaders are more conscious than ever of budget constraints and will likely only invest on guaranteed returns.

Therefore, IT leaders must be smart and look towards a different way of managing their technology environments. Flexible consumption models, with their low TCO, rapid integration and agility are perfectly suited to the many challenges of today’s operating environment, and will no doubt be a business mainstay as they take on the workloads powering the innovation of tomorrow in industry 4.0.

  • Wes van den Berg, VP and General Manager of UK&I at Pure Storage.