In tough times it pays to be flexible about the future

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It’s no secret that we are all working in a vastly different economic environment than a year ago.

With budgets tight across the board, every line of expenditure must justify itself and prove that it will contribute to increasing revenue or controlling costs.

But the need for digital transformation does not go away in tough economic times. The threat landscape continues to grow and become more sophisticated whereas public cloud providers are continuously evolving their offerings. At the same time, opportunities in areas such as automation are becoming more apparent. Everywhere you look, the pace of change continues to pick up and standing still is not an option.

Against that backdrop, every customer I talk to is looking to hit a sweet spot where they can modernise and optimise applications, all while keeping a tight rein on costs and not compromising security. No two customers are the same and the route to that goal will differ.

For some, it’s about embracing SaaS solutions that can be consumed flexibly – used as and when needed, without the costly capex burden of running heavyweight hardware systems. That’s an especially attractive option considering the global semiconductor shortage and the rising cost of hardware. But it won’t work for everyone. Some want the certainty of a confirmed amount of throughput, or the kind of functionality that can only be delivered by hardware solutions, whether it’s SSL decryption and encryption, or FIPS compliance.

Pragmatic flexibilty

The reality for many is somewhere in between. Their applications run the gamut from hardware to software, legacy to modern, on premises and cloud. There are usually good reasons why a company’s infrastructure has developed in this way, including regulatory requirements or specific governance needs. A digital transformation strategy must take this into account. I have worked with companies that had plans to move all applications to the cloud but, several years on, haven’t migrated a single workload due to risk and governance issues. Not to mention the cost involved in re-architecting so many applications at once. Bold plans and big ambitions are fine, but the transformation programme that works is one that will survive contact with reality.

Most companies and government organisations will be best served by taking a pragmatic approach – one that works with the grain of infrastructure as it currently exists, as well as the requirements of their industry and customers. Again, this will look different in each case.

In some cases, overhauling an entire application estate to run in the cloud or as microservices is difficult and potentially counterproductive. Control what can easily be controlled.

A powerful way ahead is to aim for a single point of visibility and control, so services can be delivered to every application – irrespective of how it runs and where it is stored. This also provides continuity over security policies in the case of applications being migrated at an unspecified point in the future. In most cases, it is far better to develop systems that are agnostic about the pace and shape of change rather than being dependent on things evolving in a fixed direction.

Another consideration is to embrace existing opportunities to utilise technology for cost reduction, including automation. Supporting modern architectures at scale requires specialist skillsets that are in very short supply. This is why there are a growing number of automation and orchestration tools that can be leveraged to avoid hiring large numbers of people. The right investment in technology can eventually result in a cost saving across the board.

Ultimately, IT decision-makers need to plot their own path: one that gives them the scope to modernise application infrastructures, the flexibility to do so iteratively, and the ability to control costs.

There is no one way to do this, and the right approach for each company will vary depending on its starting point and particular circumstances. At the same time, we all face a common reality: we are working in a volatile environment. Companies should maintain flexibility on how they evolve their application estates. In other words, planning for success along multiple routes, not betting that a single pathway to change will deliver. Resilience comes from keeping options open, maintaining discipline on costs, and avoiding becoming a hostage to fortune.