Rob Fotheringham, Managing Director at Fotheringham Associates, offers advice on how to get the most out of your digital transformation strategy with the potential to save money on unnecessary investment
Digital transformation typically demands significant technology investment with a shopping list that can include an integration capability, workflow, data analytics and of course a customer engagement platform.
Before you rush off and start spending, we suggest that you take a little time to potentially save yourself money and elapsed time. We have used a set of architecture techniques with a number of councils and discovered significant ICT assets languishing at the back of their metaphoric dusty cupboards.
It should be understood that I am not pointing the finger here, finding unused hidden treasure is very common for us. I managed architecture teams in local government for a number of years and know all too well the effects of a sharp change of focus for the organisation, sending certain technologies and projects to the back burner. I have also known suppliers to sell bundles of software components that contain an ‘extra’ that unknowingly to them can turn out to be a nugget of gold in the future.
At Fotheringham Associates, we work with organisations to help understand and unlock their business, technology and internal capabilities to meet the challenge of digital transformation. In the first of four articles on the practical use of enterprise architecture I have sought to provide a cautionary tale and a nod to our articles in previous issues “Observations on pragmatic digital transformation” and “Finding a dividend for transformation”.
Let us consider the potential benefits for this kind of exercise for a moment. The obvious money saving is by re-using the technology that you have, but even if you do need to make an investment to extend its use you should find that the power relationship with the supplier has changed. As you have discovered something you didn’t know you had then you could discard it and buy new as you thought you would be forced to do.
However, when communicated to the supplier in an appropriate way it is normally enough to obtain a significant discount on the incremental cost you need to pay in order for them to keep the maintenance, subscription or even market share ticking over.
If we look at the saving in time this is the avoidance of long-winded procurements. For strategic software you may well be looking at an OJEU process which as we know is even difficult to complete within four months. In the happy path of re-using existing software you need no procurement at all, saving the whole four months.
However, if you do need to procure some kind of extension to the capability, as you have already made a significant investment in the software, procurement options such as the negotiated route and waivers are available as legitimate ways forward. This could still save you at least a couple of months from your transformation roadmap and the quicker realisation of benefits.
What do you need to do?
You need to create a comprehensive view of your application landscape, capturing information on the application’s function (at a high level), underlying technology, business usage, cost and licensing information. It should take you no more than four to six weeks to gain a complete enough picture to begin shining a light into those dark cupboards.
Having conducted this kind of exercise across many organisations we know what we are looking for and by using a set of accelerators we quickly establish an audit of the application landscape. The application catalogue provides a standard way of describing the applications, capturing vital attributes and information that we can analyse later.
Whilst these catalogues can run to 200-500 entries we can deploy a further accelerator to provide focus. The reference architecture that we use provides a way of categorising and grouping applications aligned with their function, for work with councils it has previously discovered council applications to further speed up the mapping process. This mapping also provides a foundation for a number of enterprise architecture led activities which we will discuss in subsequent articles.
Examples from our casefile
At one unitary council we discovered an enterprise class integration technology that had been bought as part of a deal bundle a few years previously. After a version upgrade this proved itself to be capable of enabling business processes to link applications and work across departments. This discovery saved in the region of £300,000. At the same client we also found spare licences and unused modules for a major Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) suite. Whilst ERP systems may not be ‘on trend’ these days they do typically constitute a major investment and therefore should be made to pay their way. The unused modules were dusted off, licensing was restructured (for a fraction of the true cost) and the ERP system is now the critical customer engagement platform in the council’s digital transformation.
At a second unitary authority our project again found unused integration software gathering cobwebs. The council has now developed in-house skills and it has been used to integrate the Oracle cloud-based HR system and the onsite user directory automating joiner/leaver processes saving considerable time within the business. It is also now the default means of integrating systems across the council. Additionally, we also discovered a modest investment in a useful Office 365 add-on that was bought as part of a proof of concept the year before. Although this technology is not the answer to the strategic workflow needs across the council it was clear it could be used as a tactical response to automating work across back office departments. Requiring limited training, in-house development was embraced and it is now contributing to the transformational benefits column.
What is clear from this experience is while you will undoubtedly have to invest in technology in order to achieve your transformation goals, by first fully understanding what you already have, including looking at its untapped potential, you could seriously reduce the cost and the time spent on lengthy procurements. As a bonus your cupboards will have had a spring clean.