In previous blogs, we examined several steps in an organization’s transformational journey to the cloud. We looked at the big picture — what’s involved in preparing for a cloud migration. We also covered the steps to operational readiness and the importance of an implementation roadmap.
But once your journey to the cloud is complete, then what? Well, after you’ve checked all the boxes for your original strategy and vision, you’ve entered what I call the Continuous Transformation Zone. Though not quite as mysterious as the Twilight Zone, continuous transformation does have its challenges.
Continuous transformation involves two main players: the independent software vendor (ISV) that provides products and services and the customer who consumes them. Let's examine these players in turn.
Continuous Transformation: The ISV
ISVs include Salesforce, Oracle, Microsoft, Workday, Boomi and any number of other companies. Big ISVs have thousands of customers, to whom they regularly and frequently deliver enhanced features and richer functionalities. These updates come at least every six months and often every quarter. Contrast that with the old on-premise days, when a new release might occur only once every couple of years.
ISVs do this because they know new releases with improved features increase “stickiness” for existing customers while also attracting new ones. It’s a clear strategy for maintaining market leadership. As ISVs continuously invest in their products, their success often depends on how fast customers adopt these new features.
ISVs also use their new releases to fix bugs and other issues, making their products better. That also smooths the up-sell path. If a Salesforce Sales Cloud customer is happy with how the software performs now, they’ll be more likely to buy the company's Service Cloud or Marketing Cloud in the future.
Continuous Transformation: The Customer
The priorities of customers are different. They want to ensure they’re sticking to their business strategies and objectives. These can vary. One customer may be focused on cost-cutting, another on new product introductions, and a third on market expansion, compliance or acquisitions.
These strategies and business models can change and evolve for any number of reasons. But in all cases, customers want their IT applications to support them and meet their requirements, whatever those may be. Smart CTOs and CIOs look at a product's new features through a specific lens: Does this improved functionality help my company meet its business requirements?
Of course, sometimes a new feature can deliver capabilities that a company didn’t think it needed. But once the capability is available — process automation, for example — the customer suddenly has an incentive to use it. The new feature can be a market differentiator by delivering value to customers.
Other times, a group of custom applications can be retired because their functionality has been taken over by a single, cloud-based platform. This can simplify a customer's application footprint, increase their operational efficiency and lower their TCO.
ISVs Have Different Release Calendars
While the goals of ISVs and their customers may differ, they should still support each other. In this way, they're aligned, which is how continuous transformation occurs. Nevertheless, some challenges remain.
One of the most difficult is managing the different release calendars of various ISVs. All of the large ISVs have their own calendars, and this can make it challenging for customers to evaluate and select new features.
Remember that each release can have literally hundreds of added features and bug fixes. Now, multiply that times a large software portfolio, and you can see why keeping up is so hard. In the past, when an on-premise app was upgraded only every two years or so, IT had six months to prepare. Not anymore.
Now there’s no time to do the required analysis or plan for the change management that a new release might require. So many companies just adopt what's absolutely mandatory and essential. Unfortunately, they also end up paying for features they won't use.
While the desire for continuous transformation is there, the desire to avoid continuous chaos wins out.
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Continuous Advisory, Adoption and Assurance
Continuous transformation, as the phrase states, is continuous and ongoing. It's also supported by three pillars: advisory, adoption and assurance. Each pillar is an important process of continuous transformation, and each merits a customer's time and expertise.
Continuous advisory provides knowledge about which new features are most relevant to an organization. In every release, some will be critical, some will be worth exploring to solve a specific business issue, and some will be of no interest. One way to gain this knowledge is through an internal, ISV-focused team. At Jade Global we have ISV centers of excellence (CoEs) for Salesforce, Boomi, NetSuite and others.
In our ISV CoEs, we maintain one functionality repository and one customer functionality master. The functionality repository contains every release for a software platform, along with the functionality it offers.
The customer functionality master allows us to compare the functionality of each release with the functionality requirements of a business. For example, while one new release may have 200 new features, by using the customer functionality master, we can see that only 50 are relevant to our customer. That helps us to avoid wasting time on the other 150.
Once an organization has figured out which new features it should adopt, it still needs to solve the release calendar problem. To do this, an organization should create a common release calendar that offers a framework for implementing new features.
One approach is to align your internal release calendar with the calendar of the ISV that's most important to your business. For the other applications, just take care of the mandatory features and upgrades from the previous release. The important takeaway here is to first develop a methodology and best practices that work for your company, and then stick with them.
Another aspect of adoption is training. People don’t want to read manuals. But if you're adopting new functionality every quarter, you can’t run a week-long training program for each and every release. Plus, employees expect applications to be intuitive. While ISVs share that intent and want to make their apps more intuitive, most still have a way to go — in some cases, a long way!
This has created a market need for what's known as "guided training" – training that occurs while an app is being used. To meet this need, companies such as Apty and Walkme have emerged. Their solutions make web-based applications easier to use; they also provide data-based insights to improve efficiency and reduce training costs.
Fundamentally, continuous adoption is about ensuring that an organization is ready to adopt new functionality when it's released on the software the organization relies on.
Remember the earlier reference to continuous chaos? To prevent that, we come to the point of continuous assurance. Once you have the application knowledge, and once you know what you want to adopt, you don’t want systems to fail just because things are changing rapidly. Even with the best change-management planning, continuous adoption can cause some disruption. You don’t want to introduce even more pain by breaking things.
In this scenario, test automation, test libraries and release management all become core capabilities. These capabilities may already be in place at organizations with a robust DevOps practice.
The Importance of Integration
Without integration, there can be no continuous transformation. It's that important. Fortunately, over the last five years, integration has become much easier. New iPaaS tools have radically changed the game.
Organizations are open to best-of-breed products, and they’re not afraid of the integration component required to use these products effectively. Software implementation and integration are no longer multi-year projects with huge price tags. Now, organizations can choose the best application in a particular space and simply integrate it. For example, our Boomi team at Jade Global often develops production-ready integrations in as little as a week or two.
That's why integration is critical to continuous transformation. You're no longer trying to align and adopt releases from one monolithic, mega-application every 24 months. Instead, you're creating a complex web of best-of-breed software, and you're doing so on an ongoing basis. For continuous transformation and the business results it can deliver, organizations today need integration cycles that are fast.
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