person standing with a foot on two different floors
PHOTO: JOSHUA COLEMAN

Around this time every year, I marvel at nature’s amazing transition from winter into spring. One minute, the air is bitter cold and the ground is covered with snow (fine, I live in California, but stick with me here), and the next, flowers are blooming, green grass is growing, and summer is right around the corner. It seemingly happens overnight. The keyword is "seemingly" — for as we all know, the transition from winter to spring is in reality, a gradual one, defined not by a dramatic burst but an incremental shift.

The same can be said of digital transformation. At first blush, it might appear as though digital transformation happens overnight, especially if you buy into the considerable industry hype. And that type of thinking can be dangerous for organizations looking to kick-start their transformation efforts. After all, the notion of gradually transforming is daunting enough. Thinking that it has to be done in one sudden, dramatic burst is enough to freeze even the most ambitious organization in place.

Technology transformation doesn’t happen overnight, regardless of what vendors might like you to believe. Digital transformation is not about sudden, seismic change. Like the changing of the seasons, it takes time, and when done properly, occurs in increments. That’s why, whenever I talk to customers about digital transformation, I advocate building a hybrid road to the end state they desire. For while dramatic transformations sound great on paper, in practice, a hybrid approach is almost always more practical and effective. Here are four areas organizations can leverage a hybrid approach on their road to transformation.

4 Areas to Take a Hybrid Approach to Transformation

Big Data Management

Time and again, the traditional relational database and hierarchical data warehouse have been declared dead and buried, with new unstructured, noSQL databases set to permanently take over. If you’ve yet to modernize your big data infrastructure, you might think you’re staring down the barrel of a complete overhaul. The reality, however, is far different. 

Even those organizations that have aggressively adopted modern big data platforms are doing so within the construct of a hybrid environment. Hype aside, every organization, large or small, has a need for both the traditional data warehouse and new unstructured databases like Hadoop. To transform in the context of big data management really just means to create a hybrid solution that combines all data types and delivers a nuanced view of customer and business activity.

Related Article: The First Steps of Data Mobilization: Data Audit and Data Consolidation

Cloud Computing

To this day I still talk regularly with customers who feel as though they “need” to move everything to the cloud, as if doing so is table stakes for digital transformation. And certainly, there are a great many use cases for which leveraging cloud infrastructure is absolutely the right call, such as disaster recovery, continuous testing, and analytics, to name just a few of the many.

But once again, the notion of cloud as an all-or-nothing proposition is simply not reflective of real-world reality, and once again, even the most sophisticated organizations generally strike a balance between on-premises and as a service. If you’re considering more aggressively leveraging cloud to fuel your digital initiatives, chances are you’ll want to do the same.

Related Article: Hybrid Cloud: Bringing the Best of Both Worlds to the Enterprise

Agile Development

There’s no bigger advocate for agile development than yours truly. Agility is everything, and no business can survive in the digital era without the ability to quickly and regularly update their web and mobile applications, and release new capabilities to customers. And whereas the hybrid nature of cloud and big data initiatives is likely permanent, the ultimate goal for every business should be one in which each and every development team shifts from the traditional waterfall-based approach to development to an agile, DevOps-driven approach.

But that doesn’t mean you have to get from here to there all at once. The shift from waterfall-based development to agile development often requires both a cultural and technological overhaul, the prospect of which can understandably seem overwhelming. So find that hybrid middle ground. Instead of immediately overhauling every development team and process, pick a few that could most benefit from the shift (and are most ready culturally to take it on) and start there. Once you've established best practices and documented clear benefits, you can begin adopting the same approach throughout other parts of the organization. This incremental approach helps overcome internal resistance and grow stakeholder support.

Related Article: How to Build a Sustainable Agile Culture

Automated Testing

If agile development is the structure that houses digital transformation, then automated testing is the foundation on which that structure is built. If you’re serious about succeeding with agile development, automated testing is a must-have. The level of speed and scalability necessary to facilitate faster release cycles is simply not attainable with traditional manual testing. Once again, this doesn’t mean you have to throw the baby out with the bath water. Manual testing can and does still play an important role alongside automated testing, particularly when it comes to exploratory testing or other edge uses cases that can’t be automated. 

Related Article: How to Advance Your DX Testing and Optimization Maturity

At Home in the Middle

There’s absolutely nothing wrong (and many, many things right) with wanting to embrace new big data platforms, offload all of your infrastructure to the cloud, and deliver each and every one of your products and services by way of agile teams leveraging automated testing. And you may eventually get there. 

Just remember that your desired end-state should have nothing to do with technology and everything to do with your customers. So wherever you are on your journey, once you find yourself achieving digital excellence and deliver a great digital experience to your customers, don’t be afraid to stop and call that home.