The calendar has flipped to March, and that means Major League Baseball teams are gathering for spring training in in Florida and Arizona.
After an off-season in which front offices used advanced analytics and statistical modelling techniques to improve their rosters, and players used cutting-edge training and nutrition regimens to improve their performance, teams will spend the next month working almost entirely on the same seemingly mundane thing: fundamentals. And with good reason. Poor fundamentals can undermine even the most sophisticated team-building strategy.
The same principle holds true in the conjoined worlds of IT and digital transformation. We’re living in an age when anything seems possible. With the unlimited scalability of cloud platforms, the continued proliferation of dynamic open-source frameworks, and the advent of powerful new capabilities such as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), we can now build and deliver products and applications in ways that would have once seemed unimaginable, and in the process we’re fueling the pervasive megatrend that is digital transformation.
Amid the understandable excitement about what we can now accomplish, and the growing anticipation of what comes next, it can be easy to lose sight of the fundamentals. As in baseball, overlooked fundamentals will take the legs out from under even the best laid digital transformation plans.
Don’t let the term fundamentals mislead you, either. Just as there’s nothing easy about executing solid baseball fundamentals, the fundamentals of digital transformation require hard work and attention to detail.
Let’s take a look at four of the most critical.
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As Dr. Ian Malcolm (famously played by Jeff Goldblum) said in the original “Jurassic Park” movie, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
It’s easy for software product and development teams to fall into the same trap. With DevOps-driven agile development methodologies making it possible for product teams to release new and updated software faster and more frequently than ever before, we can now deliver a seemingly unending array of new features and functionality to customers.
As exciting as that is (and it is exciting!), it’s only valuable to the extent that we do not lose sight of that most of basic of business fundamentals — delivering products that solve real problems and provide real value to customers. In our eagerness to build great new technologies (and again, this is something we absolutely should be eager to do), we run the risk of getting too far ahead and losing our connection with customers. That’s how you wind up with really powerful shelfware.
One great way to marry your thirst for innovation with the fundamental need to remain customer-focused is to form a customer advisory board — and meet with it regularly. Not only will you come away with valuable insights into future product direction that you simply can’t get anywhere else, you’ll also likely walk away with more loyal, evangelical customers.
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Quality is in many ways the epitome of a fundamental. There’s nothing overly glamorous about it, especially in a digitally-driven world that’s increasingly defined by speed. Quality assurance is akin to laying down a sacrifice bunt in baseball. Sure, it’s not nearly as glitzy as hitting a home run. But failing to get down a bunt can cost you a game, and failing to ensure quality at all stages of the product development life cycle can cost you both dollars and customers.
To guard against losing sight of this important fundamental, see to it that your quality assurance teams have a prominent place at the product development table, ideally working directly alongside developers to ensure continual testing of code through the software delivery life cycle. And don’t just test to see if something works the way it should (an approach known as functional testing); make sure you also test key elements of the user experience (known as nonfunctional testing), including application performance and visual accuracy.
Monitor, Manage and Protect
Building great new software applications and/or implementing them to transform your business — that’s fun. (Heck, that’s why most of us get into the tech game in the first place.) Administering those applications post implementation? Admittedly, not quite as much fun. You know what’s really not any fun though? Seeing all the hard work and innovation that went into building that great new application go by the wayside because of failed fundamentals. And there’s nothing more fundamental than properly monitoring, managing and protecting your applications for the duration of their usage.
They may not sound quite as cutting-edge as leveraging an open-source framework, architecting a cloud computing system or delivering insights through data science, but monitoring application performance, diagnosing and troubleshooting bottlenecks, and ensuring recoverability are no less important to your digital transformation initiatives.
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Security From the Start
I’ll be the first to admit there are many experts who are far more qualified to talk about security than I am. And that’s really the point. In the more than two decades I’ve spent working as part of (or directly alongside) product and engineering teams, I can’t tell you how often those teams get deep into the development process before accounting for security, and how rarely a true security expert is part of the process from the start.
So if it hasn’t already, now is the time for your business to get serious about DevSecOps. An approach that integrates security practices directly into core DevOps processes, DevSecOps is really just a fancy way of saying that when you’re building an application, you’re committed to thinking about security right from the start. Like each of the aforementioned practices, DevSecOps is nothing earth-shattering. It’s just good fundamentals.
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