“Digital transformation doesn’t work.” Cut away all the buzzwords and balderdash, and you’ll find this sentiment echoed—well, whispered—in boardrooms and operations centres across Australia. Some research suggests only 8% of Australian enterprises have managed to scale their digital transformation efforts. Even though the rhetoric’s outworn its welcome, the practice of digital transformation still incurs incredibly high rates of failure. What aren’t we getting right?
Perhaps the problem stems from IT—and its relative lack of change. All too often, we’re seeing businesses try to pivot into digital operating models with a technology mindset that hasn’t significantly evolved since the rack-and-blade era. Don’t get me wrong: this is not an issue of technology. It’s a question of thinking—changing the mental models IT applies in everyday operations.
For digital transformation to work, we need an IT infrastructure built on principles of agility, automation, and accessibility—the same things digital transformation initiatives ultimately promise to the organisation.
Containers—the software methodology everyone’s talking about, but few are doing—can help get IT thinking according to those principles. Containerisation and digital transformation have similar goals and underlying methods of meeting them. It’s too good an opportunity for any IT leader to ignore.
Now You’re Thinking With Containers
In the hit video game Portal, the player’s ability to create pairs of dimensional gateways inevitably causes them to think differently about the spaces they entered—and how to manipulate those spaces to overcome challenges. Homicidal AI aside, the same premise applies to containers and digital transformation.
By packaging up applications in a way that can be moved between operating systems and hardware just like that, containerisation compels IT to think less about the technical details of provisioning and maintenance, and more about flexing, scaling, and adjusting to meet demand. In other words, the same factors a digitally transformed enterprise would concern itself with.
It’s worth thinking of containers as the logical architecture for digitally transformed organisations: building blocks to meet different stakeholders’ needs for software and services, where and when and at what scale they require them. To make things better, the language of containers—automation, orchestration, agility—largely mirrors or at least resonates with digital transformation. When IT leaders start to embrace containerisation, they’ll often find themselves thinking and speaking about the same things their line-of-business counterparts do. That should help drive the greater cooperation needed to increase digital transformation’s odds of success.
Out of the Box, Into a New One
If containerisation can and should play such a fundamental role in the mechanics of digital transformation, why hasn’t it caught on in most enterprises? I’d hazard this is for one simple reason: learning something new is hard. While containers aren’t new technology by any stretch of the imagination, they require IT to rethink many of the basic principles of operations—often through an onboarding process that is anything but intuitive.
In most cases, IT pros find themselves interacting with containers through a browser interface, struggling to find the right management and monitoring tools to fulfil their everyday requirements, and fighting against UX design that doesn’t prioritise usability. With the sheer amount of new competency they’re expected to acquire and update, is it any wonder IT leaders have put containers at the back of the shelf?
If we recognise containerisation can help with digital transformation, we need to refine the frameworks governing their use. Focusing on usability improvements won’t just help IT pros tool up faster; it’ll also lay the groundwork for a time where line-of-business users can request, run, and manage resources themselves, with automation taking the lead.
When this happens, we’ll start to see the agility and responsiveness of the ideal digital transformation, occurring as a natural by-product of the infrastructure we’re operating in. We’ll be thinking in containers, not just within IT, but as entire teams and organisations. That, in turn, will allow business leaders of all stripes to focus less on the technology and more on meeting their customers’ and people’s needs.
Digital transformation works—if we get our thinking aligned before adopting new technologies and processes.
Containerisation isn’t the silver bullet to overcome digital transformation’s many challenges, but it gives IT a more effective infrastructure and language to address them with. This may require IT leaders to push their thinking a little out of the box at first—but it’ll be worth it if only to stop themselves ending up on the wrong side of a digital transformation statistic.