Going Digital, Digitization, The Digital Experience are all terms being thrown around these days and I am often asked “what does that really mean?”. While the industry has done an amazing job of creating new buzz words, it is hard for the everyday technologist to link them to anything practical. We can put together the best products in each domain; however, if there is not a higher purpose then what are we really doing?
Ruba Borno talks about digitization strategy in three segments, it starts from improving a business process to new insights and at the highest level it is what business is based on. This incremental improvement might be increased visibility by finding work in process (WIP) through RFID tagging to an end to end design around automation that is the basis for the way a business goes to market. Uber is usually the darling example used in the latter case, disrupting driver services all over the globe.
I am flying back from London as I write this and discovered that this is not always the case. You see, London already had a driver system in place long before Uber ever arrived. By law, everyone driving anyone required a license and provided a car service. As my Uber driver explained, all that really changed was the app on the phone that made it easier to match clients to her service. They now know exactly when she is arriving and the rates became standardized for a better customer experience. She said it did improve her revenue through increase volume by about 8%. An incremental improvement, for sure, ground breaking, not in that market. This is different than the disruption it has been in markets like San Francisco, Milan, or Singapore.
This situation comes to mind when a customer says “We have old routers and are thinking about upgrading…” The first question I ask is “Okay, but what are you trying to do?” often to puzzled looks. Routers have been around for 30 years and the basic Layer 3 functions haven’t changed much over those 30 years. Sure, there have been several incremental improvements like Uber in London, not really groundbreaking. What has changed is the management, orchestration, and automation of the WAN.
The real discussion begins when we focus on where the applications are housed and the experience we are trying deliver to customers and employees. For example, consider the use of IoT sensors on the roof combined with IP cameras observing the number of people in a queue. The weather and length of line could drive the types of ads playing on the digital signage, the tempo of the music, and the temperature in the room. How might this dynamically changing environment per store change how you perceive your wait time?
In manufacturing the use of virtual beacons can identify fork trucks whirling around a busy factory floor. When you add in some analytics you may find that ten trucks are actually more efficient than 20 due to the traffic flows and part delivery times. Looking to improve customer experience for mortgage applications and insurance estimates? Using Spark to provides fully encrypted cloud based collaboration services changes the service level with customers. Buyers can take pictures while touring a house, upload personal information, and get pre-approved for the loan and insurance policy before they walk out the front door. To close on the home, location services can direct them to the closest branch and provide a virtual map to a room with a Telepresence system for personalize final signatures and approvals from a centralize location.
Imagine IP Cameras and virtual beacons alerting employees to converge on that area that has a flash crowd and the ability check them out on their iPads. Finally, imagine if Uber allowed you to put in your flight number and hotel then automatically summoned a car to arrive exactly when your flight landed and have you checked in as you arrive. Your same phone with NFC with Apple Pay or Google Pay can act as your door key. (Ok that one might be slightly self-serving)
You can quickly see this is much more than talking about a router, a switch, or a server in the data center. We have to talk about where the apps will live and how they will move between the data center, cloud, and branch to provide a new experience for employees and customers.
You need more than a router: will the IoT analytics be processed locally or are you planning on driving all that data to the Cloud? What density of WiFi will be required to deliver these services and how are you dealing with applications coming from multiple sources? How are you planning on securely on-boarding all these IoT devices? What about changes in policy like offering guest WiFi and enabling Spark video in all the warehouses?
We need to think about systems that can spin up compute for an application and have the agility and automation to move the workloads to the Cloud or the branch as needed. Of course, your security policy has to consider that devices that are no long bound by the buildings as they once were and applications that can live anywhere, simultaneously.
Wouldn’t that discussion look something more like this?
Sure, we can talk about a new router, but how is that fundamentally helping your business improve the experience for your customers and employees to grow revenue and create loyalty?