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A five-point plan to boost digitalisation

Written by Christoph Heidler, VP Transformation Strategy and CIO EMEA, Zscaler

After almost two years of unprecedented disruption brought about by the pandemic, organisations are adjusting to the ‘new normal’. Yet now is not the time to ease up on digitalisation efforts, which for many were necessitated by the arrival of COVID-19 restrictions. The European Commission’s latest Digital Economy and Society Index, found that while cloud computing increased over the first year of the pandemic, with large companies making greater strides in implementing the technology, the same cannot be said for digitalisation as a whole. Advanced digital technologies beyond the use of cloud-based applications in office, ERP, or HR settings – were not high on the agenda for many.

Reviewing digitalisation strategies should be a top priority in the context of ever-increasing pressure on margins. Objectives must be adjusted to be in line with market conditions and new technological advances. Digital disruption is no longer just a theory; digitalisation has already caught up with many long-established companies. The need to stay competitive in a world with a growing army of digital newcomers should be enough motivation for businesses to accelerate their own digital agenda. The cloud is far more than just a springboard for start-ups to deliver their digital offerings; it also enables more established companies to optimise traditional processes and services.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), edge computing, and the 5G wireless open standard open up a whole host of new opportunities. These developments have long been part of the vernacular in IT departments, but many organisations still need to seize the opportunity to implement a new strategy for the digital decade. Here is a five-point plan for businesses looking to accelerate a digital agenda:

  • Conduct a business assessment to develop a digital story

The first step is to identify the digital opportunities that the organisation can tap into. The increased pressures on margins – caused in part by the pandemic – provides an impetus for change. Business decision makers should be asking themselves how they can boost agility or automate processes to eliminate costs associated with their products or services.

The aim is to develop a digital story based on a holistic business assessment, with end-to-end process digitalisation set as the overarching goal. Process automation and the implementation of digital customer interfaces are the first step on the path to process optimisation, and in turn to increased productivity.

  • Transform IT into a business enabler

The IT department is faced with the challenge of transforming itself from an internal administrative function into a genuine business enabler, and it’s important that it is recognised as such. To this end, the CIO’s goal must be to obtain a position on the Board. The digitalisation of the company’s core business should make IT a focal point. IT departments that fail to get on board with this shift will generally find themselves working alongside a second IT team led by a CTO or CDO. This organisational model can work, but it has been shown to be inefficient and often fraught with tension in practice.

The focus for IT is doing justice to the role of enabler of optimisation, automation, and innovation. It must adopt a holistic view that takes account not only of the application level, but also of network infrastructure, connectivity, and security.

  • Link business objectives to the digitalisation strategy

To win extra budget, CIOs must have the courage to define clear KPIs that show how their digitalisation strategy measurably supports the overarching objectives of the management team. A clear link between the digitalisation strategy, the IT strategy, and the company’s objectives is the foundation for success. The cloud itself is not the objective; it is merely one of the vehicles used to optimise the IT delivery model.

But how else can IT support the achievement of company objectives using modern technologies such as 5G and edge computing, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality? The data that a company collects must be intelligently analysed and used as the starting point for process optimisation. Companies are sitting on an enormous treasure trove of data that they have not yet tapped into. This kind of information will be as valuable as gold in the future, so it’s essential that these nuggets are unearthed, polished, and processed.

The 5G wireless standard and edge computing are just two examples of how applications can be relocated to be closer to the user, whether that’s in logistics, the automotive sector, or in production. These technological innovations can be used to develop brand-new operating models that must be anchored in the company strategy.

  • Make management an agent of change

Management support is crucial when implementing a digitalisation strategy. Leaders must communicate the vision behind the transformation to the entire workforce. If all employees are involved in the change process from the outset, businesses can reduce resistance and counteract the fears about potential job losses that are inherent to any change process. If employees understand the long-term goals that the company hopes to achieve by implementing new technologies, this can avoid resistance to change.

With targeted communication – starting at the very top of the company and cascaded down consistently through all levels – organisations can introduce the change and manage it through all stages of implementation. Communication is a catalyst for digitalisation and prevents the process from stalling due to a lack of understanding.


  • Protecting digital assets is a management responsibility

Traditional network-based IT security infrastructure does not provide adequate levels of protection for distributed, digital business processes. These days, there’s much more at stake than just preventing servers and applications from being accessed from the internet. With hybrid models taking employees away from the company site and applications migrating to the cloud, a hub-and-spoke network architecture no longer makes sense. A zero-trust approach, on the other hand, is a holistic, rule-based security solution for digitalised business processes and data streams.

Management and IT must make it their goal to reduce communication opportunities for all digital assets and operate all assets invisibly wherever possible. After all, attackers can’t attack what they can’t see. As the name suggests, a zero-trust approach means that no user, device, or application – including a company’s own employees, applications, and IoT devices, and other components or people on internal or external networks – is automatically deemed safe, thereby ensuring that digitalisation efforts do not undermine enterprise security.

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