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Security and Data Protection at Alfresco – meet our Security Director, Phil Meadows

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month and as official champions of the scheme, we wanted to shine a light on security here at Alfresco. So we asked Alfresco Security Director, Phil Meadows about his role here keeping us, and customer using our products, secure.

What do you do at Alfresco and how did you get into this role?

As the Security Director here at Alfresco I’m responsible for ensuring that the products that we deliver are secure and also that we’re running our business in a secure way. I originally come from a software engineering background and most recently I led the DevOps team here so I have had a lot of experience with both software and operational security, which was great preparation for being Security Director.

How do you ensure that Alfresco is developing products that keep customer organizations secure?

We make sure that we consider people, tools and policies to help ensure that security is an integral part of our product development process, not a separate activity. We support the engineers with training and personal development to make sure that they’ve got the right level of security awareness. We’re also building a virtual team of secure coding representatives from across the engineering teams to be able to share best practices and also make sure that security is considered up front in everything we develop.

We follow some of the DevSecOps approaches and integrate automated security scanning analysis tools into the development pipelines. I’m a believer that if the engineers can have potential security flaws highlighted as they are writing code, then it’s a lot easier to resolve while it’s still fresh in their mind. We also use more heavyweight automated scanning tools and we make use of third party penetration testing companies to give us external validation.

We also put in place policies to make sure that if and when security issues are reported, that they’re categorised and responded to appropriately.

What are some measures the security team takes to ensure the protection of customer data?

As a company we have regular SOC2 assessments of our own operational processes. This makes sure that we have appropriate policies and processes in place to cover security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy of customer data that we hold. Our documentation team provide extensive documentation about Authentication and Security of our products to help customers correctly configure and run their systems.

For customers who have compliance obligations around storing records we also have information governance solutions which meet a number of standards including NARA/OMB 2016 and 2019, ISO 15489, MoReq and VERS.

Your job means you’re responsible for helping our customers run Alfresco securely. Tell us more about that.

As a security team, we work closely with all parts of our company that are helping customers  to help them out with guidance and advice on how to run our products securely. We also work closely with product engineering on tools like our AWS Quick Start and other reference documents and deployment tools to make sure that they have a good level of security built in.

One of my colleagues in the security team, Toni de la Fuente, has his focus on operational security. Increasingly, our customers are running Alfresco on AWS. With Cloud security a big concern, and as open source believers, we like to share the tools that we create. We have an active project called Prowler which anyone can use to assess the security of, and then harden, their AWS accounts based on the industry standard CIS benchmarks. We’re also working on a new project called The Trooper which will allow automated deployment of an integrated suite of AWS security monitoring tools. Watch this space!

To hear more from Phil and Toni, watch them discuss Security at Alfresco in this recent Tech Talk Live:

Change is in the air, Alfresco style, and I like it

The air is changing here in Northern California, as the daylight shortens, the nights get cooler and Autumn 2017 sets in.  With every change of season, I always seem to reflect back on the past year, and with so many recent developer centric events concluding, and gearing up, I thought it was a good time to acknowledge all of those efforts.  Not sure if 2017 was a strong developer year because of the North American Eclipse of not, but it could be… </bad pun>

Thinking back on 2017, it’s been a strong year in the developer community, and while it’s not over yet, there is positive momentum.  It was great to meet many community developers in Spain this past at April at BeeCon.  That was time well spent with great sessions and conversations.  Most recently, I was impressed with the number and quality of projects presented in the most recent Hackathon earlier in October.  It was great to see the list grow as there was a call for projects.  For those that missed it, there was an extended (>90 minute) Office Hours which included many demonstrations.  I made this video “required viewing” within the product management team as we are always looking for inspiration and ways to improve the product.  Ideally, I’d love to see some of these projects make it into the product and we have taken steps to make the contribution process easier.

I love seeing the steady stream of interesting topics in the Tech Talk Live and Office Hours events, as well as other demonstrations that are archived on our YouTube channel.  In addition, to see how these projects are made, I like to subscribe to many of the Alfresco projects in github.  I often find I send links to these when asked about topics from partners, developers and customers.  We have also taken a broader view of personas to include technical architects and devops, in addition to developers to address deployment, test automation, scaling, and security best practices, as we strive to support continuous integration and continuous deployment.

There continues to be great topics posted and conversation at community.alfresco.com for Alfresco Content Services, Alfresco Process Services, and the rapid releases of the Application Development Framework.  Some have also commented on the increased depth of documentation at docs.alfresco.com as well as a single landing page to help newcomers at alfresco.com/learn. As more developers choose to deploy Alfresco in IaaS, we are happy to have updated the AWS Quick Start a few times over the past year with refinements and enhanced security. Speaking of AWS, it’s also exciting to posts for adding value to image content in an Alfresco repository using Kinesis Firehose, Rekognition, Lambda.

Also, I am very excited for the upcoming DevCon which will occur Jan 16-18, 2018 in Lisbon Portugal. The call for papers is now, so if there is a topic or project you are passionate about, I highly recommend you take this opportunity.  I look forward to sharing the latest product roadmap at DevCon and hearing from all of you what types of use cases you are addressing.  Overall, we want to do a better job of providing direction on each area of the roadmaps (Process Services, Content, Services, Governance Services, Applications Development, Analytics, etc.) to make it easier to plan your development and contributions.

But, this year is not over and if you want to get together with others interested in Alfresco, let us know how we may be able to help you host a MeetUp in your part of the world.

So, while 2017 continues on, there is a nice change in the air for our developers which reminds me why we are called Alfresco in the first place; It’s open and fresh, with the smell of clean air.

Alfresco Once Again Positioned as a Challenger in Gartner 2017 Magic Quadrant Report for Content Services Platforms

I’m delighted to announce that Gartner, Inc. has named Alfresco a Challenger in its 2017 Magic Quadrant for Content Services Platforms. 2017 marks the second year in a row that Gartner has placed Alfresco as a Challenger in the evolving Enterprise Content Management (ECM) market.

I believe placement in the 2017 Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Content Services Platforms Challengers’ quadrant validates Alfresco’s ongoing innovation and execution in the rapidly evolving content services market. Our Digital Business Platform is a great fit for organizations that are looking to differentiate themselves by delivering engaging customer experiences at scale. For organizations with Digital Transformation initiatives, our open source roots and transparent approach are appealing to developers, content professionals and architects alike.

In the last year, we have expanded our technology partnerships to advance differentiation and innovation, including being the first content services provider on Amazon to launch an Alfresco instance with an Amazon Web Services Quick Start. By providing our customers with an extensive set of open APIs, developer tools and cloud-ready deployments, we build a level of agility, engagement and loyalty that is fundamentally different than many of our competitors.

Alfresco’s cloud-ready and developer-friendly, open source software powers the daily work of millions of people, addressing the unique needs of financial services, healthcare, insurance, government, manufacturing, and publishing companies, in countries around the world.

Download the Gartner Magic Quadrant now to read Gartner’s full analysis of the Content Services Platforms segment.

Disclaimer: Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

 

Documentum, FileNet & OpenText – should I stay or should I go?

We’re pleased to introduce a guest blog post from Dave Giordano, President and Founder of Technology Services Group, an Alfresco Strategic System Integrator and Amazon Web Services (AWS) Consulting Partner.  Dave is a technical architect and visionary with deep experience in enterprise content management.  He is widely regarded, having 21 years of experience with legacy ECM systems. In this post, Dave shares his thoughts on the dynamics happening in the ECM space and how customers can take advantage of modern technology and the cloud.

Technology Services Group (TSG) has multiple customers on “vintage” legacy ECM systems that have postponed go decisions for years.  With new capabilities for cloud dramatically reducing costs, many clients are reconsidering their stay decision.

Legacy ECM – If I go, there will be trouble, but if I stay it will be double

Legacy ECM customers, while never thrilled with support over the last 10+ years, often stay. Here’s why:

  • If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – Building and moving content, integrations and processes can be costly and difficult. But if the legacy system breaks, can it be fixed? Particularly if the development on old technology was done by employees or consultants that are gone?
  • It’s already paid for – Moving requires additional funds. While true, at 25% maintenance, legacy ECM systems are repurchased every 4 years in addition to other expensive components in the ECM stack. lack of easy alternatives – Moving from a known commodity to something new requires explaining to why something is better than the product selected 10 to 20 years ago. The new alternative has to have both cost and technology advantages.

Documentum/OpenText

With the OpenText purchase of Documentum, we proposed three measurements to evaluate OpenText’s commitment to investing in Documentum:

  • Maintain talent – From talking to multiple ex-Documentum employees, ECD was cut by OpenText across all areas particularly focused on long-time Documentum resources. The cuts and attrition directly affect OpenText’s ability to invest in the core components of Documentum.
  • Invest in the future – From our keynote review of OpenText Enterprise World 2017, OpenText was focused on other initiatives around analytics and the OpenText cloud.  We would anticipate that any “investment” is really to upsell opportunities like a shared interface or add-ons.
  • Bring other positives – It is difficult to see how OpenText brings other positives to the Documentum install base. We would consider OpenText’s plethora of overlapping products more of a detriment to Documentum customers than a positive, particularly when it comes to partnering with cloud infrastructure leaders like Microsoft Azure and AWS.

OpenText is more focused on the “what’s next” in regards to analytics, robotics and their proprietary cloud rather than how Documentum (or OpenText Content Manager) would be improved.

Earlier this year, we updated our Alfresco vs Documentum comparison white paper, where you can get our analysis of how the two platforms stack up.

FileNet and IBM

Similar to Documentum, we surmised that FileNet might be sold by IBM.  IBM has treated FileNet as a “cash cow” within the IBM family of products for years.  The concern for FileNet customers and employees is the focus IBM has on the “new” and not on FileNet including:

  • Consulting – Should IBM improve FileNet or just sell consulting services to patch any issues or upsell to other products/services?
  • Cloud – IBM has been very focused on their cloud offerings. FileNet, and particularly legacy FileNet, isn’t really cloud friendly.
  • Box – IBM has a tight relationship with Box. Does the Box partnership take away from FileNet?
  • Watson – IBM is very focused on Watson.  Will FileNet get the right focus from IBM to innovate?

Adding cloud to the “Should I stay or should I go” decision

Moving to the cloud can provide infrastructure cost savings to more than justify the cost and effort of migrating.  Moving to the cloud can involve two types of platforms:

  • Software as a Service (SAAS) – a providers’ ECM cloud environment where the provider offers software and infrastructure maintenance. e., FileNet with IBM’s cloud or Documentum/OpenText with their own proprietary SAAS environment.
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IAAS) –an infrastructure provider not just for ECM but for other corporate systems and environments. The client is still managing their infrastructure just with all hardware rentable in the provider’s cloud.  (example:  AWS and Microsoft Azure)

TSG has seen minimal ECM growth with SAAS while IAAS continues to expand rapidly.  Some thoughts on reasons include:

  • Growth and adoption – For a quick comparison, in 2016, Box (SAAS) had $300 million in revenue with a $100 million loss, AWS (IAAS) had $13 billion in revenue with a $3 billion profit.
  • Cost Concerns – Clients have found that over the long-term, SAAS isn’t really a cheaper option.
  • Lock-In Concerns – With a proprietary interface, clients are worried about the future of SAAS vendors and their long-term viability and product direction while holding onto clients’ documents.

Why OpenText and IBM will struggle with IAAS

In May, we wrote a post titled, Is a Large ECM Suite really that Sweet? It is not that FileNet, Documentum or OpenText couldn’t work on AWS or Azure, it is that IBM and OpenText would rather sell their cloud offering suite.  By default, an AWS or Azure alternative for IBM or OpenText is something less and discouraged.  During the OpenText keynote, OpenText viewed AWS or Azure as slightly better than on-premise and promoted their proprietary cloud.  IBM has a similar issue with IAAS providers.

Alfresco and AWS

TSG has been implementing Alfresco and AWS (10+ production clients) as a cost-effective alternative to legacy ECM:

  • Alfresco is “all in” with AWS – Alfresco focuses and invests on partnering and engineering their products and company to work better with AWS.
  • Alfresco is optimized for AWSAWS benchmarks, Alfresco connectors like S3, DB integration like Aurora DB as well as pre-built components and Alfresco AWS Quick Start make Alfresco on AWS installations easier and faster.
  • On-Premise or Cloud – Alfresco provides the same core components for both the cloud and on-premise providing alternatives for clients.

Summary – should I cool it or should I blow?

With the cloud, cost savings and rapid growth of Infrastructure as a Service (IAAS) vendors like AWS, legacy ECM customers are considering cloud ECM alternatives.  While concern about the effort of moving documents and integrations to a new platform has in the past pushed clients to delay leaving, the cost savings and capabilities of AWS combined with Alfresco dramatically reduce costs and make the “should I go” dilemma that much easier.

Connect with Dave on Twitter to join the conversation about legacy ECM and moving to the cloud #alfresco #cloud #ecm.

CX is not UX – how digital threads can help deliver end-to-end customer experiences

This is the second of a three part series of guest blog posts on digital transformation from Neil Ward-Dutton, co-founder and Research Director at MWD Advisors. Neil recently talked to us about the power of ‘digital threads’, that utilise modern, open technologies to weave together organizational silos, in a recent webinar. You can watch ‘Connecting the Digital Threads: What’s Powering Digital Transformation in forward-thinking organizations?’ on-demand now.  Here, Neil examines how these digital threads can support the customer journey…

In the first post of this series, I highlighted how there are in fact two perspectives on digital transformation that are both important. The first is focused on transforming your technology estate to implement widespread adoption of digital technologies and platforms; and the second (less common) is focused on using digital platforms and technologies to change how change works.

In this second post I’m going to look at how the common entry point for digital transformation – customer experience improvement – drives the need to create ‘digital threads’, and what this means for the platforms you need in your business.

It used to be so easy: customers learned about products from suppliers’ in-store personnel, newspapers and magazines and their friends. If you wanted to buy something, you ordered it over the phone or went to a store to make the purchase. If you had a problem, you called the supplier or went back to the store. The balance of power was very much in favour of suppliers.

Knowledge and power have shifted to customers

Over the past decade the explosion in use of the World Wide Web – in multiple forms, across multiple networks and from multiple kinds of device – has shifted the availability of knowledge, and the balance of power that goes with it, very strongly towards the customer.

This knowledge shift has started to create big changes in customer research and buying cycles, and as a consequence any organization trying to sell products or services directly to customers now has to reassess how they engage and service customers’ needs. In the past, customers had to come to you in ways you specified, because you had the information that could help them get what they wanted. Now information is everywhere. Customers don’t have to engage with you in ways that you specify, and they don’t want to.

You have to go where customers want to be and engage with them in ways that make sense to them – across multiple online and off-line channels and venues. Why? Because globalization has put an end to sustainable competitiveness based on product /service price or features. Competing effectively today means considering broader customer experience issues. In addition, although customers are more demanding than they have ever been, it’s still easier to win business with existing customers than win new ones. Showing you care about customers helps you keep them as competition intensifies.

Customers’ experiences follow from the journeys they take

When trying to improve your customers’ experiences, trying to improve isolated interaction points is only going to take you so far. What can appear to be a series of one-off interactions from your perspective is actually part of a journey from your customer’s perspective – and that journey can be intensely frustrating for customers, even if individual interactions within that journey pass off without problems.

The concept of a “customer journey” is a great place to start if you want to enhance the customer experience at your organization – understand this and you can begin to deliver great customer experiences. Delivering great customer experiences means understanding that each customer journey needs to be seamless and natural.

The crucial thing to realise is that for almost any organization, customers’ journeys are not shaped solely – or even mostly – by the user experiences you enable through a corporate website or social network page. It’s seductive to focus principally on how people flow through online properties, because we have established site analytics tools that enable us to understand these flows. But the danger in doing this is that you quickly begin to slip back into ‘inside-out’ thinking – looking at the world from the perspective of your organization, rather than from the perspective of the customer.

At a high level a typical customer journey will have four major phases, each of which will probably have multiple elements within it: learn (about your product or service); buy; receive; and use. Additionally, it pays to consider other activities that are integral to customers’ end-to-end experiences and your ability to excel: get help (when things go wrong or the customer doesn’t understand something); and tell friends (about good or bad experiences).

You’ll see from this perspective that customer journeys will rely, either directly or indirectly, on capabilities and services provided across your marketing, sales, operations and customer services functions. In addition, each journey may well traverse multiple brands, venues, and channels. It may also include interactions with third parties (one trivial example would be interactions with delivery agents).

Customer journeys must be supported with ‘digital threads’

From an ‘outside-in’ (customer-focused) perspective, the key characteristic that shapes a seamless journey is integration – integration of the customer’s experience across the activities marketing, sales, operations and customer services teams; and integration across brands, venues, channels and so on.

However looking ‘inside-out’ the operational picture is never simple. A great many large, established organizations have spent at least a decade dispersing their operations across entities and locations: working through more and more specialised partners, creating shared-services centres, outsourcing functions, and so on. Even where globalisation hasn’t had a major impact on operations, though, it’s rare to find an organization’s operations that are aligned with a customer’s perspective and expectations.

This of course creates a massive tension. How do you create an integrated experience and drive great customer journeys, in the reality of your organization’s operations.

The answer is to work to digitise your operations with a modern digital business platform. This allows you to co-ordinate work and share knowledge at scale across locations, teams, and technology platforms – creating ‘digital threads’ that run right through your business, making sure you keep your promises to your customers and demonstrating that you operate within the bounds of industry regulations.

These digital threads will enable your people and systems to share the context and content they need to seamlessly support different stages of customers’ journeys – even as those journeys touch the capabilities of your marketing, sales, operations and customer services teams (and even perhaps teams from key partner organizations).

To return to our title: CX is not UX. Focusing on UX will take you a certain distance: but really considering end-to-end customer experience means looking at how your internal capabilities align and integrate across business functions – and then supporting that alignment and integration with a modern digital business platform.

In the last part of this series, I’m going to explore some of the other features and capabilities that a fit-for-purpose digital business platform needs to exhibit.

About Neil Ward-Dutton

Neil is MWD Advisors‘ co-founder and Research Director, and is one of Europe’s most experienced and high-profile IT industry analysts. His areas of expertise include business process management (BPM), enterprise architecture (EA), Cloud computing and digital strategy. Neil acts as an advisor to large organizations across a range of sectors and industries as diverse as FSI, retail, utilities and government, as well as to leading technology vendors. Neil was this year’s keynote speaker for the BPMNext Conference in Santa Barbara, CA.

You can watch Neil’s recent webinar for Alfresco ‘Connecting the Digital Threads: What’s Powering Digital Transformation in forward-thinking organizations?’ on-demand now.

Forbes Infographic: How Do Digital Leaders Think Differently?

Digital transformation requires organizations to rethink the way they leverage information technology, applying the principles of design, open and platform thinking to achieve success.

That’s according to a recent research study from Forbes Insights, in association with Alfresco. What’s more, the research uncovered that those forward-thinking ‘digital leaders’ are able to achieve higher EBITDA growth than their less digitally savvy counterparts.

The survey questioned 328 senior executives across a range of industries including Technology, Manufacturing, Government, Healthcare and Financial Services in North America and Western Europe. Eighty-six percent of respondents represented companies with at least $1 billion in annual revenue.

The infographic below provides a view of just some of the ways Digital Leaders are thinking differently. For a deeper dive into the research findings, download the Forbes and Alfresco White Paper, The Great Rethink: How Digital Leaders Are Building Tomorrow’s Organizations?.

7 Key Takeaways from the 2017 Alfresco Government Summit

On June 6 – well before the All-Star break – more than 200 public sector IT leaders met at the Washington Nationals baseball stadium to hear about digital transformation in the U.S. government. Despite being a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, I found the event at Nats Park to be a wonderful opportunity to touch base with peers, exchange ideas and learn about IT modernization best practices from an all-star lineup of speakers.

In case you missed the event, here are seven key takeaways.

Successful digital transformation starts at the top

Enlisting your heavy hitters is one key to victory with any IT modernization project. Alfresco CTO John Newton cited Forbes Insights research finding that the CEO or another key senior executive is three times more likely to lead digital transformation among best-in-class organizations who are making this shift.

This advice was echoed by other speakers including Tim Crawford, project manager for FOIAonline, who observed that “high-level support is essential” for success. Lt. Gen. Mark Bowman, head of IT modernization efforts at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described it humorously as “what the boss likes, the employees are enamored with.”

Design thinking delivers better business results

Design thinking is a brand-new ballgame for many and drives better outcomes. Often, government employees struggle to find the information they need to do their jobs, driving down productivity. Simply digitizing existing systems without considering end user experience is not the solution. When put into practice, design thinking methodologies deliver solutions that put users first.

Mark Patrick, who leads the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s information management team, summed up the byproduct of design thinking as “workers being able to focus on working” versus struggling to use technology tools provided by IT.

Open thinking dominates today’s software industry

Projects powered by proprietary vendor solutions typically take years to get approved, accredited and deployed, often only to find out that they do not by then deliver what you and your users expected. They can also eat up as much as 80% of your budget in maintenance licensing costs and are prohibitively expensive to customize on an ongoing basis.

Embracing open technologies (based on open source, using open standards, with open APIs) allows you to tap into the collective brainpower of a community of thousands of developers and use proven components that can easily be integrated with existing systems and extended as needed. John Newton pointed out that even vendors such as Microsoft and Apple are turning to open source to accelerate innovation. He explained that open does not equate with less secure and that emerging technologies such as open source artificial intelligence are in fact safer than proprietary versions because no one vendor controls them.

Platform thinking accelerates the pace of IT modernization

An open platform with reusable service components allows you to build intelligent solutions that improve IT agility. Alfresco combines process automation, content management, and information governance services into a modular and highly customizable platform that eschews proprietary code.

Within the platform, distinct functions can be upgraded and scaled independently of each other. According to IT services provider Armedia, this approach also provides added security. It means that you can control access to each component, avoid exposing certain components to the outside, and secure data separately.

Agile methods mitigate modernization risks

Kim Tran of the Solutions Strategy team at the GSA described the steps required to break down monolithic systems. First, you must examine your legacy applications to determine exactly why such systems were built. You need to look at the entire portfolio and assess business functionalities versus core capabilities, as well as look for redundancies that can be decommissioned.

After identifying individual components that should be updated, taking on just that bit in quick sprints of two to six weeks enable you to confirm you’re on the right track by putting it in front of users and getting feedback. Progressive iterations allow you to quickly build your solution and scale as you break down your monolithic system into a microservices architecture. With each sprint lasting weeks instead of years, you can constantly revisit the functionality and acceptance of your application and eliminate the risk of catastrophic failure upon “final delivery”.

Effective governance is invisible governance

Records management that relies on users to manually classify content is doomed to low compliance and errors. Auto-classification is the only viable answer.

According to Armedia, “End users don’t want to think of RM; they are busy doing other things.” Connecting governance, together with process and content makes information governance invisible. Not only can classification rules be built into such a platform in an “if this, then that” sense – but when that platform is open, artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms can be applied against an existing content repository to automatically declare and classify records.

Mark Patrick said that invisible information governance is essential because of the sheer volume of information that users handle. He added that “the goal is zero clicks on the part of the user.” Artificial intelligence is getting better all the time, performing tasks such as summarization (identifying the author of a document as being the same person who authored another document) and auto declaration.

Lisa Haralampus, director of RM policy at NARA, pointed out that “artificial intelligence is changing our profession, but you need to capture information in the first place or you cannot do analytics.” She added that “a measure of success means knowing what records you have created and having the right policies and tools. Good RM means identifying ROT (information that is redundant, obsolete and trivial) and getting rid of it. Maturity implies managing data access and disposition.”

The cloud is not only cost effective but also more secure

Mark Patrick encouraged government CIOs to step up to the plate, saying that “fear of the cloud is not justified. The cloud is, in fact, more secure.”

Accreditations such as FedRAMP take the guessing out of selecting a highly secure cloud solution. Many agencies have already made the move, including those in the intelligence community. Some even host their critical applications in the cloud ahead of non-essential systems in order to benefit from the additional layer of security. Dan Kasun, senior manager of public sector at AWS, remarked that “cost was perceived as the main benefit of the cloud. Today, security is one of the main arguments for choosing it.”

Navin Vembar discussed the GSA’s innovative Data-2-Decision system that is hosted in the cloud. He pointed out, “With the cloud, the infrastructure is already there, so you’re further along. You can use what you need and get more if required. You don’t need to worry about getting the wrong infrastructure because you don’t own it. You can go from capex to opex.”

Lisa Haralampus of NARA noted that “the cloud helps by bringing scalability; it is the future.”

Experiment with a proof of concept

In summary, the Alfresco Government Summit was packed with interesting information backed by in-the-field experience. Click here to download our Government white paper: Advancing the Digital Flow of Government Business.

Digital transformation is about the journey, not only the destination

This is the first of a three part series of guest blog posts on digital transformation  from Neil Ward-Dutton, co-founder and Research Director at MWD Advisors. Neil recently talked to us about the power of ‘digital threads’, that utilise modern, open technologies to weave together organizational silos, in a recent webinar. You can watch ‘Connecting the Digital Threads: What’s Powering Digital Transformation in forward-thinking organizations?’ on-demand now. Now, over to Neil…

Digital transformation is a subject on every executive’s lips – no matter what industry they’re in. Organisations from sectors as diverse as financial services, retail, utilities and logistics see the threats posed by new digital natives entering their marketplaces. They want to find ways to protect against those threats – while at the same time improving the experiences they deliver to customers, improving their operational efficiency and agility, and driving more innovation into their products and services.

However, even though a great many executives consider digital transformation as a top priority, in our research work we’ve found very little real agreement between executives – even between executives in the same organisation – about what ‘Digital transformation’ actually means.

Digital transformation: the what and the how

There are two ways to read the phrase ‘digital transformation’, and they’re both crucially important to understand:

  • Digital transformation is about the transformation of an organisation’s technology estate so that it takes maximum advantage of relevant digital technologies – to enable it to co-ordinate business resources as economically efficiently as possible. You can think of this as ‘transformation to digital’.
  • Digital transformation is about the transformation of an organisation’s end-to-end approach to using and gaining benefit from technology – using tools and techniques that have been proven to be effective in digital-native organisations. You can think of this as ‘transforming digitally’.

Very often, we see that organisations focus exclusively on the first bullet point above. They explore how they can adopt new technology platforms: looking at how to use cloud, mobile, social, big data and analytics technologies (with more new technologies seemly arriving every week).

This – the ‘what’ of digital transformation – is only one side of the story though. What’s more, it tends to lead organisations to the conclusion that digital transformation involves a ‘one and done’ program of work. The more fundamental side of the story is actually the ‘how’ of digital transformation; the second bullet above. Really grasping this makes organisations realise that digital transformation requires a much deeper systemic change.

The nature of change is changing

When we look at the change playbooks of digital natives, we see that they use strategies like these:

  • No more big bangs. Start small, and deliver demonstrable results quickly.
  • No more silos. Work collaboratively across team and department boundaries with common goals.
  • No more ‘we know what we want’. Experiment with new developments, using real data to understand the results of those experiments, and only further develop those options that are shown to be valuable by the data.
  • No more ‘build vs run’. Think like a product business when making technology-enabled business changes; don’t think about delivering projects, then hand the results over to completely separate support teams – but instead think about everyone working together to deliver product-like capabilities to the business with planned future release and feature roadmaps.

Digital natives use these strategies because they’re born from the perspective that change is constant, change must be embraced, and change must be fast and confident. We should all know why that perspective is valuable.

What digital natives are showing us is that in the era of digital resource abundance, the nature of business and technology change is itself changing. Organisations that are aggressively embracing digital technologies and platforms see change as needing to be continuous; part of ‘business as usual’. They see that change needs to be incremental and driven by experimentation, rather than being periodic and planned in isolation from operational reality.

Platforms for digital-era change

Digital natives operate their businesses on platforms that enable a virtuous cycle of instrumentation and optimisation. Digital-enabled products and services are instrumented and measured, revealing patterns of use and opportunities for improvement; customer interactions and operations are integrated, enabling seamless customer experiences; and the whole environment is managed so that changes can be made at scale, and quickly.

In other words: ‘digital native’ organisations build their business capabilities on digital platforms that enable them to do three core things in parallel, in an integrated way:

  • Build and deploy new capabilities quickly.
  • Measure what works and doesn’t work.
  • Make changes quickly, based on measurement and feedback.
The power of model-driven tools

Good ‘model-driven’, low-code application development platforms fulfil all these requirements, and also enable organisations to work collaboratively to achieve their goals.

Because they work from logical, usually visual, models of application behaviour – rather than requiring developers to write thousands of lines of code – the applications they deliver can be developed in the open, and collaboratively.

What’s more, making changes to the behaviour of applications – whether at the user experience, workflow, business rules or data management level – is easier to do with confidence, at scale and speed than it is if you rely on extensive custom coding.

If you’re seriously exploring how to enable real digital transformation in your organisation, a model-driven, low-code application development platform like this is a major asset. Many technology specialists may prefer to go their own way, using their own favourite collections of personal tools – but in situations like this, the results of their efforts will be difficult to sustain over time.

Model-driven, low-code tools make it easier to sustain productivity over time in the face of change; and what’s more, they enable broader sections of your organisation’s workforce to participate in design and development work intimately, because they don’t require anything like the same level of technical knowledge to understand and use.

In the second part of this series, we’ll look at how the common entry point for digital transformation – customer experience improvement – drives the need to create ‘digital threads’. In the last part, we’ll look at the technology requirements for digital business platforms that help to pull all this together.

About Neil Ward-Dutton

Neil is MWD Advisors‘ co-founder and Research Director, and is one of Europe’s most experienced and high-profile IT industry analysts. His areas of expertise include business process management (BPM), enterprise architecture (EA), Cloud computing and digital strategy. Neil acts as an advisor to large organisations across a range of sectors and industries as diverse as FSI, retail, utilities and government, as well as to leading technology vendors. Neil was this year’s keynote speaker for the BPMNext Conference in Santa Barbara, CA.

You can watch Neil’s recent webinar for Alfresco ‘Connecting the Digital Threads: What’s Powering Digital Transformation in forward-thinking organizations?’ on-demand now.