Under the banner of digital transformation, businesses large and small are making strategic commitments to technology as a primary driver of competitive success. There is broad acceptance that every company is a software company.
Like so many of these things, it sounds right, and it’s a valuable insight. All of us need to take seriously the idea that we need to engage energetically and relentlessly in digital transformation. But embracing the concept is a lot easier than translating it to effective plans. “Sign me up” is the easy part. “Now what?” is the hard part.
Satya Nadella’s rallying cry for Microsoft, cloud first, mobile first cleverly captures the keys to digital transformation, namely that the combination of self-service and automation is revolutionizing business processes. The enabler for Uber compared to your local taxi company is the mobile+cloud combination. It is also the enabler for Netflix compared to HBO or Showtime, Amazon vs Barnes & Noble, or Spotify vs Tower Records.
Increasingly, mobile+cloud is the enabler of enterprise business processes, including, for example, mobile-enabled sales, delivery or service people as compared to their historical equivalents. “Cloud first, mobile first” is one good way to think about your digital transformation goals, but there is a critical missing dimension. To misquote Bill Clinton, “It’s the data, folks.”
We call it information technology for a reason. What we are really doing in our mobile first, cloud first world is producing and consuming information, viewing it, searching it, updating it, publishing it, and being entertained by it. Digital transformation is all about imaginative delivery of data-based services. Mobile and cloud are great enablers, but ultimately what they are enabling is the empowerment of people with right-here/right-now information interactions.
That’s why I am surprised to hear about digital transformation strategies that fail to directly address elastic information management architectures. Cloud first surely means elastic services. When Amazon launched its cloud service in 2006, the company called it the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). That’s key to cloud economics: Dynamically add and delete resources to increase capacity or reduce costs. If digital transformation is all about information, and cloud first is a key enabler, then isn’t elastic information management a strategic priority?
The recent Google Cloud Spanner announcement was a breath of fresh air in this regard. It is a recognition that in a cloud first, mobile first world, there is a foundational need for elastic database technology. As powerful and trustworthy our RDBMS technologies have been to date, we will not reap the economic and competitive advantages of digital transformation if we fail to embrace cloud-native database technology. All other layers of the cloud stack benefit from scale-out advantages of capacity-on-demand, continuous availability and local-everywhere access. It is time for the database systems that manage our valuable data to follow suit.
Digital transformation is profoundly about flexible, secure, reliable and low-latency information management. This is the primary challenge going forward. It’s truly exciting to see elastic SQL technologies like Google Cloud Spanner emerging to address this foundational need.