How to Build a Foundation for a Digital Business

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
Digital business

Digital business requires more than new tools and technologies. It's essential to build an IT infrastructure and framework that supports real-time interaction.

Allergan has since turned to the cloud to support an external portal that facilitates collaboration with customers, physicians and office staff. It provides a single digital channel for multiple types of interaction, including product ordering, bill pay, education and rewards programs for its aesthetics portfolio.

In addition to sharing information faster and better, Allergan has built out API sets that connect systems more effectively. In some cases, deployment times are now down to days or weeks, instead of months. Moreover, the "cloud has become a key enabler of mobility," says Stephen Plank, vice president of Technology Delivery Services.

The sales force now relies on Apple iPads equipped with Salesforce and other tools, including collaboration capabilities and electronic marketing and education apps. As a result, sales reps can share materials with physicians in real time in a digital format.

Other employees also use mobile devices to access data and information on-demand. "They are not chained to their desks," Plank adds.

The key to tying together all the people and systems is a robust identity management solution. Allergan again turned to the cloud by tapping Okta to design the identity management framework that is the foundation for the digital transformation.

The biggest challenge Allergan faced, Plank says, was getting staff in the IT department to accept and manage the change. "We had some 'resistors' in the beginning," he recalls. "They were people who said they were not comfortable with data leaving a particular database and being stored in the cloud. Today, some of these people are the biggest advocates of the initiative."

Allergan dealt with the change management issue through a combination of education and selecting vendors that boosted the odds of success. "We have a very disciplined vendor assessment and onboarding process in place that balances the risks and opportunities from a business process," Plank explains.

Building on Success

A huge hurdle for organizations attempting to leap toward a digital business environment is moving beyond legacy IT systems, financial models, and traditional ways of thinking and working, Accenture's Benton says. It's generally not feasible—or advisable—to adopt a rip-and-replace approach. Change takes time and planning.

"You can actually make things worse if you don't approach the task strategically," Benton points out. "CIOs and others have to think beyond simply moving existing applications and data into the cloud. There's a need to figure out how to mix everything together, create new opportunities, and visualize processes and operations differently—all while building in critical security and resilience."

To be sure, there's a need for a different mindset and, in many cases, different skill sets. Organizations must move faster and smarter, and they must have an IT framework in place to support highly flexible real-time processes.

"IT and business leaders must think in a more creative and outwardly facing way," Benton advises. "Departments and business units must think beyond their own boundaries and understand that, in the digital age, everything connects to the outside world."

This article was originally published on 2015-05-21
Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).
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