How cloud computing platforms fuel digital transformation

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Many enterprises are turning to cloud computing platforms to accelerate digital transformation strategies. The cloud promises to provide a consistent set of APIs for developers to innovate around. It also makes it easier to reuse enterprise data more efficiently as part of a more modern software development ecosystem.

“The rise of PaaS [platform as a service], in all its flavors, indicates that the focus of innovation is shifting even further toward software development,” said Dave Bartoletti, principal analyst at Forrester Research. “Cloud computing platforms are becoming developer platforms first and foremost, not simply new infrastructure hosting locations or collections of cheap infrastructure.”

Cloud computing platforms are differentiating themselves at the developer services level on features like analytics, messaging, functional programming, other middleware, low-code platforms and internet of things. “While infrastructure is still important, we’re at a point where infrastructure is not only consumed on demand by developers and business units themselves, but increasingly consumed directly by their apps,” Bartoletti said.

Bring cloud computing platform paradigm together

Enterprise architects are facing a big challenge with everything about apps changing at once. App development styles are moving from Agile to DevOps. App architectures are moving from monoliths to microservices. App infrastructure is moving from virtual resources to cloud-native container platforms. Leading digital transformers are creating innovation labs where they can test and become experts on all three of these shifts at once.

“You can do one or two of these transformations without the third, but the network and positive reinforcement effects of doing all three in a focused innovation lab environment — funded differently and with different objectives — are powerful,” Bartoletti said. “Leaders are allowing teams to fail fast and fail often … and focus on delivering minimum viable products as quickly as possible.”

Start with the data

A good starting place for pursuing digital transformation should start with an analysis of the data. Bartoletti said there are plenty of different domains of this puzzle that enterprise architects should consider exploring at Oracle OpenWorld and JavaOne. This includes looking at how data is collected, where it is collected, and how and where they will find the analytics tools to drive new insights from the data their company collects.

Oracle has a large and popular SaaS portfolio — with which companies collect tremendous amounts of customer data — and a rapidly expanding set of cloud development services to derive insights from all that data. “Combined with new cloud infrastructure services, the Oracle cloud ecosystem is expanding, and I’ll be watching for how EAs [enterprise architects] can combine the many cloud services on offer from Oracle to get to that first new insight faster,” Bartoletti said.

Digital transformation strategies for all companies

Many enterprises are starting to leverage the cloud to drive their digital transformation when app development is outside of their focus of expertise. For example, Rancon Group in Murrieta, Calif., has built a thriving real-estate business while outsourcing many noncore functions, including HR, payroll and IT. It recently adopted the Oracle Financials Cloud to modernize its financial data management infrastructure. Steven Van Houten, CFO at Rancon Group, said a key differentiator was the service’s ability to effortlessly ingest older financial transaction data from Rancon’s legacy systems.

By moving all this data to the cloud, they can now quickly compare the positions of hundreds of separate business entities Rancon manages. Many of these kinds of analysis would take days in the past, or they were not practical at all. This digital transformation has given management the kinds of insight they require to make better decisions.

The biggest challenge has been finding a balance between new cloud features and services that sound nice, but didn’t necessarily add value. “New functionality and products are becoming available all the time. It is challenging to decide when you should make changes or implement solutions just because they are there,” Van Houten said. “I would recommend managers make sure the capabilities are really there to improve your current business process. If you can stay on top of what is being changed and added, you can continue to support your enterprise and take advantage of new functionality as it becomes available.”

Find the right balance between microservices and monoliths

DreamWorks has been pursuing a digital innovation strategy to move its infrastructure to a hybrid cloud built on a microservices architecture. The goal is to create a cloud-native environment for public-facing services, as well as its internal animation-based workflows. One of the biggest challenges has been around orchestrating microservices for its digital animation infrastructure.

Doug Sherman, principal engineer at DreamWorks Animation in Glendale, Calif., plans to talk about orchestration and choreography approaches at JavaOne. Both strategies for making use of DreamWorks’ many microservices proved to be both rewarding and challenging. “One of the biggest challenges was dealing with when things didn’t follow the ‘happy path,'” Sherman said. “Ultimately, good logging strategies and offering sensible debugging pathways are essential when so much is going on in so many places.”

Part of this transformation is moving a digital asset management application, called Paperboy, from a monolith built on Java to a microservices architecture designed to run in the cloud. Sherman said a good practice is to invest time upfront into identifying the most effective boundaries for breaking the monolithic application into different components.

“Like many other monoliths before it, much of the initial work was to strategize on how best to break things down into meaningful parts,” Sherman explained. “There is an initial temptation to microsize everything, but there is certainly a balance that needs to be struck. Next steps involved determining the best back-end resources to pair the services up with.”

Share experience to learn faster

Another good practice lies in reflecting on what other companies have done. Sherman said he believes enterprise architects have a lot to gain from speaking at events like JavaOne. The process helps them to better understand their own architectures. It is also a powerful tool for enterprise architects to compare their own enterprise digital transformation strategies with others.

“One of the reasons I decided to start speaking at events like JavaOne was because I enjoyed modeling my approaches after what other successful companies had done,” Sherman said. “Sharing experiences and comparing notes is essential before you start down this path.”

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