Until very recently it was easy for anyone to understand what new inventions did. “What’s a mobile phone?” It’s like a landline telephone, but you can take it anywhere. “A factory?” Like manufacturing workers, but faster and more precise. “Lightbulb?” A fireless candle.
These days it’s very tricky to get a grasp on what modern technology is and how it works. Everything’s got a long, indecipherable name, shortened to an inscrutable trio of letters. RAM. LAN. PWA. CDP. ETC. OMG.
That’s because the major technological developments these days are not hardware, but software. They’re not physical objects, but new programmes to enhance how computers work. It’s code, not things.
There are 4 new code-based technologies in particular that are very useful for digital transformation – specifically the type of digital transformation that involves changing the old computer systems and IT of an organisation to modernise them. These technologies are:
To explain these 4 technologies and how they help the digital transformation of an enterprise, it will help if we can make an analogy. Let’s compare them to something physical, something that’s also fairly new technology, but familiar. It’s like…
Cloud services liberate companies from data storage in a physical location
Cloud server technology is like a mobile phone because it’s mobile. You can take it anywhere, and be connected to your work and the internet wherever you are. Once upon a time, in the 1990s and early 2000s, organisations that used computer systems had to be based in a physical location and store data in great, big server rooms in the basement.
Now, thanks to the internet, cloud native storage services have liberated us from being tied down to one place in the same way that cell phones freed us from the bondage of landlines and payphones. Cloud services work by having IT systems exist in a virtual space on the web.
Any modern company looking to undertake a digital transformation project first needs to migrate its data storage and computing power to the cloud. The benefit of cloud computing is that company data and the programs the organisation uses are available on-demand to any authorised employee or partner of the organisation from anywhere. The cloud also makes sharing company data easier and more secure, as data siloes can easily be drawn up to exclude sensitive information and the files encrypted when sent digitally via the internet.
Headless commerce sounds creepy, but it’s actually a beneficial agile strategy
There are lots of different mobile phones: iPhone, Samsung, Huawei and many more. This is the hardware, the physical metal chips and pieces, but each phone also needs to use an operating system (OS). iPhone has iOS, Samsung has Android, and Windows phones used to run on Microsoft’s own Windows OS but now mostly use Android. This OS is the software. Both the hardware and the software of a mobile phone are needed to make it work, but they work separately and there’s no reason why, in theory, iPhone couldn’t use Android and other, non-Apple, phones couldn’t use iOS.
The IT systems that an organisation uses are the same. The backend is like the hardware, with the programming and the internal processes as the physical bits that make it work; the frontend is like the flashy software that everyone sees and can interact with. Headless computing, and the “no-code” headless approach to commerce and business operations, mean that the backend and the frontend can work independently of each other.
An example of introducing a headless approach into the organisation’s operational procedures can include the use of headless browsers and a headless CMS. In this kind of headless software, the User Interface (UI) is decoupled from the code that drives the program, so the different teams and departments that use it aren’t dependent on each other. They don’t have to wait for the other to complete their tasks before getting on with their own, so business processes are accelerated and streamlined.
Independence from other departments gives both backend and frontend workers more freedom. For the backend, they are not hindered by sales, marketing and PR that doesn’t concern them. For the frontend, they don’t have to worry about code and technical processes that they don’t fully understand.
No, microservices aren’t really microchips
This is where the mobile phone analogy for digital transformation technologies gets a bit different. Now, normally when you drop your smartphone and a component breaks, you can’t just take it out and get it replaced. iPhones are not designed to be eco-friendly and easily fixable because Apple would prefer you to buy a new one. So let’s compare our digital transformation to a different kind of smartphone: the Fairphone.
Fairphones, aside from the fact they’re made from 40% recycled plastics, are designed to have replaceable parts. You can upgrade the phone with a new processing unit, battery or camera. It’s the same old phone, but it gets better with time as outdated parts are swapped out for more powerful ones. Microservices work in the same way.
In the bad old days, all parts of a computing system worked as a block, a monolith that failed if one part of it failed. Microservices are a new kind of technology that mean the different parts of a system are all handled by smaller, independently functioning tools. For instance, an eCommerce company may use a specialist platform on which to build their website, but rely on a separate computer program for its cloud point-of-sale system, another to automate and enhance workflows in the system, and yet another for its internal human resources process.
The advantage of using microservices is that each moving part of the modern computer system or the organisation can be upgraded without relying on the whole or waiting for the rest to catch up. They can even be replaced entirely with something better if they’re not working, without slowing down or stopping the flow of operations altogether. Organisations can be made highly scalable in this way, ready to grow and adapt as required.
In a way, this idea of microservices is headless decoupling taken to an extreme: it’s not just the frontend and backend that function independently, but every part of the system. These microservices can either be outsourced to a third-party specialist or handled in-house, depending on the specific needs of the company.
“It’s like looking in a mirror, only not”
In a mobile phone (or any electronic gadget), the different components communicate with one another by electronic impulses. It’s that code again. Zeroes and ones. In modern, agile computer systems, the different applications are able to work together and know what each other part is doing thanks to APIs. Mercifully, this is the only digital transformation tech on our list made up of a 3-lettered acronym.
Different kinds of APIs include REST API in Java, which allows communication between different web applications and especially media files, SOAP API for communication between web services, and many more types.
Using APIs is kind of non-negotiable if you’re already sold on the idea of microservices anyway. Your microservices won’t be able to work together without using APIs. You’ll just have a series of unconnected, free-floating technology systems with no greater purpose.
As a BigCommerce report on APIs points out, choosing the proper APIs is vital to make the right calls and connections between different computer programs, which in turn enhances the customer experience and enables a true omnichannel approach.
“Accessing APIs to complete a digital ecosystem enables companies to go to market at a lower cost and focus on their core capabilities.”
-The API Economy, BigCommerce
One company that used these technologies to drive digital transformation and improve customer experience is Aspire Lifestyles. Aspire provides B2B concierge solutions to other businesses, so they can in turn pass the best personalised promotions on to their clients.
The company’s IT system was outdated and inefficient, with data storage and recall being dispersed across diverse servers and programmes. The first step, then, in enabling their digital transformation, was to migrate all this to the cloud.
The centralised Data Content Repository that was made for them on the Sitecore CMS acted as a fluid, cloud-based backend control centre. At the same time, the frontend UI was independently developed and made easier for Aspire’s clients to use, showcasing the potential of the headless approach.
Finally, a roles-based Security Workflow and a Customer Key Authorisation system were plugged in – microservices that communicated with the mainframe using a network of APIs. Buy using all these digital transformation technologies to modernise their computer systems, Aspire improved the way clients accessed their services, and was able to remain a competitive player in the market.
SmartOSC is an international development agency that provides digital transformation services to both corporate and governmental organisations. By offering scalable, world-class enterprise solutions from Managed IT Services and DevOps-as-a-Service to software quick launch packages, SmartOSC helps companies turn to new digital technologies as a way of increasing business productivity, improving the brand connection of end users, and boosting profits.
To find out how SmartOSC can achieve digital transformation for your organisation, phone us or write us a quick message today. We’d love to hear from you!