Riding the tidal wave of digital transformation

By Jay Alexander, Chief Technology Officer, Keysight Technologies.

Over the past 18 months, many of us have experienced significant change, personally and professionally. As we embark on the “new normal” – or really the “next normal,” because it, too, will evolve – it’s important to internalise what has happened to the technology-adoption cycle and the associated customer expectations.

It starts with digital transformation, the megatrend affecting virtually all parts of today’s economy. All things digital are the essential enablers of the longstanding vision of “everyone and everything, connected.” This enablement has been happening for a long time, and in many cases has followed a phased progression, starting with curious early adopters willing to experiment, and continuing with acceptance by the cautious mainstream.

But an interesting change to the pattern occurred during the pandemic: previously available technologies such as video chat became ubiquitous. They’re now a lifeline to our families, friends, doctors, and more. Another example: online ordering for delivery or pick-up of food, medicine, office supplies, and even hardware items for home repair, has increasingly become part of our weekly routines. Thus, the first effect of the pandemic on technology evolution has been an acceleration of the classic adoption cycle.

Broader, faster adoption of new technologies is driving the second effect: no matter where or how you engage with digital transformation, customer expectations have changed forever. Impatient demands for instant access, constant availability, and zero lag are getting stronger and gaining urgency. These all fit inside the overarching goal of delivering a great user experience.

Moving from validation to acceleration

This is all very challenging, to say the least, but there is a positive aspect: the pandemic experience has thoroughly validated the core idea that, done wisely, digital transformation leads to better outcomes for businesses and customers.

Going forward, we have to assume people and enterprises will continue to use hybrid approaches for essentially all activity systems. Why? Because an “online plus in-person” hybrid is convenient, it helps to simplify the process, and it offers the flexibility to address dynamic or complex requirements. There is no going back. The world-wide stress test brought on by the pandemic has amplified the need to accelerate our collective digital transformation.

Surveys by Bloomberg, McKinsey, and others, show this is already happening: many or most companies believe the pandemic has sped up their digital transformation by three to seven years. On average, the speed-up is on the order of 5.3 years.

It can be tempting to simply throw the latest, hottest new technology at the problem, hoping that it will magically make everything work better and keep customers happy. However, this rarely produces the desired outcomes and therefore ultimately slows rather than accelerates the transformation.

A better way to tackle the acceleration challenge starts with businesses gaining clarity around individual business strategies in order to more efficiently meet customer needs. With a strong customer-centric strategy, clarity includes three essential elements: a crisp definition of a customer set, an imaginative understanding of their unmet needs, and a compelling offering that delivers real value to those customers.

Creating best-case outcomes

With that level of clarity established, a company can then embark on thoughtful, but fast-paced, planning of the changes most relevant to its unique digital transformation journey. From there it is then possible to move on to the selection and deployment of the right technology—or technologies—to make those changes a reality.

This is because if a business wants to achieve exceptional performance across all digital platforms, it will ultimately have to assess how far it needs to reach—from core to cloud to edge, or vice versa—and how far up or down the protocol stack to look. Some may also find it useful to examine how to validate performance gains, potential and actual, and decide what to test in the lab and what to monitor in the field.

All of this makes it clear that all things digital, those essential enablers of “everyone and everything, connected,” are also what make for superior user experience. The business goal is to create an experience that provides differentiation and competitive advantage. The best-case outcome is a user experience that meets or exceeds ever heightened expectations.

Facing the challenges

Getting there is not easy. There are significant obstacles on the road ahead, and the strain of the past year and a half has revealed crucial weaknesses that are on the verge of becoming fatal liabilities.

Demand for bandwidth continues to grow unabated, and it’s rising like a digital tidal wave. In today’s world, more devices are transmitting and receiving richer content: high-resolution images; 4K and 8K video; dynamic, interactive experiences like multi-player gaming; and telemedicine.

Here, the key drivers include exponential growth in IoT devices and machine-to-machine communication. They also include new capabilities and use cases made possible by the ongoing rollout of 5G. In networking, the world continues to deploy 400 gigabit Ethernet, but the jump to 800 gig is coming, and 1.6 terabit Ethernet is on the horizon.

The need for ever more processing power is unending. After almost 60 years, it looks like Moore’s Law is decelerating. Makers of classical computers and supercomputers continue to innovate, but most are also investing in quantum computing. Perhaps ironically, quantum effects in semiconductors are one of the factors limiting the ability of device makers to move process geometries significantly below 5 nanometers. Thus, between the traditional manufacturers and a cadre of focused startups, quantum is gaining momentum.

Driving the digital transformation of everything

Pulling back on the zoom lens, these forces are driving technology trends we all need to be ready for now: process automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence, the AI of things, edge computing, and so much more. Staying ahead of these trends is essential to meeting customer needs, building competitive advantage, and achieving business success.

About the author

Jay Alexander is Chief Technology Officer of Keysight Technologies. He leads Keysight’s centralised technology development team to focus on addressing top opportunities and market trends.

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