Today’s rapidly accelerating business landscape has made digital transformation an imperative. Industries are experiencing major changes, from brick-and-mortar retailers experimenting with new business models to compete with online counterparts, to banks expanding their digital footprint to deliver financial services to underserved communities and beyond.

Fresh ideas are the first step toward innovation. However, executing those ideas requires a modernized IT ecosystem with the horsepower, agility and data analysis capabilities to do the job. This means ensuring you have the technology, people and processes in place to make it happen.

That infrastructure spans everything including a high-performance compute/storage/networking platform, cloud resources, updated data deployment strategy, automation and orchestration software, and specialized tooling. It also covers innovation officers, chief information security officers, chief data officers, data scientists, data architects, data engineers, DevOps and DevSecOps teams — many roles that didn’t exist until a few years ago. In other words, it takes a village, and businesses must invest to stay on the cutting edge of innovation.

IT Modernization Results

My company recently commissioned an IDG survey of 200 IT leaders. It found that 1 in 4 organizations has completed less than a quarter of their initial IT modernization objectives yet has already realized benefits like improved quality of service, better customer experience/satisfaction, cost savings, increased uptime and creation of new revenue-generating products and services.

It follows that those making the most progress in IT modernization and achieving their initial objectives have seen even better outcomes, including the ability to extract business value from data, faster time to market and reduction in risk.

The time, money and cultural shifts required to realize the benefits of IT modernization allow businesses to thrive amid heated competition. Artificial intelligence (AI) is one area where companies will either innovate or be outrun by those that do, and McKinsey & Company predicts that early adopters will double their cash flow, while nonadopters stand to see about a 20% drop in their cash flow.

However, businesses must be systematic in their approach — after all, this isn’t easy. Based on my experience helping businesses transform, here are some guidelines that can help avoid missteps and stalls:

1. Avoid shortcuts.

Many mistakes made during IT modernization initiatives are caused by an inadequate due diligence process. Deciding which workloads should be moved to the public cloud, for example, requires extensive analysis to determine how your applications communicate with each other and how much data they use. If mismanaged, this can result in higher costs and greater inefficiencies. Studies have shown that more than 80% of companies with public cloud deployments end up moving some of those workloads back to a private cloud or noncloud platform, ultimately undermining their modernization progress.

2. Get your data organized.

IT leaders report that 55% of data collected by their organizations goes unused, either because they don’t know they have it or they don’t know how to use it. A key mission of IT modernization is to optimize the use of the full suite of data center solutions, including public, private and hybrid clouds as well as on-premises data centers. Knowing where your data resides, where it should reside and what tools you need to actually make sense of it drives results.

Additionally, security and business continuity must be considered. More data-intensive technologies like AI and machine learning thrive on modern platforms, dictating the need to assess best-fit platforms for complex workloads to build end-to-end fusion of compute, storage, networking and software. Without this, collecting all the data in the world does no good if you can’t figure out how to synthesize it and put it into action.

3. Revamp your governance processes.

In today’s world, where data is created on-premises, in the cloud and on the edge, traditional ways of managing IT — specifically those processes developed to support three- to five-year maintenance cycles — can’t be replicated for a hybrid environment. Governance models must be adapted to an era of rapid cloud-based infrastructure deployment, weekly feature updates and more. Businesses should adapt their processes, or they’ll fall well behind the pace of change.

4. Consider automation.

As hybrid cloud adoption increases, automation and orchestration are vital tools when it comes to optimizing IT operations, from day-to-day administration to automatic provisioning to cloud security. Yet one-third of IT leaders responding to the IDG survey cited automation as a top obstacle to IT modernization. Asking the right questions upfront can determine best fits for automation, including questions such as:

• How can I get a better ROI from a hybrid cloud solution?

• How do I integrate cloud with existing processes and policies?

• How are cloud resources and services presented to my end users?

• How do I manage cloud resources over time so that legacy problems like data center sprawl don’t carry over to the cloud?

• How do I allow my developers to incorporate IT resources into development cycles?

Automating IT operations can prevent technology silos, decrease time to delivery- and optimize how on- and off-premises data centers work together.

5. Culture must change.

This is perhaps the most daunting challenge of all. Most IT organizations have long-standing cultural and technological norms that must be disrupted — to some extent — if modernization is to succeed. This can include breaking down established IT silos, building security into application development, working in DevOps teams and more.

IT modernization is difficult work. It also is an ongoing project. You’re never fully modernized because technology, IT skills and processes are always evolving. That’s why it is important to build modernization into your plans and keep an eye to the future — that spirit of innovation is what separates average performance from excellence in the business world.