Avoiding Digital Disaster: The 5 Things You May be Doing Wrong

By Becca Thomas

If your cholesterol were to become too high, would you ignore the test results? Probably not, because when it comes to healthcare, many of us recognize that a data-driven approach helps keep a person healthy. So why is it that so few business decisions — perhaps fewer than half — are made using quantitative data? Sounds like some pretty risky disregard for corporate well-being.

Even more distressing, a majority of enterprises have initiated digital transformation efforts that don’t actually include transforming the core business model. These and similar statistics make it easy to understand why so many organizations’ modernization and innovation attempts continue to hit walls.

Having worked with hundreds of enterprise customers around the world, we on Google’s Apigee team have seen these sorts of struggles up close. Often, these difficulties derive from identifiable pitfalls and mistakes, five of which we will review in this article. We are sharing these mistakes not to make you run for the hills, but instead to help you become prepared and well-informed about the uphill yet rewarding battle that comes hand-in-hand with digital transformation.

A well-executed digital transformation strategy can do things like increase a company’s inventory by over 1000 percent, enable companies to partner at unprecedented scale in vast digital ecosystems, and empower an organization to unlock new lines of business by monetizing data and functions. A poorly-executed strategy may even topple a previously successful company; modern, digitally-empowered end users have shown themselves willing to move to other options if the status quo brand falls behind. The digital transformation battle is both worth fighting and mandatory for those that want to compete — which makes avoiding known pitfalls all the more crucial.

Pitfall #5: You believe every API should be treated differently

Application programming interfaces (APIs) come with a laundry list of options for how they can be used: internal or external to an enterprise; to connect with partners; to support SaaS platforms; to manage microservices; and more. It’s not surprising that businesses tend to manage each API type differently — but this can be a significant mistake.

APIs are the way software talks to other software; they enable developers to leverage data and functions for new products, services, and revenue opportunities — but only if those APIs are designed and managed in a standardized way that makes it easy for developers to consume them.

Even though an enterprise may have different kinds of APIs, all APIs need four things to be adequately managed:

  • Common control plane: Regardless of whether your API program is an internal or external initiative, an organization needs to be able to control how APIs, and the valuable data and functions that sit beneath them, are used.
  • Visibility and analytics: You can’t improve what you don’t see and you can’t manage what you can’t measure — which is why visibility and analytics are critical for all APIs. Data-driven iteration and insight into customer behavior are engines that fuel business evolution.
  • Self-service options for developers: You need to empower developers to use APIs in an agile way. Increasingly, enterprises invest in a developer portal that includes API discovery tools, documentation, sample code and testing resources, and other support mechanisms to get developers up and running within minutes.
  • Security: Because APIs are how information — and thus value — is exchanged in modern economies, API security is critical for both the enterprise and end users. Security efforts should include not only proactive monitoring and bot detection but also design considerations such as OAuth protection.

The reality is that in order to do digital transformation correctly, most businesses need to start by consistently building and managing APIs the right way.

Pitfall #4: You think your company is too [insert excuse here]

Next on the list is thinking you’re too big or small, too rich or poor, too embedded in the wrong industry or too something for digital transformation. Regardless of the excuse at hand, for the sake of your business, don’t make excuses — business evolution is happening whether you’re ready for it or not.

Some industries — such as telecommunications, retail, and media — have already been thoroughly disrupted and are beginning to scale out solutions they’ll use going forward. Heavily-regulated industries haven’t been immune, as the emergence of digital branches and the adoption of new open banking mandates demonstrate, and sectors such as insurance and transportation are well on their way.

Pitfall #3: You are doing innovation theatre

To put it simply, digital is not about sequestered innovation. We know it’s tempting to play on the hype of the next big thing as a way to get support and investment for your initiative. But if you’re always focusing on the newest hype cycle, instead of ways to evolve your core business, you’ll always be chasing the “next big thing.” One month it might be a project to work up some augmented reality project, the new month it might be a new, similar project — but revolving around blockchain this time.

Instead of chasing fads and measuring success by the number of flashy press releases you place, focus on the core business. Creative thinkers shouldn’t be confined to innovation centers — they should be given opportunities to apply innovation solutions to critical business challenges.

Here’s a quick way to tell if you’re guilty of this pitfall: take a quick inventory of the initiatives that comprise your digital strategy, and if they are a set of innovation experiments, rather than efforts to evolve the core business model, you’re probably doing innovation theatre.

Pitfall #2: You think IT can do it alone

We’ve lost count of how many companies have fallen prey to the assumption that since APIs are a technical topic, digital transformation is clearly an IT issue. However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Digital transformation isn’t about transforming your code — it’s about transforming your business.

Businesses should shift their mentality to start looking at transformation as a partnership between business and technology. This isn’t about just including developers in business meetings or discussing technical topics in the C-Suite — this is about changing how the business operates. If a company switches to an agile, API-first approach, for example, it can move significantly faster because it focuses on rapidly releasing iterative improvements instead of monolithic changes spread out over years. But this speed is only possible if the business also invests in funding processes that make continuous iteration and delivery possible, the right KPIs to inform these investments and incentivize the right behavior across teams, governance models built for a more decentralized way of operating, and so on. Digital transformation isn’t bolting on new technologies or changing from one thing into another — it’s developing an operational model suited for continuous business evolution.

Pitfall #1: You think digital transformation is a project

If you’ve skimmed over the rest of this article, now is the time to pay attention. Projects have an end date, and if you approach digital transformation as a project, well, you’re increasing the odds your business has an end date as well. We’re sorry to be the bearer of bad news but tracking a fixed budget on the x axis and fixed time on the y axis won’t yield a miraculous digital transformation two years from now. Digital transformation is never done. Again, it’s not transforming from one thing into another — it’s achieving a state of perpetual readiness for the latest business evolutions, whatever they happen to be.

To get there, start thinking about innovation as a continual process and about the APIs that enable innovation as products. Thinking of APIs as products means managing them with a full lifecycle, maintaining a features backlog in response to developer feedback, and assigning a continual owner who focuses on making the APIs useful to developers (not just whether the API gets built). As API products are adopted throughout an organization, the company can position itself to bring new services to market quickly, and to iterate through business models, products, and services to find those that will scale.

The Path Forward

So we’re finally done discussing some of the key mistakes that can lead to digital disaster — but how can you ensure your business finds the right path to move forward? Here are a few tips that you should consider to help position your digital transformation efforts for success:

#5: Do digital with APIs done right.

#4: Do digital without excuses.

#3: Do digital for real by innovating on the core business.

#2: Do digital as a business, not just in IT.

#1: Do digital as a continuous evolution, not a series or products.

Above all, remember, being adept at digital is now part of the cost of doing business. Digital isn’t something you do and move on from — digital is your business now.

[Ready to learn more about digital transformation? Read our free eBook, The Digital Transformation Journey, and explore our free digital assessment tool, Apigee Compass.]