Episode 59: Optimization vs. Modernization, With Allen Emerick and Chad Willaert

Episode 59: Optimization vs. Modernization, With Allen Emerick and Chad Willaert

In this episode:

We are joined by Allen Emerick, Vervint’s Director of Strategy, and Chad Willaert, Principal Architect. Allen and Chad joined to discuss and define modernization vs. optimization in enterprise architecture and explore why organizations must have a sound digital backbone.

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Episode Transcript

Kiran Patel: Hello, welcome to today’s episode of Ten Thousand Feet: The OST Podcast. I’m joined today by Allen Emerick, OST’s Director of Strategy, and Chad Willaert, Principal Architect. Alan, welcome to the show. 

Allen Emerick: Great. Thank you. Great to be here.

Kiran: Chad, it is great to have you on today.

Chad Willaert: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

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Kiran: Excellent. So both of you specialize in fields where you’re kind of trending on what’s happening with organizations and companies. You’re looking at what are they up to? What’s in their worlds? You know, what’s on their minds? And so, in that spirit, I invited you both on to talk a little bit more about the concept of optimization versus modernization in the world of enterprise architecture.

So those are some big words that we’re going to dive into and hopefully, you know, make approachable for our audience and our listeners. So along those lines, Allen, again, can you define optimization for us? And then tell us a little bit about how that’s different than modernization. And then we’ll simplify from there.

Allen: Yeah, glad to. Thanks for having me. Kind of two sides of the same coin with respect to IT systems and how they need to evolve to support business needs to remain competitive in an ever changing technology landscape. So I look at it as kind of the difference being scope and duration, right?

So modernization initiatives are hugely transformative and require a significant change in systems. These are usually multi-year. Cloud migration is a great example of infrastructure modernization, right? This is usually a very strategic initiative, costly, long term investment. Optimization, a little shorter in term and focus, right?

So it’s more around, I’d say refining and improving to increase efficiency and productivity. Going back to the cloud example, say an organization has migrated some workloads to the cloud, modernizing some of the infrastructure, but the processes and operations are not yet optimized for a cloud first environment.

So they’re not getting the efficiencies, they’re not getting the ROI. They’re not seeing the cost returns and efficiencies there. So that’s where optimization would kind of focus on, right? How do we really leverage this environment, implement modern processes that can can optimize to get those levels of efficiency and productivity that you’re seeking. 

Kiran: Chad, can you simplify that for us a little bit? Just maybe provide us with an example of what that might look like in the real world. 

Chad: To segue off of what Alan was saying, especially on the process and the governance around it, if an organization continues and his cloud example to do things the way they did with their own data center and they modernized and move stuff to the cloud, but they don’t optimize, it’ll probably be more expensive or at least the same. So you want to look at efficiencies over time to do little tweaks and optimizations to that infrastructure or services or products that you put into the cloud to actually make them more efficient. Cost optimization use other services out there instead of what you were using on-prem, because now they’re available because you have a hyperscaler to actually do those things without having to procure a bunch of infrastructure in your environment to do that for.

So, maybe an analogy that we could kind of throw out there is kind of a car, right. So oil changes and change and spark plugs and new sets of tires, those are kind of optimization things to make that car more fuel efficient and run better. But if you wanted to do a modernization on a car, you’d replace the entire engine and put something different in there, maybe go to a less cylinders, but a turbo, right?

So go from a six cylinder down to a four cylinder, but turbo so you get better fuel efficiency, but you still can actually do what you need to do when the turbos kick in, right? So that’s more of a modernization effort for that car. 

Kiran: That’s a great example, Allen, as you’re working with clients and facing some of these issues, you’re describing something that you’ve called technical debt and that needs to be removed to a certain degree in order for things to run smoothly. So can you speak a little bit about removing technical debt and why that’s an important step for organizations in order to move forward? 

Allen: So legacy systems and the technical debt, as we kind of call it, that’s required to maintain, consume considerable resources, both people and financial resources, and they don’t really deliver that much value, right.

So especially relative to new business opportunities and digital initiatives, they can often be kind of almost like a boat anchor, right? To progress and speed and kind of hold you back a bit. So modern IT systems and processes must respond to the speed and the velocity of business, right? So where you’re putting your investments, how are you capturing value from those investments, your technical debt can be a huge barrier and obstacle to that, right? So our teams are very capable and can jump in and help customers really look at what is their technical debt? How do we begin to remediate it? And how do we have a plan for how are we going to sunset, you know, things that aren’t really delivering value in your portfolio, right?

So this is part of the optimization. There may be a little modernization that’s needed, you know, in this as well. 

Kiran: How about you, Chad? Why would you say it’s important to focus on eliminating technical debt from the perspective that you see with clients? 

Chad: I would say to provide value to the business when the business comes to IT and asked to be able to add a capability. Some of our customers, we see them run into a situation where it’s just we want to be a feature factory. We want to add new features and functionalities to an existing product because the business is asking for it. The customers are needing it. We need this implemented. The run and kind of the infrastructure that all of that is on top of kind of gets ignored and it can sit there for a long period of time and that’s where your technical debt kind of comes up.

And if you don’t spend some of your dollars actually focusing on that, you’ll end up getting even farther behind the curve. I’m trying to provide those features and values out to the business because your infrastructure can’t even support what the business is asking for. So you have to have cost structures and budgeting processes and the architecture to actually look at how you’re going to actually look at your existing systems and make sure that they are re-architected or re-platformed or re-engineered as you go through to add those capabilities and features that the business wants. 

Kiran: Okay. And this could be for you, Allen, but I’d love to hear for both of you. Do you commonly see organizations attempting to do one versus the other when it comes to optimization versus modernization or what’s the most common practice there? 

Allen: The answer is both are needed depending upon the level of maturity and the digital needs and expectations that are coming from the business, right. So every organization, depending upon the material level is going through some level of modernization, some level of optimization. 

Kiran: Okay. How about you, Chad? Do you see a need for one or both? 

Chad: I think you need them both for sure. Just like Alan said, a lot of our customers that we’re working with trying to consult and advise and build some strategy with them, we’re talking to them about both. I see a lot of customers that focus mostly on the modernization side. Optimization is kind of an afterthought. They’re worried about trying to release out what they need to and do these big long term engagements to try and add this value and capabilities into the organization and don’t usually think about the optimization as much, but they are both needed.

Allen: Yeah, I’d like to dive into that a little bit further too. To your point, Chad, oftentimes optimization gets overlooked, and we see that especially as digital business needs and their maturity is increasing and their demand for releasing new solutions and products in the marketplace going back to our technical debt challenge.

So we recommend enable teams to manage more of a portfolio of solutions, right? So looking full life cycle, running it like a product versus a project management approach. So part of what has created a lot of the technical debt and social debt that comes with that is organizations have kind of a laundry list of projects that they want to deliver coming from the business, right?

Here’s the list of projects that we want to release, but they’re not managing a full life cycle and going back and reevaluating what do we deliver, what value is it creating, and should we sunset or retire some of these solutions, right? And so you keep adding and adding and adding to the solution portfolio instead of managing it and remediating and removing it.

So that approach really helps us. And it’s a fundamental shift in a lot of organizations, right? To shift from this project management to this product and portfolio management approach. But it really helps to drive velocity, reduce the technical debt and have a more holistic approach to portfolio management. So, we help customers, you know, and enable teams to do that. 

Chad: The other thing I would maybe add on to that is there’s the technical debt and you brought up the social debt, but there’s also people debt and quite a few other debts that we could discuss too, which we can get into in another podcast. But on the people side, the skills and capabilities that the organization might have, if you continue to only focus on the stuff that you currently have you’re not going to be able to enable what the business is looking for. So you have to optimize and get your people skills up to date as well as the technology in the background or you’re going to end up having a large gap, a skills gap.

Kiran: Yeah. Great additions and anecdotes there. I think this forms something that, Allen, we’ve had you on before to talk about, which is a company’s digital backbone, and you’ve previously noted that you need to have a strong backbone in order to be ready for change. So can you talk a little bit about that?

Allen: Yeah, absolutely. So that does require both a level of modernization and optimization. So using AI as an example, I think that’s one topic we talked about previously, right? So to truly deliver at scale data analytics and AI, you have to have the modern systems and processes implemented to support that specifically in the areas of security, identity, and data systems and architectures. You could argue network and a few other components to your, to that as well, but again, those are areas that must be modernized to truly deliver upon the promise of what data analytics and AI can provide at scale, you know, securely and consistently. 

Kiran: Anything you’d like to add to that, Chad?

Chad: The digital backbone. Yes. I would say, to add on to Alan’s point there, there is the compute side of it and the storage components, you know, outside of the networking pieces that he listed. Identity is usually the core. You can’t usually implement any of this stuff unless you know who’s doing what for what reasons and why and securing that least privileged.

And then getting all the other components in there to make sure you have a backbone that gives you the capability to do what you need as an IT organization as well as what the business is asking for IT to deliver. 

Allen: Yeah, and you know, circling back right on the broader topics of modernization and optimization, so it’s critical. It’s the systems are not just modernized. It’s the processes and the optimization that comes from modern processes being implemented together, right? So it’s that digital backbone is both systems and process and people, as Chad mentioned as well.

Chad: And the governance around all of that.

Kiran: So it’s fairly layered in terms of all that needs to get done here. 

Chad: Yes.

Kiran: So Chad, we’ve talked a little bit about this, but can you talk a little bit about assessing an organization’s maturity model? 

Chad: Yeah, so how we usually approach that is meeting with the stakeholders in the organization across the organization, not just IT and not the business, but both. And we meet with those stakeholders to find out what their processes are, their governance models, what maturity they’re currently at, kind of get a snapshot of where they’re currently at, and then provide a findings and recommendations on where we think they could actually go and build a roadmap to help them move their maturity up the chain and the model. We have some customers that, you know, if we go back to the cloud example that Allen was describing, some of them are just kind of in the adoption phase. They know they want to go to the cloud, but they don’t know what it means why they would want to go there. Is it going to be cost effective or not?

Some of them have already adopted things and they’ve kind of done some best practice type things, but it’s not central to the organization. It’s not strategic and they don’t have operational alignment to actually be able to run it after they’ve got stuff moved into the cloud. So moving through that thread of kind of adoption to MVP best practice to kind of central to the organization where IT kind of helps the business enable something.

Now it becomes strategic. You move farther forward then you operationalize it, then you build what’s called a center of excellence. So that’s kind of the flow through the maturity model. So we help engage with doing a snapshot assessment discovery of looking at their environment, as well as asking questions of their key stakeholders to formulate what that snapshot would look like and provide those findings, recommendations and a roadmap.

Kiran: It seems like sometimes that’s critical, especially when we’re talking about cloud, making sure that there’s an understanding of the why. And so it’s more than simply because everyone’s doing it or, right? 

Chad: Yeah, not the what. It’s not the what or the how it’s the why. Yes. 

Allen: Yeah, and that’s a great point. And that’s something that we absolutely help customers with in terms of their enterprise systems modernization strategy approach and architecture, right? Is really understanding the decision tree, if you will, in terms of what’s the right targeted architecture and infrastructure based on the business need, right?

So when we talked a lot about cloud, but there’s on-prem, there’s hybrid, there’s edge and there’s cloud, right? So we help customers understand going back to the portfolio, right? Of solutions across your portfolio. What’s the best target architecture and managing the infrastructure more holistically as well.

Kiran: Excellent. I wanted to mention the data component. So how do we as OST work with organizations to ensure they are leveraging data? Would you want to take that one, Chad? 

Chad: Sure, I can jump into that one. So everyone relies on data to make decisions in an organization. So they have to have good data. It has to be architected in a way that it’s accessible and secure for organizations to leverage that data.

So we focus on helping organizations classify that data, right? Is it compliance related? Is there security components behind it? Is there certain aspects of that data that has to be available all the time or they’re going to lose revenue if it’s not? Is there other data that’s just more archival stuff that they need to go reference once a year?

So we kind of get the classification of that data so they can leverage it to use it to make informed decisions on what they’re going to do to provide products and services for their customers. 

Kiran: Allen, is there a way that or a good first step if we have clients or customers listening, if they’re wanting to dive in and start some of this work, what might be a first step or a point of contact that they could pursue?

Allen: Yeah, absolutely. So we have actually two programs aimed at this. We have one that is called digital operations and optimization. It is a full program and engagement type as well as enterprise systems modernization, right?

These are programs that we can engage customers with more holistically in the shorter term, right, is engaging our team of principal consultants and architects to do a discovery and assessment to help them understand where they are in their maturity, right? What levels of modernization do you need? What levels of optimization do you need? And we can build a program around that for them. 

Kiran: Excellent. Are there places that either one of you go to get information or any trusted sources that you have when it comes to trends in this space, just anything that might be worth our listeners digging into themselves.

Allen: So there’s a few different sources that we use Gartner is certainly one, Foresters is one, IDC. So we take a holistic approach and do a lot of gathering of information, specifically in the areas of more technology and IT, right. But also more on the digital business side, right? So the EYs and McKinseys of the world, right? So and that’s where digital operations and optimization is kind of that intersection point of IT. And in business, I would say modern enterprise systems modernization is really aimed more at CIO, CTO and their needs. Digital operations and optimization is that and Chief Digital Officers, VP of Products, right? So how do we bring both these organizations together in the most efficient and operational way to deliver value, deliver digital solutions and products. So we kind of keep our eye and our foot in both sides of this digital space with both the technology and some of the sources that we rely on there for market research and analysis and also in the digital business side and looking at those trends, right?

So there’s ongoing push, as I mentioned, right, in the ever competitive changing technology landscape and the needs to deliver at the speed of business, right? So we keep our finger on the pulse of both these areas 

Chad: And our vendors as well. We’re staying on the leading edge, working with our vendors to figure out what products and services they’re releasing and at what times and making sure we’re up to speed on that.

Because we do this for hundreds of customers. Our customers we’re working with, they’re going to do it once and only have to do it once. So we need to kind of stay. up to speed on what those vendors have available for them to actually leverage in their environments for our customers. 

Kiran: Excellent. It’s a great addition too. I appreciate both of your time today on the show. I think we’ve covered a lot in terms of. Optimization, modernization, provided analogy there for people to hopefully grasp onto the concept. So we will call it a show then. Allen, thank you so much for being on.

Allen: My pleasure. Thanks for having me. 

Kiran: And Chad, it was great to have you on.

Chad: Appreciate it. Thanks for having me. 

Kiran: OST, changing how the world connects together. For more information, go to OSTUSA.com.