Today’s businesses face a seemingly endless array of macroeconomic pressures, from supply chain issues to competition for limited tech talent to inflation looming on the horizon. Fortunately, adopting digital technology can help address these challenges and more, while creating opportunities for cost savings and new revenue sources.
By now, the idea of digital transformation driving better business results has been around for a decade or more. What’s changed is that IT is no longer driving the business to transform. In fact, it’s become increasingly difficult to determine where IT ends and the business begins. Both functions now recognize that digital transformation is no longer a “nice to have”; it’s become a business imperative.
During the Equinix Digital Leaders Summit, I sat down with Anu Krishnan, Head of Information, Data & Analytics at Shell. With the help of our host Elias Khnaser, Chief of Research at EK Media Group, Anu and I spoke about how both Shell and Equinix are approaching the challenges and opportunities of a digital-first world, and how we see our partners and customers doing the same.
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Changing priorities require a changing approach
According to Anu, digital transformation has been an essential part of Shell diversifying its energy offerings. “For us, the priorities have shifted based on what the market is telling us, which is we want to see a greater renewable energy mix, we want to move toward EVs faster,” said Anu. “So, our priorities from a Shell standpoint have largely been focused on driving digitalization in acquiring and making available more renewable resources, moving away from molecules to electrons.”
The Shell example shows just how big of a transformation that enterprises can undertake using digital technology. However, any business of any size can benefit from removing inefficiencies in their processes and increasing agility. In turn, this means any business can benefit from digital transformation.
Data foundations must drive data strategy
When it comes to using analytics to drive better business outcomes, Shell has a reached a level of success that inspires envy from many other enterprises. According to Anu, the team at Shell has been successful across more than a decade of advanced analytics work because they’ve focused on getting their data in order first—before they worry about turning that data into insights.
“My journey with data started as early as 2012 or 2013,” said Anu. “At that point, we were starting to get into advanced analytics and predictive analytics. The thing that it taught us in the early days was that it’s all about data, and it’s about getting your data in good shape, having good data platforms, and having a data strategy behind what data you collect, how you collect it, how you govern it, who owns it, who manages the quality of it. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that I call ‘data foundations’ that you need to have in place before you start driving the insights and the data science/machine learning/AI use cases.”
Digital transformation is a journey, not a destination
What does it truly mean for a business to be “digital?” In the session, I argue it’s hard to say for sure, because no organization ever reaches the point where it’s fully digital. No matter what you’re doing, there’s always opportunity to do it with greater efficiency and agility. This is why it’s so important to reassess your journey in progress and focus on new opportunities as they arise, instead of viewing digital transformation as a fixed target to pursue.
According to Anu, the thing that truly separates digital businesses from traditional ones is the speed at which they make decisions. As an example, she shared how Shell deploys AI-powered sensors at the edge to monitor pipes for corrosion and leaks, and uses the data from those sensors to enable real-time maintenance decision-making.
“You’ve got an operator sitting there with an iPad who’s immediately getting data at the edge fed to him, which gives him the information to make the immediate decision whether or not that pipe needs cleaning,” said Anu. “In the previous world, he would get the data, the data would get uploaded, it would go to some machine somewhere, it would get crunched 48 hours later, and he’d have to come back all over again. The cycle time with which he’d have to make that decision would be much, much longer.”
In a digital world, innovation comes from everywhere
A side effect of the line blurring between tech and business is that enterprises no longer have to rely on IT to build applications that solve business problems. Digital leaders recognize that innovation can come from anywhere, and are putting processes in place to help employees from across the business drive greater innovation.
Once again, Shell provides a great example of what this looks like in practice. Anu shared how the company empowers a community of thousands of business users to create their own small-scale solutions without having to get IT involved.
“Unlocking the potential of this big community of users and giving them the tools and the methods and the standards to do things safely has been a big game-changer for us,” said Anu.
Infrastructure enables transformation
One of the final points I made during the session is that organizations of all sizes across all industries recognize the need for digital transformation, but that doesn’t mean they all know the right way to go about it. With digital transformation requiring so many different components, sourced from across complex ecosystems, it can be overwhelming even knowing where to start.
Today’s leaders are starting the transformation process by optimizing their digital infrastructure. They’re doing this because they know they need a strong platform to build capabilities that increase their efficiency and agility. In addition, being able to deploy infrastructure at the edge, in close proximity to end users and devices, is essential to enabling low-latency responsiveness and improving customer experience.
To learn more about the challenges facing businesses today and how digital leaders are optimizing their infrastructure to help overcome them, view the on-demand sessions from the Equinix Digital Leaders Summit.