Agility and flexibility, along with the ability to collaborate, integrate and work across siloes, are the keys to successful digital transformation, says Vusa Nyathi, Senior Project Manager at T-Systems South Africa, Speed to market is critical – if you cannot get your product out quickly, your competitors will get there first.

Sandboxing has emerged as the ideal way for large organisations to simulate the nature of a start-up, enabling you to test ideas and projects in a safe way without expectation, and importantly without negatively affecting daily business operations.

One of the biggest challenges large organisations face when it comes to digital transformation is how to implement new initiatives without disrupting business operations. There is also often a lack of understanding of the overall impact of new projects on the business. Digital transformation is not simply a matter of moving to the cloud or building an app, nor is it a set of technologies that can be cherry-picked.

Everything about an organisation changes as a result of transformation, from business models to revenue streams, internal processes, to ways of communicating with customers. If these changes are not mapped out ahead of time then the resulting problems can be catastrophic. Bolting on technology without first considering how it will benefit the business can cause it to grind to a halt.

Shifting mindsets, shifting strategy

Organisations need to understand that digital transformation is about how business can change or adapt for current and future needs, and how technology can support these goals. Take for example a traditional broadcaster, where the revenue model has always revolved around advertising and license fees. In today’s digital world where streaming video is the norm, this model is obsolete. However, a traditional broadcaster cannot simply develop an app or become a streaming service.

It is essential to examine how the market has changed, where your business is currently in relation to your competitors, and what the competition is doing differently. Only then is it possible to formulate a strategy and understand how technology can help your business to adapt and keep up with the competition, or most importantly, surpass the competition.

It is also vital to understand that the competition may come from unexpected directions. In the broadcasting environment for example, a mobile network operator could easily launch an on-demand video service, creating an entirely new competitor that previously did not exist.

Play in the sandbox

To be competitive in a digital world you need to be agile, collaborative, integrated and able to work across siloes. The old ‘waterfall’ way of project managing new technology initiatives is outdated and irrelevant. If your business takes two years to launch a new product, by the time it is out in the market, your competition will have been there for months and the product itself might be redundant. The necessity of speed to market requires an iterative approach to ensure new products can be pushed out quickly and then refined, rather than being perfected before they are even launched.

This approach has been perfected by start-ups that are not burdened by the rigidity inherent in large organisations. In order to leverage the advantages of a start-up within a corporate framework, the concept of the sandbox has emerged.

The sandbox is designed to help organisations test out new ideas and technologies in a safe environment away from the main business, unencumbered by restrictions and expectations. They encourage interaction and collaboration within a frame of reference to ensure safety and are the ideal tool for testing new business models, products, applications and approaches.

Sandboxes are named after the children’s play implement of the same name, because the elements of interaction and collaboration as well as safety mimic children playing in a sandbox. The idea is to take a cross-section of people from across an organisation, remove them from their daily activities and set them the task of developing new ideas and driving new initiatives without the processes and structures of the rest of the organisation.

While part of the process involves writing and testing code on a separate technology environment, the sandbox is more than just a new test and development environment. It helps to foster innovation by creating a safe space to think differently and transform without disruption to daily business operations.

Sandboxing as a concept has been proven to be incredibly beneficial. One example is the successful use by global non-profit organisation the Make-a-Wish foundation to develop a crowd-funding application. By separating out a selection of people from across the organisation, including IT as well as marketing, customer experience, legal, financing and so on, they were able to get the app up, running and in the market in just 60 days. Without the sandbox this same product may have taken 2 years to develop.

Sandboxing success

For a sandbox to work there are certain critical components and certain types of people who need to be present. In a start-up, one person often fulfills many roles. This should be mimicked by including people with cross-functional skills as well as subject matter experts from a variety of departments.

The sandbox is not just about technology, so simply having a tester and a developer will not work. In order to get the mix right and ensure that the sandbox is effectively separated from the organisation, it is important to have an executive sponsor who embodies the vision of the value and critical nature of the sandbox initiative and has the political clout for its advocacy within the organisation. This will ensure you are able to leverage the agility and innovation of a start-up with the backing of the larger organisation.

In today’s digital world, everything is changing, and it is no longer business as usual. If you continue to use the same business models and ways of operating, you are vulnerable to disruption from competition that may not even have existed a few years ago, including asymmetrical competitors, i.e, competitors from traditionally-unrelated industries. Sandboxing is the ideal tool to help organisations evolve and meet the challenges of a changing business world.

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