How to Not Fail at Digital Transformation


Digital transformation – or what I like to call DX – is a buzzword that we all love to use in our discussions around business outcomes and innovation. But what does it really mean?  

Broadly, it’s the re-architecting of business processes based on digital technology to promote agility, flexibility and operational excellence. If your organization is committed to digital transformation –– then you’re in good company.  

Researcher IDC says digital transformation is a $20 trillion market, representing more than 20% of the world’s GDP. And COVID-19 has created urgency among organizations to accelerate their transformation initiatives, with 59% of IT executives indicating they are stepping up their plans as a result of the pandemic’s widespread disruption.

Digital transformation’s impact is so profound that pundits have started referring to it as the catalyst for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As global societies moved from steam and mechanization in the First Industrial Revolution to mass production, oil and communications in the Second Industrial Revolution, everything changed in how people lived, worked and interacted. And when the ground-breaking Third Industrial Revolution was shaped by early digital technologies, we got a glimpse of what was to come.

Today, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is well upon us. From driving a car, to ensuring proper retail inventories, to turning ordinary things into “smart” things, the future looks very promising. The World Economic Forum has been instrumental in helping to shape the thinking around the Fourth Industrial Revolution with its economic impact and interactive DX model; I encourage you to see how their model maps to your industry.   

The critical common denominator to success, of course, is cybersecurity. McKinsey calls cybersecurity “the linchpin of the digital enterprise,” emphasizing the need for cybersecurity to be an integral part of any digital transformation.

In short, there can be no Smart X without Secure X. 

Many Cyber Risks

The many rosy projections about the economic contribution made by technologies under digital transformation—Internet of Things, geofencing, customer self-service, cloud services and more—are highly dependent upon organizations spotting, understanding, and addressing the many cyber risks associated with it. One reason why digital transformation carries substantial cyber risk is that it adds an unprecedented layer of complexity into systems, workflows and applications, on top of a massive proliferation of devices and data. Complexity, of course, is the enemy of cybersecurity.  

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a key element in how organizations need to plan their digital transformation strategies, and how to incorporate cybersecurity into the mix. After all, the global consultancy giant Accenture estimates that IoT will add as much as $14.2 trillion to the world economy by 2030. That represents a huge number of “connected things,” all of which are potential entry points for hackers into our systems, our data and our lives.

Cyberattacks are evolving, as well. Hackers are becoming smarter, more resilient and more collaborative, sharing tips on the Dark Web about where to get ransomware kits and other malware for as little as $10. But don’t think they aren’t on the cutting edge of technology deployment when it comes to attacks: They are some of the most innovative users of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to penetrate our data centers, exploit our networks’ edges and infiltrate our cloud environments.

Unfortunately, the dramatic rise in digital transformation has not always come with a corresponding cybersecurity strategy that aligns with business processes. In fact, many cybersecurity solutions continued to be layered onto systems and applications after the fact, often as point products and as cybersecurity silos rather than in an integrated, synergistic manner. 

Linear solutions tacked together may not entirely secure your organization or any of your Smart X initiatives. Individual, so-called “best of breed” cybersecurity products are simply not designed for optimal results in an increasingly connected ecosystem. I believe cybersecurity patchworks are a big contributor to the fact that most organizations still struggle with their digital transformation implementations.

Realizing the Potential of Transformation

In order to properly secure the enterprise and realize the full potential of digital transformation, organizations need to do a few things better, differently and more efficiently.

First, as Smart X permeates society and industry, cybersecurity must be woven through projects like smart cities, smart manufacturing and smart hospitals. This must start literally at the very onset of these programs and be a critical factor at every step of their development. Sprinkling security solutions over applications and use cases like magic dust simply does not work.

Smart X must evolve into Secure X in the same way that DevOps gave way to DevSecOps.

Second, cybersecurity for these initiatives must be addressed at a foundational, or platform, level. These platforms must be based on artificial intelligence and machine learning, because we can’t deploy security engineers fast enough and efficiently enough to make a meaningful difference. Use algorithms to learn from our very smart—and very badly stretched—security professionals. 

Third, just as Smart X initiatives typically enjoy the backing of the entire enterprise up to and including the C-suite and the board of directors, so must Secure X. Of course, this puts pressure on cybersecurity teams to make sure that their steps to secure smart initiatives don’t add friction to the development and deployment process, nor impact the vital customer experience. But security doesn’t need to be an impediment; in fact, security done correctly—integrated from the start and throughout—will actually facilitate deployment and enhance the economic value of digital transformation.

Why is this so critical? That’s easy: Cybersecurity is a fully binary state. Either you have it—fully—or you don’t have it at all.  

Remember: the hackers only need to be right one time, while we need to be secure every second of every minute of every day. If your organization’s digital transformation strategy doesn’t include cybersecurity every step of the way, you will not be successful.

Adrian Terence Culley is Head of Industry in the Asia-Pacific region at Palo Alto Networks.

End Points

  • Digital transformation is a $20 trillion market, representing more than 20% of the world’s GDP.
  • Organizations can’t achieve true digital transformation without an integrated approach to security.
  • Just like SecOps evolved into SecDevOps, “SmartX” must become “SecureX.”