‘Cloud migration, digital transformation don’t always help with innovation blockers’

‘Cloud migration, digital transformation don’t always help with innovation blockers’
Sachin Chawla
  • Business Insider India spoke to Sachin Chawla, Vice President – India & APAC, MongoDB, who shared interesting insights from a MongoDB study of 2,000 developers and IT decision makers.
  • The report revealed that a majority of the respondents (63%) describe their organisation’s data architecture as complex and 86% believe this complexity is a limiting factor when it comes to innovation.
  • In India, the need to meet regulatory constraints, and pressure to create new products and features were listed as the biggest contributors to data complexity, which has knock-on effects on application development.
MongoDB, the modern, general purpose database platform, recently conducted a survey of 2,000 developers and IT decision makers (ITDMs) across Asia. The study analysed why software-driven innovation, despite being a key priority, continues to be a challenging goal for many organisations. The survey points to a number of factors, including how off-the-shelf software or a blind leap to cloud does not guarantee innovation.

Business Insider India spoke to Sachin Chawla, Vice President – India & APAC, MongoDB, about key insights from the study. He also discussed why data complexity and innovation tax have become key challenges for enterprises in India.

The historical statement - “Software is eating the world” came out over a decade ago. 10 years down the line, despite being predominantly software-driven, why are organisations still struggling with software-based innovation?
Recently at MongoDB World, I heard an amazing statistic. By 2025, analytics firm IDC believes that over 750 million digital apps and services will be developed and deployed – three times what has been developed in the past 40 years.
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That’s a huge number, and there are millions of developers, complex webs of software and, of course, ever growing data to make this happen. Building these applications, while minimising complexity and successfully harnessing that data, are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities we see for businesses in India.

But we know the future is not distributed evenly. Some companies are succeeding and thriving in this new world, and some are not. Why is that? Well, one important, and surprising reason is that for many businesses, the foundational infrastructure they use to power these applications has not really changed in a long time. In our recent survey of 2,000 technology professionals across geographies including India, 86% of technologists reported that working with data is still the hardest part of building and evolving applications. The report also brought to the fore that the majority of the respondents (63%) describe their organisation’s data architecture as complex and 86% believe this complexity is a limiting factor when it comes to innovation.

Could you give us an example to elucidate this better?
The relational data model was invented more than 40 years ago. It’s an amazing piece of technology, but it simply wasn’t designed for modern, globally distributed use cases or the huge volume and variety of data that modern applications need. So, developers are often forced to spend considerable time and effort patching legacy technologies, along with modern tech, to deliver what the customer wants. Needless to say, it is hard and expensive. Add to this the complexity introduced by niche solutions and the multiple database options offered by cloud players. All these factors lead customers into an architecture that is an integration and a management nightmare.

Some of the key consequences of this failure to innovate, according to the technologist we spoke to, include, the inability to respond to competitors, to enter new markets, and to use data-driven insights to compete.

57% percent of respondents in your survey reported that use of the cloud had helped them innovate, but 26% said the cloud made innovation harder. That’s an interesting finding. Could you elaborate on this? Cloud is often approached as an innovation accelerator.
There is no doubt that migrating to the cloud offers massive advantages to businesses of all sizes, but these advantages become apparent only when done right.

What I mean by that is when you move an existing application to the cloud, in most cases, the benefit is only realised if you re-factor, re-architect or redesign your app fully and not just lift and shift. Our research found that cloud migration and digital transformations don’t always help overcome innovation blockers, in fact for many companies they make it harder – we believe lift and shift is one reason for that.

I see a lot of organisations falling into this trap. But deep-rooted legacy architectural problems on prem (on premise) are still problems in the cloud. For example, if your application and the underlying database are not designed to scale horizontally, moving it to the cloud won't solve the scalability problem. Add to that the complexity organisations introduce in their architecture by having multiple databases for different use cases. It creates a massive management and skill problem and blocks agility.

No wonder, 60% of the respondents said that digital transformation efforts increased the complexity of working with data. The very nature of digital transformation almost always mandates a move to the cloud, where it’s simple to develop and deploy new software – which can be a boon or a curse, because it also makes it easy to inadvertently create a massively complex architecture for the reasons mentioned above. These findings argue for increased attention to the migration and management of data during digital transformation initiatives.

How best can ‘Innovation tax’ be defined and some of the biggest challenges that are stopping organisations to innovate?
Simply put, innovation tax is the drag on the speed of innovation, which is caused by an inability to manage the data complexity in an organisation.

How quickly a company can develop and deploy new solutions and applications is often a key factor in determining its success in the digital era. This has increased the strategic importance of developers, who have become the driving force for innovation. However, our research found that, today, many developers are being held back from driving this innovation because of an environment that is riddled with technical debt, needlessly complex data architectures, and wildly different frameworks, toolchains, and programming languages.

Tell us about other findings in the report that are unique to India.
We found that most regions across APAC (Asia-Pacific) are in broad agreement about the key themes – data is difficult to work with, innovation is incredibly important and complexity is getting in the way. However, interestingly, we found that the India market seems to have the most intense response.

For example, in India, the largest percentage of respondents (86%) agreed that working with data is the most difficult element of their job owing to the sheer complexity of the data architecture. We also saw that Indian respondents were the most likely to say that developing new, innovative applications and features is critical to innovation (96%). This echoes what I’ve seen on the ground – the teams here are laser-focused on the massive opportunity that software and innovation can deliver and they’re very attuned to the challenges that will get in the way.

Interestingly, in India the biggest contributor to data complexity (which as we've seen has knock-on effects to application development) were listed as the need to meet regulatory constraints and pressure to create new products and features.
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