In response to global events, many organisations are accelerating their digital transformation efforts to accommodate changes in consumer expectations and demands. This has increased the need to use innovative technologies to create new business models, products and/or services. Such platforms and solutions are front and centre and acknowledged as a strategy for both survival and growth in the new normal.
As the decades-old IT systems, responsible for running traditional workloads, look to modernise, there is a need for reliable, scalable and secure infrastructure. And right at the top as a non-negotiable technology is cloud. Cloud services are imperative and make a real difference in ensuring that critical enterprise services keep going in all scenarios. Automation, similarly, is also increasingly seen as key to streamlining operations, allowing organisations to deliver better services and reduce operational costs. It is fairly widely accepted that ab AI-powered workforce is a real enabler for successful transformation.
As more activities and transactions take place online, having end-to-end observability across all applications becomes vital in ensuring the health, performance and availability of all business systems while keeping up with internal and external users demands.
Adopting multi-cloud architecture can not only accelerate innovation and simplify complexity; but when powered with automation, it can allow advanced observability and collaboration around a single source of truth. Yet, most companies are struggling to realise Intelligent Automation and AI’s potential to transform the way they do business and produce consequential change. Moreover, settling on a roust and suitable cloud strategy is another area of struggle.
Against this backdrop, what are the technologies available and where are the business opportunities to be capitalised on in cloud adoption and automation?
The focus of the third day at the Singapore OpenGov Leadership Forum. Presentations and discussions were centred on cloud and automation in adapting to the new normal, unpacking the criticality of cloud and automation strategies to power the digital transformation of organisations in the age of the pandemic.
Pivoting towards a hybrid cloud future
Mohit Sagar, Group Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, OpenGov Asia, kicked off the session with his opening address.
“Data is moving and IT platforms are changing,” Mohit claims. Data is moving from physical to virtual to cloud to containers. This evolution shows that data lives in multiple places and organisations need the ability to protect their data regardless of physical location, hypervisor or application.
“If there’s anything that COVID-19 has proven, it is that we are capable of adapting quickly,” Mohit observes. “Risks were taken because the world had no choice but to adapt.”
Yet through the adoption, he opines, organisations are beginning to realise that security does not necessarily have to be compromised in the move to cloud. Technology is the enabler that can protect, recover and manage data.
The government takes the lead in demonstrating this paradigm shift, Mohit says. With Singapore’s investment in Public Cloud estimated at US$3.6 Billion in 2023, the government’s decree and direction are clear. Citizens and customers are moving faster and services need to be available anywhere, anytime. This begs the question, “What will organisations do to drive that?”
In a rapidly evolving digital landscape, new technology, tools and platforms are being churned out often and regularly. These are great but don’t represent paradigm shifts. In fact, the last true major change was Agile, which arose 20 years ago and is still not finished. Few people are genuinely implementing pure Agile, though many organisations identify as such. Most do not understand Agile and definitely don’t practice it. Nevertheless, many people have adopted at least a few Agile tools and thus think of themselves as agile.
Cloud-Native is a major paradigm shift, not just the latest new tech to be bolted on top of whatever else a company has been doing for years. The big concern is the misconception that Cloud Native is merely an incremental stage of Agile -the next step, as it were. But this is both untrue and potentially dangerous. Cloud-Native is not some forward iteration of Agile. It’s a true paradigm shift. It’s Agile’s replacement.
Cloud has given us the flexibility to rapidly respond to the changes demanded by digital-savvy citizens. Agencies now have a better ability to not only move workload between an on-premise data centre and public cloud but also make a change and upload data instantly. Those that embraced cloud services proved more responsive and were able to continue operating remotely and serving their citizens, demonstrating agility, scalability and speed even amid a pandemic.
“Today is about tomorrow,” Mohit concludes, urging delegates to look ahead into the future. For forward-looking planning, he emphasises the importance of partners on the journey of cloud adoption. “The right partners will keep your glass full and free you up to do what is important to you.”
Securing and protecting data to future proof businesses
Raymond Goh, Senior Director of Systems Engineering, Asia & Japan, Veeam spoke next on strategies to modernise data protection.
“The goals of data resiliency are data availability, data agility and data authenticity,” Raymond opens. “Modern data protection provides the foundation necessary to achieve data-resiliency and transforms the way IT organisations manage, leverage and secure their data.”
In addition to the three A’s – availability, agility and authenticity – there is a fourth ‘A’: Accelerating or the speed of service.
“2020 was a year of challenges,” Raymond acknowledges. “The challenges created new conditions in which companies are running their businesses.”
Data shows there was an 11% growth in global economic uncertainty which has driven organisations to think about their IT direction differently. Apart from that, 96% of organisations accelerated cloud usage. “Cloud usage is a must,” Raymond asserts.”It is the future and not an option.”
COVID-19 continues to change the 2021 IT landscape – service continues to grow, SaaS usage has accelerated, and ransomware continues to increase. In this scenario, the promise of modern data protection is as follows:
- Protect every workload
- Reduce operational costs
- Drive guaranteed recovery
- Immutability against ransomware
- Increase data accessibility
- Control compliance and governance
- Re-use trapped data
- Easier data analytics
- Drive productivity
Taking the delegates through the modern data protection journey, Raymond’s model follows a sequence of Protect, Manage and Unleash.
Encouraging the delegates to move forward, Raymond firmly believes these steps can be taken by organisations on their journey in adopting modern data protection.
- Draw on the cloud to deliver flexible, reliable data availability, backup and recovery, that will grow with the organisation.
- Enhance capabilities in the organisation, to ensure employees can draw on data insights and use new technologies as they are deployed.
- Create a culture that is adaptable and open to new technologies, so that people can evolve with the organisation.
- Foster a sense of confidence in the organisations’ digital capabilities, built on strong data foundations.
In conclusion, Raymond emphasises the importance to put in place a strong data management foundation. With a good footing, organisations can ensure that their digital transformation will deliver expected results, creating an intelligent and data-resilience organisation. He encouraged delegates to approach him on any queries they might have surrounding modern data protection strategies.
Adopting intelligent data services to power a future-ready public and financial sector
Lawrence Tay, Senior Sales Engineer – Singapore, Commvault elaborated on the criticality of data protection solutions in preparing organisations for future challenges.
Lawrence shared that Commvault is recognised as a leader for data protection solutions, with Gartner placing them at the top in the Backup and Recovery MQ every single year it has been published. They were also ranked first for data centre, cloud and edge environments.
He has observed that organisations acquire more technologies with time and the adoption of new technologies will continue – but there is a need to balance them all.
An interesting trend is that data and workloads are moving from on-prem to the cloud and back again. At the same time, virtual workloads are being containerised to leverage cloud-native capabilities. As a result, organisations end up having workloads everywhere – which will only continue to change all the time to support business objectives.
For organisations wanting to stay up to speed, Commvault can support them through their intelligent data services platform. It removes data siloes working on the industry’s broadest coverage of primary storage, secondary storage and any type of workloads from SaaS applications to devices, database VMs and even containers.
Commvault portfolio is offered through a flexible delivery model where these services could be delivered as software-on-premise, as managed services by one of their many partners, as a SaaS subscription or bundled into an integrated appliance.
HyperScale X is the next generation of secondary storage appliances, designed to simplify protecting hybrid multi-cloud applications. Powered by their Hedvig Distributed File System technology, HyperScale X is delivered as an integrated, hyper-converged, scale-out solution that can start small and scale-out elastically as data needs grow.
Commvault’s differentiated data management software is already pre-packaged into HyperScale X – customers can simply turn on any Intelligent Data Services they need, such as backup or DR or eDiscovery or Data Governance, through their granular licensing.
Commvault provides the gold standard in Data Management-as-a-Service. According to Lawrence, until now, no SaaS-delivered data protection solution could provide a future-proof way for companies to protect both cloud and their on-premises data. Commvault lets companies keep their data on-premises today – if required – with the flexibility to move to cloud as their business evolves.
Besides backups, Commvault is also in the business of data governance, compliance and optimisation. They can harness existing data sets for more data insights and offer custom workflows and actions with a limited learning curve.
Raymond added that Commvault also provides services in hybrid cloud protection and mobility. The company can provide the native ability to convert and migrate workloads between hyper-scalers and on-premise workloads – allowing, literally, any-to-any migration (private or public cloud).
Ransomware, Containers and Kubernetes are the additional services that Commvault can offer. They possess natively built-in security assessment on CV components and integrated components, file anomaly detection through honeypot monitoring, intelligent air-gapping capabilities, workflow automation upon detection, and the ability to prevent reinfection.
With regard to containers and Kubernetes, Commvault is the only “traditional” data management vendor that protects all workloads including containers in the same suite of products, offers strong support on upstream Kubernetes, OpenShift, AKS, EKS and GKE and an open approach to Kubernetes support, leveraging CNCF certified distributions.
In conclusion, Lawrence emphasises the criticality of building a unified and holistic data management strategy and the need to adopt next-generation data security solutions to combat the increased incidences of ransomware and cyber-threats. The pandemic perpetuated irreversible changes and there is a need to continuously adapt and modernise on the digital transformation journey.
Throughout the session, delegates were polled on different topics.
In the first poll, delegates were what percentage of their overall IT investment is committed to cloud strategy over the next 2 years. Delegates were evenly split (41% each) between more than 50% and between 30% – 50%, while the remaining delegates (5%) indicated between their cloud-spend was between 10% – 30%.
On what their top digital transformation driver in infrastructure modernisation was, third (33%) indicated hybrid/multi-cloud infrastructure as the top driver, followed by application modernisation (30%) and DevOps & Automation (20%). The remaining were equally divided between software-defined infrastructure (7%) and AIOps (7%).
Inquiring about their organisation’s top priority for Application Portfolio over the next 6 months, 30% indicated re-platforming existing apps, leveraging Container/Kubernetes as the top priority, followed by refactoring or developing new cloud apps (25%). The rest opted for rehosting or migrating existing apps to cloud (20%), retiring old apps/leveraging SaaS apps (15%) or retaining existing apps (10%).
As far as the biggest challenge delegates face when implementing their AI strategy, 41% indicated Inflexible business processes and teams as the main challenge. Others indicated that the lack of properly skilled teams (32%), a lack of available data (23%) and ineffective project management/governance (5%) as the main challenge.
When asked if they are concerned about vendor/cloud/platform lock-in, most delegates 60% were very concerned, 36% were somewhat concerned and the rest (4%) were not concerned.
About the requirement they felt was shaping their landscape to be agile with the business needs, a majority (41%) indicated that adapting to changing customer demands was the main requirement shaping their landscape. This was followed by the speed of change for applications, data and building/removing core business systems (32%), complying with new government regulations (18%), and operational cost savings (9%).
On how confident delegates are that their organisation’s data/workload can move securely across platforms/cloud, more than half (54%) are fairly sure. The remaining delegates were split between very confident (17%) and not confident (17%) while 13% were uncertain.
On being asked what they would invest in if they had an unlimited budget, there was a fairly wide range of answers. Just over a quarter (27%) went with updating legacy technologies while just under a fourth (23%) opted for improving security and compliance. The rest of the delegates were fairly evenly spread out between spending their budget on resources to improve delivery timeline (19%), integrating disparate systems (15%) and staff training / upskilling (15%).
Automating work processes in the delivery of public services
Yuen Sai Kuan, Deputy Chief Executive Officer VITAL Shared Services, Ministry of Finance was the first speaker in the afternoon who shared on ministry’s journey and their learnings.
Sai Kuan explains that VITAL is a government department formed on 5 July 2006 under the Ministry of Finance, as part of the Singapore Public Sector’s effort to aggregate common administrative services and reap the economies of scale to bring about greater business value for the whole of Government. Its range of services includes Human Resource, Payroll & Claims, Finance, Procurement, Learning Services and Travel Management.
While starting as a transacting outfit, VITAL has since grown to have a unique role and position to create value for their stakeholders, some of which include:
- Harnessing Ops-Tech innovation: A platform for ops-tech corporate service innovations to create more value for all our partners.
- Provide corporate services advice: Advise partner agencies on the impact of policy/system changes and the related business process changes.
- Facilitate policy improvements & implementation: Offer constructive suggestions and feedback to functional leaders on corporate policy improvements and implementation. Leverage scale to help functional leaders implement policy changes and transformation efforts across WoG more rapidly.
- Uphold governance: Address issues attributed to non-compliance and support partner agencies on audit requests on VITAL’s processes, where required.
- Reap cost efficiency: tap on economies of scope and scale to reap benefits for all agencies and strengthen their robustness of corporate services delivery.
Digitalisation and Automation have been at the core of VITAL’s transformation, Sai Yuen shares. From digitisation, agile operations, automation and citizen development to machine learning, VITAL has been building its competitive advantage.
The move towards digitisation and agile operations involved reviewing and streamlining processes by adopting digital tools to reduce the need for hard copies of documents and wet-ink signatures. Apart from that, it also involved driving a digital and innovation culture and leveraging data analytics to derive insights and manage transaction risks. To achieve that, VITAL has built a community of practice, tapped on app-based services and taken a data-driven approach.
On the automation and citizen development front, VITAL began first with piloting attended bots followed by minimum viable product for unattended bots, such as launching the bot library for Whole-of-Government agencies. Since 2020, they have begun scaling Robotics and Automation (R&A) Solutions in corporate and administration across WOG.
Several learning points emerged in VITAL’s journey. The first lesson, Sai Yuen shares, was the importance of selecting suitable task/process with low to medium complexity for automation is key. For successful implementation, he has found that identifying and reviewing the right process is critical to avoiding automating inefficiencies. Additionally, end-to-end process automation is complex especially coupled with business rules for exception handling.
The second insight from VITAL’s journey of automation is the discovery that RPA script development and maintenance effort are much higher than expected. RPA is sensitive to systems’ changes and performance resulting in frequent script changes.
Deployed scripts often need to be maintained due to software upgrades and ongoing testing efforts are needed to ensure that scripts are working. They have also found that there s are a longer than expected time to automate the process as officers have to handle daily ops as well as develop the scripts using RPA developer software.
Sai Kuan acknowledges that it is not easy for business users to learn and use Standard RPA developer software. Further, the transition from performing data entry to developing and maintaining automation scripts takes time and may not work for every officer. He observes that most officers find it challenging to learn and use RPA developer software as it requires basic programming knowledge
Sai Kuan recommends a multi-pronged approach to spur RPA adoption and create a self-sustaining RPA community. Three key approaches emerged:
- Awareness & Change Management: Share and raise awareness of officers’ stories on their RPA learning journey
- Training & Enablement: Adopt a flexible learning approach (RPA online, classroom training and clinic sessions)
- Improving accessibility and sharing of RPA knowledge: Resources sharing via Digital First Portal for VITAL officers and Bot Library Portal for Singapore Government Agencies
When it comes to awareness and change management, it is important to engage affected stakeholders early to obtain buy-in. It could include conducting brown bag sessions to give staff a preview of what RPA is about and how they can apply it even in their daily life to allay their fears or spark their interest. Sharing success stories of how various officers have learnt and benefitted from the use of RPA at organisation-wide platforms is another strategy to obtain buy-in.
For training and enablement, Sai Yuen suggests identifying different types of automation personas in an organisation to implement a suitable training approach. For the three personas – automation users, citizen developers and RPA developers – different training approaches should be undertaken:
- RPA Developers: Build robust attended and unattended automation for complex processes run by others
- Citizen Developers: Build attended automation for tasks performed by themselves and immediate team
- Automation Users: Run attended built by other automation
Finally, to improve accessibility and sharing of RPA knowledge, Sai Yuen believes that the launch of platforms to provide consolidated and easy access to RPA resources and best practices helped officers to kickstart their RPA journey.
Sai Kuan is convinced that the future is cloud-first, which aligns with the Whole-of-Government direction to draw on cloud capabilities and solutions as part of a wider transformation. Moreover, he feels that leveraging central platforms such as GovTech’s Standard Products Suite, Data Science & Central AI products, SG Tech Stack will continue to be a trend.
In conclusion, Sai Kuan firmly believes that the future is one of exploration – exploiting emerging digital, data and automation technology to reinvent VITAL’s service delivery and business model. He strongly advocates learning from thought leaders, actively seeking to learn and implement best practices from leading organisations in the private and public sectors.
Democratising and Scaling AI and Intelligent Automation Initiatives
Picking up on the conversation on automation, Mohit Sagar, Group Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, OpenGov Asia and Ravi Bedi, Head & Practice Lead AI-Led NEXT Solutions, NCS discussed various automation initiatives undertaken by NCS.
To set the context of his reply, Ravi believes that every technology needs a catalyst. Moreover, he feels that the focus is too much on the technology as opposed to the outcome. It is key to understand the human being.
As far as embedding AI into operating models, Ravi says, “It’s not just about one product.” Technologies that are strung together will become the run-time, he believes, and NCS is making the run-time by developing new IP.
Mohit observes that leading organisations are expanding and scaling their digital workers, but are facing challenges in operating and optimising them. In his situation, “Are there any experiences and best practices?”, he is keen to know.
Ravi believes in the importance of being able to apply at scale internally ( as an organisation) before offering the idea to other organisations. As an example, NCS is applying an end-to-end run-time for all their employees. It will be a testament that they serve the community by stitching it together with their own IP and bringing the best to partners.
On the topic of hyper-personalised intelligent automation for every employee at scale, Mohit asks if it is still a concept at the POC stage or whether NCS has been able to address this at scale.
In response, Ravi says that a mandate does not necessarily put the fire under the belly. For him, it is about change management. NCS is making it a mandatory KPI, part of people’s performance review. The platform is built so they can check the productivity of every employee.
“If you don’t make it necessary, no one will change,” Ravi feels.
NCS has a marketplace where employees can build hyper-personalised finance, HR or procurement applications that can be uploaded to a marketplace. There, the rest of the community can utilise and reuse the applications. With such an initiative, a false multiplier is created within organisations.
About the issue of manpower shortages in the field of AI, “How can Singapore as a nation amplify its workforce sustainably in AI?” Mohit asks.
Ravi shares that NCS has built a new platform that has taken out the hardcore data science requisite and put it into a platform with AI advisors so that one will know what data to select – it can even assist in data cleansing. Their objective is to put the platform in MOE so that Singapore can produce native data scientists to solve the problem that the nation has.
Adopting multi-cloud architectures with automatic observability
In the final presentation of the day, Mark Fettroll, Sales Engineering Director ASEAN, Dynatrace shared about the inner workings of automated end-to-end observability.
“Digital transformation is happening everywhere and the core of every business is now powered by software,” Mark says. “The demands of today’s digital-first business climate are dramatically speeding up the pace of transformation and dynamic, multi-cloud environments have become the new normal.”
The good news is that cloud technology is readily available to enable this transformation. The bad news is that this puts a new set of challenges on the shoulders of IT professionals. Some implications include:
- Complexity is exploding
- The scale is massive
- Change is accelerating
- The stakes are higher than ever
- Everything has to be managed with fewer resources and less time
These challenges are driving companies to completely rethink and reevaluate their strategy for monitoring and observability.
The key question, Mark believes, is how organisations can operate and maintain good operations across the cloud environment. To truly transform faster, smarter and easier, the organisation’s observability solution must have automation and intelligence.
Today’s environments are multi-cloud by design and more open and integrated by the day. The Dynatrace platform can harness and unify even the most complex dynamic multi-clouds, with out-of-the-box support for all major cloud platforms and hundreds of technologies.
To get started, Mark suggests considering the step of data collection. Beginning with OneAgent, all users have to do is install a single agent per host to begin observing everything along the application-delivery chain. After it is installed, everything else is done automatically.
For Mark, the speed and simplicity of the deployment is the first game-changer. He refers to it as the “mean time to observability.” He shares some examples of enterprise-size deployments Dynatrace has done and the speed at which they were completed. In fact, the time savings are ongoing.
With the OneAgent in place, it will automatically start observing everything from the infrastructure down to the code which introduces PurePath. Dynatrace’s patented PurePath technology automatically captures and analyses transactions end-to-end across every tier of the application technology stack with no code changes, from the browser down to the code and database level.
The third piece in the system is SmartScape. Dynatrace automatically maps all of the observability data into a fully connected, real-time model that represents the organisation’s environment. Dynatrace is not simply dumping a bunch of metrics and logs and traces into a data lake, it auto-discovers what’s running in the organisation’s environment and understands all the relationships and dependencies – it knows how everything is inter-connected.
The fourth ingredient is the Davis AI Assistant, which is constantly evaluating what is happening and looking out for problems automatically. Its functions include:
- Detecting problems (no setup required)
- Explaining what the root cause
- Finding problems that are not anticipated
Since Davis knows the root cause and eliminates the noise and alert storms, it puts organisations in the ideal position to automate the remediation or corrective action such as restarting a server, cycling a JVM, or rolling back a bad code deployment. This brings a whole new level of value.
Finally, Dynatrace also delivers hyperscale when it comes to customer adoption and success.
Most monitoring tools are typically only used by 2 or 3 people who support the needs of the whole company.
However, Dynatrace customers have a radically different level of use and adoption – it is commonplace to have 100+ different users getting value from Dynatrace on any given day within a single company.
In closing, Mark advises that when choosing an observability solution, it is important to make sure it can observe from the outside-in so that one can:
- see the organisation’s business performance
- deliver perfect end-user experiences
- and know the business impact of issues
He encouraged delegates to begin their autonomous cloud journey with Dynatrace and to approach him for any queries they might have.
Throughout the session, delegates were polled on different topics.
In the first poll, delegates were asked to vote on the percentage of their overall IT investment that is committed to cloud strategy over the next 2 years. Half of the delegates (50%) indicated they would invest between 30% – 50%, while about a third (32%) said they would spend more than 50% and just under a fifth (18%) felt their spend would be between 10% – 30%.
Concerning the primary objective of delegates’ AI & Intelligent Automation strategy, more than half (52%) opted for business process enhancement as the primary objective, followed by citizen/customer/employee experience enhancement (38%). The remaining delegates were equally divided on cost reduction (5%) and risk management (5%).
Queried about their organisation’s top priority for Application Portfolio over the next 6 months, just over a third (35%) indicated rehosting or migrating existing apps to cloud as the priority. Retiring old apps/leveraging SaaS apps got just over a quarter (26%) while re-platforming existing apps, leveraging Container/Kubernetes received 22% of the vote. The remaining delegates were evenly divided between refactoring or developing new cloud apps (9%) and retaining existing apps (9%).
Inquiring about the biggest challenge when implementing their AI strategy, delegates were closely divided between the lack of properly skilled teams (35%) and the lack of available data (30%). Others indicated that indicated inflexible business processes (26%), ineffective project management/governance (4%) and ineffective third-party partners (5%) as the biggest challenge.
When asked if they are concerned about vendor/cloud/platform lock-in, more than half (54%) of them were somewhat concerned, while 29% were very concerned and 17% were not concerned.
About what they felt was shaping their landscape to be agile with the business needs, a majority (47%) indicated that the speed of change for applications, data and building/removing core business systems was the main requirement. This was followed by adapting to changing customer demands (42%). The remaining delegates were split between complying with new government regulations (15%) and operational cost savings (5%).
On how confident delegates are that their organisation’s data/workload can move securely across platforms/cloud, the majority of the delegates (71%) are fairly sure. The remaining delegates were not confident (12%), uncertain (12%) and very confident (6%),
In the final poll, delegates were asked what they would invest in if they had an unlimited budget. Delegates were closely divided between updating legacy technologies (38%) and integrating disparate systems (33%). The remaining delegates would spend their budget on improving security and compliance (14%), resources to improve delivery timeline (10%) and staff training / upskilling (5%).
To conclude the day, Mohit emphasised that cloud adoption is not a choice – it is inevitable. He reiterated that the challenges of security and privacy are not reasons to refuse adoption but realities to be negotiated. Automation, on the other hand, can transform the way business is conducted and produce consequential change. He encouraged delegates to bring the insights from the forum back into their organisations to begin thinking about ways to further their digital transformation journey.
Pillar 2: To lower the reward for ransomware attacks, disrupt the ransomware business model.
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