How did digital architects deal with the COVID-19 challenge, and what is their blueprint for the future?

In Couchbase’s fourth annual digital transformation survey, we have already looked at the challenges to digital transformation in 2020, and the roles of – and challenges facing – developers in a tumultuous year. Finally, we want to look at digital architects.

Traditionally under pressure to deliver projects on time, has that pressure increased due to the pandemic? Are they still able to support new technologies, or is legacy technology holding them back? Have they changed the way they deploy their architecture? And what do they think is the blueprint for future success?

Facing the pressure

It’s undeniable that the pandemic has created challenges for architects. Many architects have seen their progress from planning to delivering on digital projects either delayed or disrupted, as reacting to the pandemic became a higher priority than existing plans. And for many, it has made getting the right technology in place to support transformation a difficult or even insurmountable task.

However, whether reacting to the pandemic or pushing forward with their existing plans, the pressure on architects has definitely increased. 48 percent are currently under high or extremely high pressure to deliver digital projects, compared to only 19 percent pre-pandemic. Interestingly, architects in France have been constantly under the highest pressure.

A little pressure on architects is to be expected; and considering the challenges they’ve faced, we have to say that overall architects have performed remarkably this past year. However, there are ways to reduce that pressure: for instance by choosing technology and deployment methods that make life easier for architects. The next question is: is this being done?

Digital transformation survey results for architects

Technology – stuck in a rut?

Architects point to several technologies as potentially having a revolutionary impact on organizations’ digital transformation efforts – for instance cloud, big data, automation and AI. However, they unanimously agree on what technology has the least potential – traditional relational databases. There are signs we’re in a transition period as organizations move away from their legacy databases: 60 percent have reduced their use in the last 12 months, and 64 percent plan to in the next 12.

There is definitely a need to do so. The vast majority of organizations still rely on legacy databases, for instance because they have invested heavily in the relevant skills, or because the databases are systems of record. However, a majority of these enterprises also say that this reliance, plus the rigidity of relational databases, is holding back their ability to implement new digital transformation projects.

Making the move away from legacy, without casting away valuable skills or removing systems of record, will be a challenge for many architects in the next few years.

Deployment – the tides are changing

Deployment is the other issue in how easily architects can meet their organizations’ digital transformation demands.

We’ve already seen that architects think that cloud has major potential to revolutionize digital transformation. And support for different deployment models bears this out. Support for on-premises deployment is shrinking, while support for public cloud or a fully flexible hybrid cloud is growing significantly. Cloud has also helped a vast majority of architects meet their digital transformation goals – and 41 percent said it had been “significant” or “indispensable”.

There are still some concerns with cloud infrastructure – most notably, security is a top three concern for most architects. However, with the cloud obviously in the ascendancy, and Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS) also increasing in popularity, offerings that can address concerns such as security, scalability, clarity around pricing, and vendor lock-in will be a huge asset to architects.

The blueprint for the future

In order to prepare for future digital transformation projects, architects need to learn from and avoid the mistakes of the past. 61 percent said that past technology decisions had made digital transformation projects more difficult in 2019-2020, and a further 24 percent only avoided issues with thorough preparation. However, they also identified which approaches had been of the most help – or even indispensable – in meeting their goals. So what lessons can we learn?

First, pay close attention to those technology decisions that cause or cure the most issues: cloud infrastructure, databases, software as a service, and networking. Older technology might have been the right decision at the time, but it’s important to understand the needs of a new digital transformation project and be prepared for any potential issues.

The key lies in the understanding of new requirements, like applications that need hyper-personalizations must exploit flexible schemas–which JSON does; or multi-device interfaces must be incredibly responsive and location aware, which built-in caching systems with mobile support do. And then consider how to carry forward relational database designs and skillsets for team continuity.

A likely solution is to look for a NoSQL database that supports both RDMBS schema mapping and a SQL-based query language. <wink/> I know a database that does all of this.  

Second, can you adopt any of the most helpful approaches – for instance, moving from on-premises databases to the cloud; or choosing technology that doesn’t require investment in new skills? Ultimately, the goal needs to be reducing the pressure on architects and ensuring they have all they need to support new digital transformation projects.

2020 was a challenging year for all of us, but by learning the right lessons we can make sure that future digital transformation efforts are primed for success.

To learn more, download the full 2020 Digital Transformations survey report here.


Posted by Jeff Morris, VP Product Marketing

Jeff Morris is VP of Product and Solutions Marketing at Couchbase. He's spent over three decades marketing software development tools, databases, analytic tools, cloud services, and other open source products. He'd be the first to tell you that anyone looking for a fast, flexible, familiar, and affordable cloud-to-edge database-as-a-service can stop looking after they check out Couchbase.

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