Digital Transformation and the DBA

Digital transformation is causing a revolutionary impact on today’s modern business. But what is digital transformation? You may not have heard the term, but you have certainly felt its impact. By digital transformation we mean the rapid, unending march of change being forced onto business activities and processes to take advantage of the opportunities of digital technologies. 

Unarguably, digital technologies have been adopted by IT professionals since the very beginning of the discipline. But the speed of adoption and the rate of change being experienced today are off the charts. The age of digital transformation—what is happening today—is the net result of technology adoption of the past few decades. We learn to use technology, technology adapts, we gain competency in its usage, and adopt it everywhere.

So, how is digital transformation impacting database administration? Let’s first look at some of the impactful changes.

Analysts at Gartner have described the changing dynamics of digital business as being driven by what they call the Nexus of Forces, the convergence and mutual reinforcement of mobile, social, cloud, and information. These four trends are major forces driving digital transformation.

The first force, mobile computing, is transforming the way most people interact with applications. Just about everybody has a smartphone, a tablet, or both. And the devices are being used to keep people engaged throughout the day, no matter where they are located. You no longer have to get to your desktop PC or laptop in order use the web to find information or conduct business. This change is significant and fundamental. Within a business context, it means that customers are engaging and interacting with your organization more frequently and from more diverse locations than ever before. Whether your organization is a bank, a retail outlet, or even a healthcare provider, your customers/patients are constantly checking their balances, searching for deals, and monitoring their health from mobile devices.

Social media is also quite impactful. Coupled with mobile devices, social media applications such as  LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter enable consumers to communicate and interact with their peers about their experiences and preferences by sharing comments and recommendations with their social media connections. Consumers are more frequently relying upon the recommendations from their social connections than any other resource. And that makes the information shared via social media an important source to be monitored by your corporation—but it also makes it important for your corporation to engage and participate, as well.

The next force is cloud computing, which is the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the internet to store, manage, and process data, rather than a local host. The cloud enables more types and sizes of organizations than ever before to be able to deploy and make use of computing resources—without having to own those resources.

The final force, information, is not particularly new, but it is being expanded as it works with the other three forces in the nexus. Sure, we have been collecting and processing data and information since the earliest days of computing. But the amount and types of data that can be accessed and analyzed continue to grow by leaps and bounds. And when information is accessed using mobile, social, and cloud computing, it becomes more accessible and useful by anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Enter the DBA

The role of the DBA is growing and becoming more complicated in the age of digital transformation. As the amount and type of information we store expands, DBAs must become versed in administering not just one type of DBMS (e.g., relational), but multiple types (document, key/value, wide column stores, and graph) and even non-DBMS data platforms (e.g., Hadoop).

Furthermore, cloud computing can change the manner in which existing applications and databases operate. Some DBA tasks may be taken on by the cloud provider, whereas others will need to “morph” in order to deal with the different physical location of the actual data.

Next, consider mobile and its impact on how consumers interact with business systems. For example, how do you do business with your bank? The answer to that question will likely depend on your age. Digital transformation has altered the way we bank, regardless of our age, though. When was the last time you went inside of a bank and conducted a transaction with a teller? Unless you are a senior citizen (or had a special requirement for your transaction) you probably haven’t been inside a bank in years because there are now other, easier methods of banking. Of course, there is the ATM, but that is an old technology now. More popular today is online banking conducted over a smartphone. You might even pay for goods and services using the smartphone instead of using cash or a credit card. You can deposit a check simply by taking a picture of it! And the younger generation may be using their smartphone app to check their balances multiple times throughout the day.

But what does that mean to a DBA? All of those extra touches driven by mobility—checking balances, making payments using smartphones, etc.—all turn into additional transactions that in the “old days” would not have run. As a result, DBAs need to be prepared for their systems to process larger workloads as we engage more frequently with computerized systems.