Smart CIOs know that the services their IT departments provide to the business have to transform. It’s more than a matter of technology; it is a matter of economics. The advantages of cloud computing, ‘everything as a service’ and on-demand capacity simply mean a faster, better and less costly way of getting things done.
But those who appreciate the necessity also appreciate that transitioning from a lifetime of doing IT the traditional way, to doing it the cloud way, is far from simple. Achieving transformation depends on more than skill, vision and ability. It also depends on courage – and the larger the organisation, the more daunting the task.
Firstly, one needs to consider the challenges that most IT departments face today to provide context on why transformation is necessary. Issues that undoubtedly resonate with CIOs everywhere include flat-to-declining budgets, dramatic growth of information, users’ expectations, aging infrastructure that's 100 percent allocated but not 100 percent utilised, critical apps which were built a decade (or more) ago, a business environment which is moving incredibly fast and is demanding new apps ‘now’.
Something else that requires consideration is the set of objectives or initiatives with which CIOs are engaged, such as:
· Efficiency (with a focus on financial transparency, that is, clarity on ‘who pays for what’)
· Total customer experience and the creation of next-generation business applications
· Workforce productivity, and in particular, mobilised collaborative and social experiences, or ‘workplace 3.0’
· Architecting for the future how to turn the IT department into what is effectively a cloud-powered service provider
In effect, these objectives – likely to be common to many organisations – underpin the necessity to transform the IT department into a competitive, cloud-based internal service provider with clear financial transparency.
Three phases to transformation
Just how the IT department ‘transforms’ can be broken down into three phases.
The first phase is when departments adopt virtualisation for the workloads that IT controls. The technology changes, but little else does. Most IT groups are well through this phase, and understand the benefits. These are typically a better utilisation of server/storage assets, in addition to infrastructure being consolidated and storage tiered. Most organisations find themselves at some stage of this first phase.
The second phase rests on standardisation of vendors within the data centre, but extends to the virtualisation of business-critical and mission-critical applications. A good deal of organisations have progressed to this state – but it is here that it is likely to become particularly intense. That’s because this phase is less about technology, and more about people and processes. The heavy lifting is getting the IT team's capabilities to the point where this isn’t a risky proposition; it also depends on a layer of integrated management and security which reflects the status of these applications.
This process is effectively one of building a ‘legacy-free’ data centre, from the perspective of technology and processes. CIOs should appreciate the magnitude of achieving this goal. It is far from easy to move often dependable (if a little creaky) systems to a ‘brave new world’, which comes with inevitable teething problems. It is here that courage and vision really come to the fore!
At a high level, this phase is about enabling the delivery of enterprise-class IT services from a virtualised and shared pool of resources. In doing so, the most important point is that the conversations outside of IT are often more important than the conversations inside of IT. That’s because these changes are being made not for the IT department, but so the IT department can better serve the needs of the business.
The third phase of IT transformation, and one to which very few organisations have progressed, is achieved when the IT department is enabled to deliver self-service and no-questions-asked ‘Infrastructure as a Service’ offerings for transient requirements (for example, under 30 days and on a more persistent basis when required).
A vision worth working towards
Achieving this level of IT transformation is worthwhile as it achieves a level of flexibility and responsiveness never seen before. An over-arching principle which underpins this third phase is that each service is designed around the people who are consuming it, rather than the IT professionals that built it; the services are optimised for consumption, not production. The services provided are decoupled from the underlying infrastructure, so while the front-end service may change, the back end doesn't. Compare this state to the present one where (typically) individual stacks are created for each and every service.
Not only does this provide for the ability to rapidly respond to user requirements, it also provides a tantalising new possibility which the IT department and business alike will appreciate: the ability to precisely meter costs. That means the ability to achieve the financial transparency which has so long eluded the provision of IT services.
As 2013 gets underway, it may be worth considering the process of IT transformation, examining where your company is placed in this journey and how it can benefit from a more flexible, more responsive and more financially transparent infrastructure.
Phill Patton is country manager for EMC New Zealand
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