Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way. This is pretty true when describing trends in IT over the last few years. Every week, IT groups battle for relevancy within the organization they support. Ever heard the running joke that IT puts the “NO” in innovation? Being able to respond quickly to the changing business world is what has application owners looking at cloud based offerings from companies like Amazon (S3, EC2), Google, and Microsoft to name a few. CIO’s find themselves fighting with the CFO and business units for the right to host business applications. If the CIO is lucky, they are part of that discussion, but more and more we are seeing business units, application developers and even end users bypass IT (and the CIO) and go straight to external IT resources to keep pace with their requirements.
This trend has driven a lot of conversations about where CIO’s and IT departments can look for ways to transform from being “cost centers” to being able to add differentiating value and be more responsive to the changing business requirements. We call this IT Transformation.
First things first, let’s do a level set and break down the areas of IT that this can apply to. For those of you that have sat through an EMC or VMware discussion on IT Transformation you’ve probably seen some variation of the slide below. It breaks down IT into 3 distinct areas of focus. It is often described as a “3-Layer Cake”. The discussion around this slide is how companies should be looking at ways to help the business drive differentiating value into today’s market.
Arguably, the most important part of this 3-Layer Cake discussion, and what IT departments would (and should) focus as much attention to, is smack in the middle of the picture. It’s the Application Layer. In this day and age, applications play a HUGE part in differentiating companies from each other. For example, a few years ago I was out hunting for a new bank to use. I had a couple of things I was really interested in, but having a local branch (to me) was not high on my list. I’ve grown accustomed to doing a lot of my banking online so I was very much interested in what sort of online, and iPhone/iPad options were available. I dismissed banks based on this sort of criteria. In fact, the bank I went with even offered the ability to take photo’s of check’s and it would deposit it into my account without ever having to go into a branch, or mail in a copy of the check. How cool is that !! I love USAA Bank So in this case, the Applications they used differentiated themselves from others I was looking at (that feature is now pretty common but I’m not switching !) In fact, I would guess a lot of people started using USAA for this very reason. Their ability to deliver this feature, before everyone else, gave them a distinct competitive advantage. I could cite many other companies (Square, NetFlix, Amazon) that use applications as their differentiating value. By the way, the best analogy I heard for why you should pay attention to IT Transformation was a simple question. “Who is the current CIO of Borders Bookstore?”. The answer is no one, because of the proliferation of online services like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. In other words, Lead…quickly follow or….update your resume !
At the bottom of this cake is the infrastructure. I like to describe it as the “necessary evil” that allows us to stay employed (both from an admin/architect perspective, as well as a vendor perspective ). EMC’s vision of the infrastructure is to be as invisible, efficient and integrated as possible. At EMC, we’ve accomplished this in many different ways. With vSphere integration including our free Virtual Storage Integrator (VSI) Plugins that allow virtualization admins to manage storage from inside vCenter (less UI’s to have to open and manage), with replication management tolls integrated with applications, with converged infrastructure stacks that allow customers to get out of the busniess of being a systems integrator (vBlock, the answer to the Non-Recovery Engineering Time issues), with delivering back ad DR as a datacenter service, etc.
When we get to the end users part of the 3-Layer cake. I like to remind people that at the end of the day, I can have the most awesome, reliable infrastructure that enables my awesome applications to never go down with a 100% uptime design but if my end users can’t consume those resources, with the device of their choosing they will go elsewhere for that service. Think of my bank analogy. Most of the banks I looked at probably had really nice datacenters, and lots of cool services but I was specifically looking at online ways of consuming those resources and because they didn’t have those, I voted with my wallet and found a bank that did. Same thing in IT’s world. Whether your applications are accessed via external customers (consumers) or if they are accessed via internal employees, if they can’t get to what they need they will certainly go elsewhere. Another good example of this is the concept around Stealth or Shadow IT. If I can’t get the helpdesk to install a certain application on my laptop in less than an hour from when I request it, then I’ll go buy it, expense it and install it myself with my boss’s full approval. When that happens, we in IT lose credibility with the business. I mean C’Mon….I can install Angry Birds on my iPad in less then 2minutes !
As technologist, we can be leaders in bringing forward innovation that provides the business agility while providing the Enterprise Information Management functions that have been the pillars of traditional IT (security, application uptime, and data protection). As technologist, we need to enable the business we support to evolve application capabilities as quickly as the market demands. Consumers have choice and IT needs to transform.