Long time ago, I was blissfully unaware of IT technology. I designed programming languages, developed compilers, architected new database technologies, and dabbled in operating systems. Life revolved around all the things I learnt in school and in the labs: computers, algorithms, applied science.
Somehow, after I ended on this side of the fence, all that changed. Usually, it is implementing a packaged application, rolling out an ERP, supporting large number of IT applications. It is challenging – it brings in knowledge of finance, business, planning, organizational behaviors and whole lot of other things to make IT work well. Even though I never signed up for doing an “IT” job, I drifted into it and found myself enjoying connecting what I learnt and what I see.
Recently, I have been seeing a great deal of changes in IT. It is very similar to the changes in IT from late 90’s when the internet hit the scene. Yet, it is much more – this time, there is a fundamental shift in the way IT is being done. Perhaps, these words are too easily thrown around. Let me make my case.
Traditional IT technologies
First let us take a look at the traditional IT technology:
This is what IT has been doing in the enterprises. Once some need in the business is well-established, IT builds an application (preferably customizes a packaged application or builds on top of some vendor technology product) and operates in their data center using their standard rollout and support processes.
Influences on IT technologies
Think about the history of modern organizations. Just when organizations couldn’t grow profitably, computers made the growth possible with information technology. The constraining factor in growth was information management (gathering, organizing, retrieving, and analyzing). Once tamed, it allowed the organizations to grow and take advantages of their size.
IT, of course, helped that growth. However, now, it is holding back the enterprise. CIO’s have very short tenures. They preside over moribund enterprises. The users see that their IT is offering poor services at higher price, with the illusion of security and control. [Think gmail and your organization mail. Who offers more storage? Who offers better searches, better backup, and better access?]
There is a specific way of understanding the impact on IT technology from three directions (the idea for this classification came from Betsy Burton – a shout out for her classification):
Each of these technologies (from business, consumer and operations) impact the IT technologies in a specific way (and they are influencing one another, and in particular, the business technology as well).
When wall-street journal starts writing about technology for business people, you know that there is something up. These days, you can’t turn a page without seeing something about big data and how business is trying to make sense out of this data. Traditionally, IT did not deal with this problem. This esoteric field of decision support systems is managed by a close group of business and experts.
Normally, these class of applications undermine an IT department. If a marketing program needs to be run, if sales data needs to be analyzed, if a partner needs to be engaged, business reaches out to its own resources, instead of IT department. There are specific reasons why:
There are several kinds of applications that business uses that IT has reclaimed over time. For some applications, IT does not have a good hold yet. Here are a sample applications:
A trend from the last few years has been “Business aligned IT”, where these kind of business applications have been a large focus. Already BPM, CRM, E-commerce applications have become an integral part of the business systems. Some of the new kind of applications such as big data, advanced analytics are only being talked about. The marketing applications are still too much in a flux to become a part of IT yet.
There are several times consumer technology made a big impact on the IT. Remember PC? Internet? All of those started as consumer technologies. Of course, It was reluctant to embrace those technologies at first. But as the IT users were using those tools at home, IT itself had to offer them as a part of their portfolio.
The current consumer technologies that are impacting the IT are many:
These are not just the application categories, but aspects of applications. Take instagram, for instance: it has mobile computing; it uses social networking; stores the images in the cloud; it is a customer centric application. Or, take Quora: it is a social networking application; it is for knowledge management; it is collaborative.
As mentioned earlier, while the main purpose for IT was information management, over the time, the bottleneck ended up being the way people work together as a team. While the computers are good at information processing, they are so good at capturing the information from people and letting them work as a team. Scaling of the human productivity was aided by different techniques overtime: using energy in industrial revolution (steam engine); using assembly line in manufacturing. The current techniques let the corporations harness the power of large crowds, which is exactly what consumer IT offers.
There is another impact (consumerisation of IT) – where the consumer devices end up being used in IT (personal computers, cell phones, and smart devices). That has profound impact on one of the core functions of IT (desktop support etc).
I like to tell a tale how electricity distribution happened. At one time, can you believe that factories ran their own power sources? Once a reliable grid came up, it was far cheaper to produce and distribute energy. Perhaps our future generations will tell the tale same way: can you believe that companies ran their own datacenters?
Cloud and related technologies are impacting the IT in transformational way. There are several themes to this transformation:
One of the more exciting things to come out of operational technologies is “devops” which integrates the continuous development with operational view of the applications. Even if the companies are not moving to cloud, these best practices transform the IT.
IT is trying to address the needs of business by offering more and more applications built on business technology. To get better adaptability and to increase cooperation, they are adapting consumer technology. To reduce the costs, and focus on the core competency, they are looking to operational technology such as devops and cloud.