IT - No Longer "Stable and Precise"?
February 19, 2013

Dennis Drogseth

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To begin a column, blog, or presentation with the idea that IT is undergoing a unique state of transformation may verge on cliché. And yet it’s still the truth. Moreover, this is a transformation that I would argue is more significant than the move to client/server off the mainframe, or even more significant than the advent of the Internet, itself. At least in terms of changing the role of IT and how IT needs to operate.

Yet it came to me as something of a shock when a book on this topic — the marvelous Quantum Age of IT by Charles Araujo - opens with the seven-word sentence: “IT as we know it is dead.”

In the book Araujo creatively looks at the makings of this transformation in terms of cause and does his best to provide a recipe for moving into a happier, rather than more tortured, future.

In spite of my initial shock, many of the reasons for this “death of IT” have appeared in various ways in some of my prior columns. But let’s summarize a few here and now. I think I can actually do it with two primary points.

1. A New Dependence of Ecosystems versus Isolated Organizations

IT's growing interdependencies on ecosystems are becoming increasingly challenging. In many cases they are already uprooting existing models for governance.

To be clear, ecosystems here = partners, suppliers and of all kinds of (including cloud) service providers.

A business ecosystem – in many cases a single business application — may straddle all of these qualitative interdependencies with as much as 20 or more different intersecting application transactions residing in different locations, or dependent on infrastructure (data center, wide-area, etc.) spread across a sprawling mosaic of separate businesses. Moreover - whether service providers, suppliers or partners - these businesses may, and often do, compete with each other.

To make matters worse, most service providers have been notably lame in the past when it comes to partnerships. In EMA's planned research for ECOSYSTEM CLOUD, targeted for data collection in April, we ask the following question about cloud service providers:

How are you sharing data with and otherwise governing your cloud service providers (on average) and/or how are they sharing data and working with you? Select All that Apply

- They do not share data with us, and we do not share data with them

- They send us monthly reports on usage and costs

- We monitor inside the public cloud without their permission

- They are proactive in supporting our need to monitor inside the public cloud

- They have committed SLAs based on availability

- They have committed SLAs based on service response time

- They have no committed SLAs

- We supplement their monitoring with our own tools and share some of the results with them

- We supplement their monitoring with our own tools but do not share

- They are responsive when we experience service degradation

- They are not interested in hearing from us when there is a service delivery problem

- We feel we have a partner in working with them

- We feel we are being managed by their lawyers

- Other (Please specify)

Note the second to the last option: “We feel we are being managed by their lawyers.”

I have experienced countless dialogs with IT organizations over the last fifteen years complaining of just that. Many service providers will tell you that this is only good business. That, in fact, the fine art of working with them is to understand the small print in the contract – especially the point where it says “the boundary of our responsibility stops here.” (In so many words).

But isn't this just the opposite of what cloud computing is supposed to be all about? Wasn't cloud supposed to rescue us from the harsh confines of traditional service delivery with its more fixed components via a more fluid approach in terms of choice and value?

Time will tell if traditional service provider thinking will evolve, and I am seeing some signs of more of a move to partnership — but I remain, if not quite a skeptic, at least cautious.

The bottom line here being that the so-called "journey to the cloud" could end up being a "journey" to a whole new array of fixed commitments that threaten even more havoc due to speed and expectations for better, more responsive service, if not well managed.

And then of course there are the Web 2.0 partners and suppliers. The telco dependencies. And fill in the blank for the rest on the service provider list.

Add to this often global partnerships and supplier interdependencies, and you may well ask: How do you share and manage a business service across these boundaries? How do you minimize costs and optimize value when you can't even see what's there, and when you don't often know who to talk to when things go wrong?

I call that ITIL version 7.0, when we're still at version 3.

2. The Consumerization of IT

This is an even bigger point, and far from unique to residing with me.

It is occurring from a set of multiple factors. These include mobile computing, BYOD, and the rise of a more savvy set of IT consumers used to exploring and creating value from the end-point out across a multiplicity of options.

It is also occurring from what I call the “shopping mall of cloud.” Business organizations now feel they can bypass IT if they don't think their own organization is providing the services they need.

And finally, it's occurring because IT services and business services are increasingly aligned – so that the "consumer value" of a business service needs to be translated backwards to IT with growing intelligence, relevance and dynamic currency. In other words, if the IT service fails, it's important to know, and know dynamically, ALL the business impacts — which in the end translate into consumer expectation, interaction, priorities, identities, and sometimes even mood.

If you put the two together - ecosystem plus consumerization – and add a mix of new technology options - Big Data, cloud technologies, etc. - you get a fluid mix of pungent ingredients that not only impact how IT should operate, they begin to redefine the very identity of IT itself.

So where is this "transformation" actually going?

OK, not to cop out, but that's a good discussion for my next column.

Here's a heads up. In The Quantum Age of IT, Charles Araujo refers to IT as trying to define itself in the past as being "stable and precise". This might never have been a good idea, but it certainly can't work in all its purity in an age of ecosystems and consumerization.

Nevertheless, trying to keep IT from just becoming "unstable" and "imprecise" will be a challenge going forward. It will mean rethinking how IT is governed, where it's governed from, and how IT behaves in dialog with its consumers – just to mention a few key points.

I'll share a few suggestions about how to navigate through this building maelstrom next time.

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Dennis Drogseth is VP at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA)
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