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Thursday, November 08, 2012

Enterprise IT : Future Proofing Vs Failure Proofing - Part 1

Just returning from an intense workshop with a customer on their future IT plans on spending and mode of operation . The meeting reinforced amongst other things that in the world of business, in some pockets men and women who are smart otherwise somehow fail to fathom the complexities in the area of business processes and therefore fail to provide for efforts needed to drive transformation inside their respective enterprises. Substantial number of executives regard technology and process evangelists as “ silver bullet holding parachute jumpers ” – people who land from sky and offer them their so-called “silver bullet” solutions. Are process transformations touting cloud evangelists in this category? Perhaps. If they influence the organization sufficiently to look at powerful enabling technologies and intertwined processes as the harbinger of innovation. Seasoned business and IT executives have a way of managing such class of consultants – they simply turn off on such views. Cloud services evangelists, however, are a much bigger problem because they proffer pervasive organizational disruptors – preassembled bundles of people, processes and technology – not plain technology point solutions. One of the fascinating aspect of cloud solutions had been the unexpected empowerment of business in embracing state of the art solutions at varying scale promising piecemeal to holistic organizational disruption to executives throughout the enterprise. In a number of occasions, IT is forced to act under compulsion aka align to the business identified/owned initiatives. The IT department inside every enterprise needs to buckle up. The changes are going to be far more sweeping than imagined and the balance of power could be seen to be decisively swinging towards business. The hold that IT had on provision of services for enterprise is certainly getting weaker atleast in respect of new initiatives/transformation centric initiatives. In such a context, IT inside every business need to map out their own vision and draw programs to maintain their leadership and in some cases their relevance inside the enterprise. Have no doubts.The IT department must change its outlook to retain legitimacy and authenticity inside the enterprise.. It is being challenged in its role as the key provider of services for the business in the enterprise and clearly a new crisis of relevance is popping up – the IT departments need to respond comprehensively with a solidified plan.

This is quite paradoxical but unfortunately very true. The IT industry has traditionally enjoyed (at least in the last 10-15 years) as the pace setter for introducing change and ushering innovation – be it in terms of enablement of core business, or powering new models of business or in terms of supporting existing mode of business more efficiently. Inside many enterprises, keeping step with the changes in the fast moving IT industry solutions were mostly challenging for business – be it in terms of technology, mode of operations or being more efficient, more agile - all direct contributors to business success. It has been a constant practice to see that executives being in the back foot desperately trying to catch up while implementing yesterday’s wave of innovation enabling technologies while noticing the next distracting wave of today while awaiting/ thinking through the next wave of innovations that are in the anvil.

In doing all these things, many businesses are tempted to call vendors and the evangelists selling/propounding new solutions as FUD agents thriving on creating confusion with the promise of an ever increasing range of new and sometime innovative solutions. In this journey, some executives inside enterprises look at cloud technologies as very appealing as it promises: A. Progressive investments as the solutions rolls on; B. A huge swathe of hitherto unimagined levels of control to business, sometime s even bypassing internal IT. All well here, but for the vendors over-hyping the benefits of narrow solutions and they typically tend to highly understate the costs, risks and complexities of implementing such solutions. Traditionally IT initiatives backlogged organizations (in terms of IT/Process adoption), are naturally attracted to such vantage propositions - so much so , overtime, enterprises begin to understand how an hasty adoption based on such promises could inter alia cause more harm outweighing the potential good. Most IT executives have, however, worked out ways to manage these good samaritans. They ruthlessly control the enterprise IT strategy and procurement activity. Some find innovative (originally unintended) defenses in the form of the mantra of “consolidate, rationalize, standardize, retrofit, retire, re-factor” as a defensive shield. With such a powerful fortress, their way of managing is to not entertain details discussions of these tastes of the day advances thereby protecting their turf.

But it’s always a tussle between future proofing an enterprise Vs failure proofing an enterprise. This new age proponents of advances Viz Cloud services have a different way of interjecting themselves inside enterprises – they are changing the rules of the game which had traditionally empowered the IT departments. They now directly deal with / create a sphere of influence much beyond the defensive fortress of IT divisions. The nature of the beast( cloud services) is such the reach can’t be stalled - like some aroma that appeals to the olfactory senses even without being visual, cloud services parade themselves of having greater transformative potential with far reaching benefits than the bare bone cloud technologies from which they are assembled. This calls for a calibrated response to leverage their true strengths. Fresh perspectives are needed to manage the onward journey of cloud powered transformative services inside the enterprise.

Let’s now characterize what makes the cloud services so powerful in their appeal and reach.The first and foremost characterization of the cloud services lay in the fact that a mature, enterprise-grade cloud service is vastly different from traditional IT / Business solutions – an evolved cloud solution brings together a nice combination of pre-assembled/ custom bundle of people, processes, and technology – rather than a new technology building block. The appeal of the cloud services is not just in its raw power – but in using the advances in technology to provide differentiated services enabling new ways of working for the adopting enterprise. In doing this, they seem to override the carefully built plans centered around strategy & architecture and extending further in some cases , the cloud replaces the traditional IT’S role as a provider of compute, storage, network (infrastructure) and application services. Why are these services so different and how different ate these form the other advance that the IT industry keep rolling out. The cloud services in full display of their might do indeed pose a significant challenge to the in-the-comfort zone- status-quo seeking IT department . Typically status quo manifests itself as internal sub-scale, under-invested, and under-skilled/ hardwired IT shared services arrangements. A deeper assessment shows that compared to a range of many prevalent enterprise shared services, in a number of cases, the leading edge cloud services are better optimized shared services that actually deliver better bang for the buck, more flexible, and bring in empowerment to enterprise and their customers. This takes the myth head on: flexibility and choice can’t co-exist with economies of scale and a wide range in functionalities. It will behoove enterprise and their IT to seriously assess suitability of cloud services for their immediate and future needs and not dismiss them off hand. They need not be resisted but should be considered for suitability.

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