Making IT A Strategic Choice

Strategic IT organizations treat compute, storage, and networking as a pool of general-purpose resources.

Kumar Srikantan

May 16, 2016

4 Min Read
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We all hear about running IT strategically, but few of us have stopped to consider exactly what that means. For the past 25 years, IT professionals have been focused on automating the business processes that have been in place for years, and the vast majority of all IT infrastructure in place today does just that.

In the 1980s, for example, purchase requisitions were completed on paper, and five or six analysts had to physically touch, sign, and route that paper before it was considered approved -- a process that took weeks. Today, the IT function replaces the paper with an online form and the hand-off takes mere hours, but that IT function is really just enabling the same 25-year-old processes. We eliminated the paper, but was that truly strategic?

As an IT pro, how do you know if you are keeping up with the technology around you in the context of enabling the business initiatives you are chartered to deliver? How do you know if you are successfully delivering the new services needed to run your business? How do you know if you’re meeting the needs of your constituents?

These are the kinds of questions that all IT professionals should be asking themselves. The very nature of IT in the always-on digital centric world lies in enabling better decisions, not just automating the old processes. And the number of choices available to address any given need is staggering.

During a keynote speech at the annual IDC meeting held in San Jose last year, it was suggested that one way to determine if your internal IT efforts are paying off is to check the amount and rate of public cloud usage. As it turns out, public cloud usage is a great leading indicator for how well internal IT organizations are doing relative to their business’ needs, since anything they are unable to deliver or are non-competitive in delivering will simply be outsourced to the public cloud. It follows that the more a business uses public cloud services, the less capable its IT organization is at meeting its changing needs.

In today’s IT environments, the network is what makes everything else possible. It is the single most important asset that an organization owns, and its value cannot be overstated.

So how do you know if you are deploying the network strategically in support of the business objectives of a digital-centric world? The answer is that you look at the processes that you are using to deploy it in relation to the needs of the changing business.

For many years, a new business initiative started with the selection of a specific application, at which point the IT organization was contracted to deliver necessary resources. IT organizations created purpose-built networks for individual applications based on the specific design requirements for each. And each time a new application was desired, a new network was created and deployed in a manner that would not interfere with any previous networks. Over the years, corporate infrastructures created in this fashion have grown increasingly fragile.

Strategic thinkers, on the other hand, take a dramatically different approach. They create pools of resources – compute, storage, and networking – and simply ladle them out on demand for any application or new business initiative that comes along. When capacity runs low, they simply add more to the pool, ready to instantly meet the needs of new initiatives.

As a rule of thumb, if you are still designing networking capacity to meet the needs of specific applications, you are tied to older processes and thinking tactically instead of strategically. You are not positioning your organization to be competitive in the digital-centric world.

So what does it mean for an IT organization to be strategic? It means the organization recognizes that we are in a time of transformation and that we no longer have the luxury of knowing what will be needed next year or the year after. Strategic IT organizations treat compute, storage, and networking capacity as a pool of general-purpose resources, and have the ability to add or remove individual resources as needed. They look forward to enabling better decision making, and focus less on implementing older designs and processes.

Although the market for software-defined data center technologies is still young, the tools to enable strategic IT thinking are available today. The key is for IT organizations to stop being reactive and become forward-looking. They should start the process of evaluating modern networking technologies now, with an eye toward shedding the burden of yesterday’s processes tomorrow.

Here’s the best part: It is relatively easy to measure the amount of public cloud usage. Because public cloud usage traverses an organization’s network trunk connections to the Internet, a simple Internet bandwidth measurement is a very accurate representation of public cloud consumption. And if the amount of cloud consumption increases over time, it stands to reason that the IT organization is becoming even less effective at meeting those internal needs.

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