For infrastructure management professionals, keeping up with new trends is a constant challenge. IT must constantly weigh the potential benefits and risks of adopting new technologies, as well as the pros and cons of continuing to maintain their legacy hardware and applications.
Some experts say that right now is a particularly difficult time for enterprise IT given the massive changes that are occurring. When asked about the trends affecting enterprise IT operations today, Keith Townsend, principal at The CTO Advisor, told me, "Obviously the biggest one is the cloud and the need to integrate cloud."
In its latest market research, IDC predicts that public cloud services and infrastructure spending will grow 24.4% this year, and Gartner forecasts that the public cloud services market will grow 18%in 2017. By either measure, enterprises are going to be running a lot more of their workloads in the cloud, which means IT operations will need to adapt to deal with this new situation.
Townsend, who also is SAP infrastructure architect at AbbVie, said that the growth in hybrid cloud computing and new advancements like serverless computing and containers pose challenges for IT operations, given "the resulting need for automation and orchestration throughout the enterprise IT infrastructure." He added, "Ultimately, they need to transform their organizations from a people, process and technology perspective."
For organizations seeking to accomplish that transformation, Townsend offered three key pieces of advice.
Put the strategy first
Townsend said the biggest mistake he sees enterprises making "is investing in tools before they really understand their strategy." Organizations know that their approach to IT needs to change, but they don't always clearly define their goals and objectives.
Instead, Townsend said, they often start by "going out to vendors and asking vendors to solve this problem for them in the form of some tool or dashboard or some framework without understanding what the drivers are internally."
IT operations groups can save themselves a great deal of time, money and aggravation by focusing on their strategy first before they invest in new tools.
Self-fund your transformation
Attaining the level of agility and flexibility that allows organizations to take advantage of the latest advances in cloud computing isn't easy or cheap. "That requires some investment, but it's tough to get that investment," Townsend acknowledged.
Instead of asking for budget increases, he believes the best way to do that investment is through self-funding.
Most IT teams spend about 80% of their budgets on maintaining existing systems, activities that are colloquially called "keeping the lights on." That leaves only 20% of the budget for new projects and transformation. "That mix needs to be changed," said Townsend.
He recommends that organizations look for ways to become more efficient. By carefully deploying automation and adopting new processes, teams can accomplish a "series of mini-transformations" that gradually decreases the amount of money that must be spent on maintenance and frees up more funds and staff resources for new projects.
Focus on agility, not services
In his work, Townsend has seen many IT teams often make a common mistake when it comes to dealing with the business side of the organization: not paying enough attention to what is happening in the business and what the business really wants.
When the business comes to IT with a request, IT typically responds with a list of limited options. Townsend said that these limited options are the equivalent of telling the business no. "What they are asking for is agility," he said.
He told a story about a recent six-month infrastructure project where the business objectives for the project completely changed between the beginning of the project and the end. An IT organization can only adapt to those sort of constant changes by adopting a DevOps approach, he said. If IT wants to remain relevant and help organizations capitalize on the new opportunities that the cloud offers, it has to become much more agile and flexible.
You can see Keith Townsend live and in person at Interop ITX, where he will offer more insight about how enterprise IT needs to transform itself in his session, "Holistic IT Operations in the Application Age." Register now for Interop ITX, May 15-19, in Las Vegas.