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IT's Self Image Needs Work, Cisco Study Shows

New York's 32-Story Data 'Fortress'
New York's 32-Story Data 'Fortress'

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As new technologies continue to enter the marketplace, many enterprise IT managers say they are ill-prepared to implement the growing number of application and infrastructure options now available. Some blame lack of funding. Others blame lack of interest among senior management. Some blame business units implementing new technologies without consulting IT. And one in four are honest enough to admit that their own procrastination is a factor.

Those were some of the results that surfaced in Cisco's latest Global IT Impact Survey, which was released Wednesday. And if the findings converge on a single message, it's this: If companies are going to succeed, IT departments and business units need to work together more closely.

[ What is the future of software-defined networks? Read Interop Cloud Experts Debate SDN's Future. ]

It's no coincidence that Cisco's vision for next-gen networks plays into this theme. The San Jose, Calif.-based vendor has maintained for months that enterprises are on the verge of a technological inflection point, driven by, among other things, software-defined networking (SDN), the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, cloud adoption and the proliferation of mobile devices. CEO John Chambers has predicted that more than $14 trillion in new revenue will be up for grabs between now and the end of the decade, and he believes the opportunities are abundant and diverse enough for virtually any company to benefit. They key question, based on Cisco's survey, is how many companies are prepared to ride the oncoming wave.

The survey polled 1,300 IT professionals in 13 countries and suggests that businesses are broadly aware that technological disruptions are brewing. Some 78% of respondents said their networks are more critical for delivering applications than they were at this time a year ago, for example, and 71% reported that IT is deploying more applications -- and particularly mobile apps -- than ever before.

That said, even if businesses have observed changes, the survey implies that many enterprises aren't sure how to adapt their strategies. While 71% declared intentions to implement an SDN solution in the next year, more than a third said they'd seen actual deployments of these programmable networks about as often as they've seen Bigfoot, Elvis or the Loch Ness Monster. Cost savings and infrastructure automation and scalability were the leading reasons for SDN interest.

Cisco believes that SDN is only a small piece of its broader IoT vision, which involves embedding sensors and processers in everyday objects, and using the resulting onslaught of data to better connect people, automate processes and improve business decisions. Despite Cisco's bullishness, only about half of respondents see IoT as a major opportunity. Two out of five survey respondents admitted being only vaguely familiar with the concept.

IT's challenges involve more than emerging technologies, though. Communication between system admins and business leaders is a prominent hurdle as well. On the bright side, almost 90% of those polled said they collaborate with business teams at least monthly. But nearly 40% said they are brought into planning and deployment conversations too late in the process, and three-quarters stated that business teams have rolled out new applications, many of them software-as-a-service products, without consulting IT.

This disconnect between enterprise divisions manifests in both the way IT admins view themselves, and in how they gauge the quality of their work. Despite recent years' tech changes, only 36% of respondents chose "innovator" as the title that best describes their role while 15% characterized themselves as "firefighters"; "ghost" and "fortune teller" were each chosen by 7%. The survey found that around a quarter of respondents know they've done a good job when they "sleep at home instead of the office."

During his Interop keynote, which coincided with the release of the survey, Cisco VP Rob Soderbery said the company's new network architecture is intended to give overworked IT staffers relief by offering a unified control plane that will allow admins to spend less time on daily maintenance and more time pursuing new business projects.

In an interview conducted during Interop, Raakhee Mistry, marketing manager for Cisco's routing products, said it's important that companies better align their IT and business units.

"One of our SVPs said it really well. You can put the best jockey on a donkey, but they're not going to win the race," she stated. "If you hire the best and the brightest for your company, are you setting them up on an infrastructure that's going to allow them to sprint?"

Indeed, 41% said their networks are not ready for BYOD, even though the movement has been making news for well over a year, and has spawned an entire industry focused on mobile device and application management. Some 38%, meanwhile, said they are not ready to support cloud deployments, though 29% reported that cloud readiness is the most important of their ongoing network initiatives.

Among factors contributing to the slow progress, budget concerns were the primary culprit, singled out by 34% of the surveyed field. 18% said they would rather break out of jail or train for a triathlon than ask for more money. That said, one-quarter admitted that procrastination was a major source of delay.