Time’s up! Changing core IT principles

There is a theme gaining ground within IT organizations. In truth, there are a number of examples that support a common theme coming up for IT organizations. And this very theme will change the way solutions are built, configured, sold and used. Even the ecosystems and ancillary services will change. It also changes how we think, organize, lead and manage IT organizations. The theme is:

Just because you (IT) can do something does not mean you should.

Ironically, there are plenty of examples in the history of IT where the converse of this principle served IT well. Well, times have changed and so must the principles that govern the IT organization.

Take it to the customization of applications and you get this:

Just because IT can customize applications to the nth degree does not mean they necessarily should.

A great example of this is in the configuration and customization of applications. Just because IT could customize the heck out of it, should they have? Now, the argument often made here is that it provides some value, somewhere, either real or (more often) perceived. However, the reality is that it comes at a cost, sometimes, a very significant and real cost.

Making it real

Here is a real example that has played out time and time again. Take application XYZ. It is customized to the nth degree for ACME Company. Preferences are set, not necessarily because they should be, but rather because they could. Fast-forward a year or two. Now it is time to upgrade XYZ. The costs are significantly higher due to the customizations done. It requires more planning, more testing, more work all around. Were those costs justified by the benefit of the customizations? Typically not.

Now it is time to evaluate alternatives for XYZ. ACME builds a requirements document based on XYZ (including the myriad of customizations). Once the alternatives are matched against the requirements, the only solution that really fits the need is the incumbent. This approach actually gives significant weight to the incumbent solution therefore limiting alternatives.

These examples are not fictitious scenarios. They are very real and have played out in just about every organization I have come across. The lesson here is not that customizations should be avoided. The lesson is to limit customizations to only those necessary and provide significant value.

And the lesson goes beyond just configurations to understanding what IT’s true value is based on what they should and should not do.

Leveraging alternative approaches

Much is written about the value of new methodologies and technologies. Understanding IT’s true core value opportunity is paramount. The value proposition starts with understanding how the business operates. How does it make money? How does it spend money? Where are the opportunities for IT to contribute to these activities?

Every good strategy starts with a firm understanding of the ecosystem of the business. That is, how the company operates and it’s interactions. A good target that many are finding success with sits furthest away from the core company operations and therefore hardest to explain true business value…in business terms. For many, it starts with the data center and moves up the infrastructure stack. For a bit more detail: CIOs are getting out of the data center business.

Preparing for the future today

Is your IT organization ready for today? How prepared is your organization, processes and systems to handle real-time analytics? As companies consider how to engage customers from a mobile platform in real-time, the shift from batch-mode to real-time data analytics quickly takes shape. Yet many of the core systems and infrastructure are nowhere ready to take on the changing requirements.

Beyond data, are the systems ready to respond to the changing business climate? What is IT’s holistic cloud strategy? Is a DevOps methodology engaged? What about container-based architectures?

These are only a few of the core changes in play today…not in the future. If organizations are to keep up, they need to start making the evolutionary turn now.

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 1/26/2015

http://research.gigaom.com/2015/01/times-up-changing-core-it-principles/

Changing the CIO conversation from technology to business

For many years, traditional IT thinking has served the IT function well. Companies have prospered from both the technological advances and consequent business improvements. Historically, the conversation typically centered on some form of technology. It could have been about infrastructure (data centers, servers, storage, network) or applications (language, platform, architectures) or both.

Today, we are seeing a marked shift in the conversations happening with the CIO. Instead of talking about the latest bell-and-whistle, it is increasingly more apt to involve topics about business enablement and growth. The changes did not happen overnight. For any IT leader, it takes time to evolve the conversation. Not only does the IT leader need to evolve, but so does their team and fellow business leaders. Almost two years ago, I wrote about the evolution of these relationships in Transforming IT Requires a Three-Legged Race.

Starting the journey

For the vast majority of IT leaders, the process is not an end-state, but rather a journey about evolution that has yet to start in earnest. For many I have spoken with, there is an interest, but not a clear path in which to take.

This is where an outside perspective is helpful. It may come from mentors, advisors or peers. It needs to come from someone that is trusted and objective. This is key, as the change itself will touch the ethos of the IT leader.

The assessment

Taking a holistic assessment of the situation is critical here. It requires a solid review of the IT leadership, organizational ability, process state and technological situational analysis. The context for the assessment is back to the core business strategy and objectives.

Specific areas of change are items that clearly are not strategic or differentiating to support the company’s strategy and objectives. A significant challenge for IT organizations will be: Just because you can manage it, does not mean you should manage it.

Quite often, IT organizations get too far into the weeds and loose sight of the bigger picture. To fellow business leaders, this is often perceived as a disconnect between IT & Line of Business (LoB) leaders. It essentially alienates IT leaders and creates challenges to fostering stronger bonds between the same leaders.

Never lose sight of the business

It is no longer adequate for the CIO to be the only IT leader familiar with the company’s strategy and objectives. Any IT leader today needs to fully understand the ecosystem of how the company makes and spends money. Without this clarity, the leader lacks the context in which to make healthy, business-centric decisions.

The converse is an IT leader that is well familiar with the business perspective as outlined above. This IT leader will gain greater respect amongst their business colleagues. They will also have the context in which to understand which decisions are most important.

Kicking technology to the curb

So, is IT really getting out of the technology business? No! Rather, think of it as an opportunity to focus. Focus on what is important and what is not. What is strategic for the company and what is not? Is moving to a cloud-centric model the most important thing right now? What about shifting to a container-based application architecture model? Maybe. Maybe not. There are many areas of ripe, low hanging fruit to be picked. And just as with fruit, the degree of ripeness will change over time. You do not want to pick spoiled fruit. Nor do you want to pick it too soon.

One area of great interest these days is in the data center. I wrote about this in detail with CIOs are getting out of the Data Center business. It is not the only area, but it is one of many areas to start evaluating.

The connection between technology divestiture and business

By assessing which areas are not strategic and divesting those area, it provides IT with greater focus and the ability to apply resources to more strategic functions. Imagine if those resources were redeployed to provide greater value to the company strategy and business objectives. By divesting non-strategic areas, it frees up the ability to move into other areas and conversations.

By changing the model and using business as the context, it changes the tone, tenor and impact in which IT can have for a company. The changes will not happen overnight. The evolution of moving from technology to business discussions takes vision, perseverance, and a strong internal drive toward change.

The upside is a change in culture that is both invigorating and liberating. It is also a model that supports the dynamic changes required for today’s leading organizations.

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 1/19/2015

http://research.gigaom.com/2015/01/changing-the-cio-conversation-from-technology-to-business/

Are you ready to take on tomorrow’s IT? Think again.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front. The business of IT is very complex and getting increasingly more complex every day. It does not matter whether you are the buyer or the seller; the industry is evolving into a very different and complex beast.

Evolution of the CIO

How we, as CIOs, have lead IT organizations is very different today from how it was done just 5-10 years ago. In many ways, it is easier to forget what we learned about leading IT and starting over. Of course, the leadership aspects are perennial and will always endure and grow. I wrote a bit about the evolutionary changes for the CIO in more detail with the 5 Tectonic shifts facing today’s CIO. In essence, tomorrow’s CIO is a business leader that also has responsibility for IT.

Consider for a moment that the CIO and IT organization sits on a spectrum.

 

CIO IT Org Traits

Where the CIO and IT sit along the spectrum impacts perspective, delivery of solutions, target, and responsibilities along with a host of other attributes for both the organization and providers alike.

The changing vendor landscape

Add it all together and today is probably the most confusing time for providers of IT products and services. Traditionally, providers have asked customers what they need and then delivered it. Today, many customers are not really sure what they need or the direction they should take. And the providers are not well equipped to lead the industry in their particular sector let alone tell a good story of how their solution fits into the bigger picture.

As an example, one provider would tell customers their cloud solution ‘transforms’ their business (the company IT is part of). This is completely wrong and over-extends beyond anything their solution is capable of. As such, it positions the company to over commit and under deliver. For the wise CIO, it leads to a serious credibility problem for the provider. It would be pretty unique for any vendor to truly ‘transform’ a company with a single technology let alone one that is far removed from the core business functions. A better, more accurate statement would be: We help enable transformation.

Be careful of Buzzword Bingo. Bingo!

In another recent IT conversation, the perception was that all Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) solutions were ubiquitous and interchangeable. While we hope to get there some day, the reality is far from standardized. Solutions from providers like Amazon (AWS), Google (GCE), Microsoft (Azure) are different in their own rights. But also very different from solutions provided by IBM (SoftLayer), CenturyLink (SAVVIS), HP (Helion). Do they all provide IaaS services? Yes. Are they similar, interchangeable and address the same need? No. For the record: Cloud is not Cloud, is not Cloud.

The terms IaaS and Cloud bring market cache and attention. And they should! Cloud presents the single largest opportunity for IT organizations today. However, it is important to understand the actual opportunity considering your organization, strategy, capability, need and market options available. The options alone are quite a job to stay on top of.

Keeping track of the playing field

The list of providers above is a very small list of the myriad spread across the landscape. To expect an IT organization to keep track of the differences between providers and map their needs to the appropriate solutions takes a bit of work. Add that the landscape is more like the shifting sands of a desert and you get the picture.

The mapping of services, providers and a customer’s needs along with the fact that their very needs are in a state of flux create a very complex situation for CIO, IT organization and providers.

Is it time to give up? No!

Today’s CIO is looking to up-level the conversation. They are less interested in a technology discussion and one about business. Specifically, by ‘business’ conversation, today’s CIO is interested in talking about things of interest to the board of directors, CEO and rest of the executive team. Trying to discuss the latest technology bell or whistle with a CEO will go nowhere. They are interested in ways to tap new revenue streams, greater customer engagement and increasing market share.

For the CIO, focus on the strategic conversations. Focus on the business opportunities and look for opportunities that technology can help catapult the company forward. Remember that the IT organization no longer has to do everything themselves. Divest those functions that are not differentiating. As an example, consider my recent post: CIOs are getting out of the data center business. If you are not willing to (or capable of) competing at the level that Google runs their data center, it is time to take that last post very seriously. Getting rid of the data center is not the end state. It is only the start.

Originally published @ Gigaom Research 1/12/2015

http://research.gigaom.com/2015/01/are-you-ready-to-take-on-tomorrows-it-think-again/

No, you really do need a CIO…and now!

For those that follow my writing, this post may have a familiar ring to it. Unfortunately, there is a reason I’m writing about this yet again as the point still eludes many.

The curious case of Acme Inc

Take a recent example for Acme Inc (company name changed). Acme is a mid-sized organization without a CIO. I spoke with the CEO and another member of the executive team that were trying to solve tactical technology and information problems on their own. In this case, Acme is experiencing solid growth of 50% CAGR. They believed they were being strategic in their technology decisions. The truth was far from it. It was painfully apparent they were way out of their wheelhouse, but didn’t realize it. In a way, they were naive that the decisions they were making were locking them into a path where, near-term, the company would not remain competitive. But they didn’t know that. They were looking to solve a technology problem to support their immediate growth trajectory without thoughtfulness of the opportunity. They were also relying too heavily on their technology providers whom they believed had the company in their best interests. Unfortunately, this is not a fictitious story of what could happen to a fictitious company. It is a real situation that occurred with a real company. And sadly it is one of many.

Trust is incredibly important in business today. There is no question. But as one mentor once taught me many years ago: Trust, but verify. In the immortal words of Deming “In God we trust, all others bring data.”

What is a CIO?

What is a CIO and do I need one? This is a question that many chief executives ask as their business evolves. I addressed a similar question about the CDO in ‘Rise of the CDO…do you need one?’ last year.

For small to mid-size enterprises, the conversation is not taking place soon enough. Many are still contemplating how to task the IT manager or director with more responsibility. Or worse yet, the responsibilities are being shared across the executive team. In one example outlined below, the results can be catastrophic.

So, when do you get your first CIO? And if you have a CIO, do you still need one? Isn’t the CIO’s role simply about managing the computers? In a word, no.

Do I need a CIO?

The short answer to this is yes. From small to large enterprises, the need for a CIO is greater today than ever before. Many will see a CIO and their organization as a cost center that eats into the bottom line. If so, that is a very short-sided view. Today’s CIO is very strategic in nature.

More than ever, business relies heavily on technology. But more than the technology itself, it is how it is applied and leveraged that makes the difference. The how relies heavily on context around business value and applicability. It requires someone, the CIO, to make the connection between business value across multiple disciplines and the technology itself.

Can other executives provide this capability? No. They can provide a different caliber of tactical implementation, but not the cross-functional strategic perspective that a CIO brings to the table. And it is this cross-functional strategic perspective that brings significant value to differentiate companies.

Information is the currency of business. It is what drives business decisions that will affect the success and failures across a myriad of dimensions. The CIO is the best position to understand, drive and expose value from information. The value of the information

What does CIO stand for?

This seems like a perennial subject. What does the ‘I’ in CIO stand for? Information? Innovation? Inspiration? Integration? The bottom line is that the I stands for the same thing is has always stood for; Information. Today’s business is driven by information. Technology is simply an enabler to leverage information. Integration, innovation, etc are all functional means to drive the value of information to a company.

If information is gold, what is technology? Technology is similar to the mining and refining equipment to extract and process the gold. Without it, the gold may be discovered, but in small quantities using ineffective means. A major factor in today’s business is speed. Access to information quickly is paramount.

The evolving role of the CIO

The CIO’s role (past and present) is far more complicated that many appreciate. A CIO is really a business leader that happens to have responsibility for IT. In addition, a CIO is really a CEO with a technology focus. A CIO is strategically focused and able to traverse the entire organization at the C-level. That last attribute requires a level of experience very different from the traditional CIO.

In the case of Acme, a CIO would be a great asset moving forward.

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 1/5/2015

http://research.gigaom.com/2015/01/no-you-really-do-need-a-cioand-now/

5 things a CIO wishes for this holiday season

It is that time of year when we start thinking about our predictions for the next year. Before we get to 2015 predictions next week, let us take an introspective look at 2014 and what we could hope for from the IT perspective in 2015.

There are a number of key gaps between where we, as IT organizations and the CIOs that lead them, are today versus where we need to be. One dynamic that is currently evolving, however slowly, is the shift from traditional CIOs to transformational CIOs. This applies equally to the IT organizations they lead. IT is in a transitive state at the moment and leaves quite a bit in flux. In many ways, there is much more changing within IT organizations today than ever before.

As we progress through the 2014 holiday season heading quickly toward 2015, there are a number of things that, as CIO, I would wish for in 2015.

  1. Reduce the risk from security breaches: With recent events, it is probably not surprising that security is front-and-center. Security breaches are not new to IT organizations. Neither are high-profile breaches. The change over the past year is that the frequency in high-profile breaches has increased significantly. In addition, if you consider the breaches just in the past year, the vast majority of people in the US have been affected by at least one of the breaches. As a CIO, I do not want to be on the front page of the Wall Street Journal let alone a household name that violated the trust of my customer’s data.
  2. The end of vaporware: Vaporware, like security breaches, is not new. But the hype around emerging technologies has really gotten out of control. It is time to dial it back to a more reasonable level. This is especially true of services that are ‘stickier’ for customers. Be reasonable with setting expectations. It is OK to be ambitious, but also builds credibility when you express what is and isn’t in your wheelhouse.
  3. A business-centric IT organization: Consider an IT organization that brings a business-centric focus to delivering solutions in a proactive manner. No longer are there ‘translators’ between business and IT. But rather, an IT organization that understands how the company makes and spends money…intimately. This means they understand the ecosystem of the company, their customers and the marketplace.
  4. Symbiotic business relationships: This one is intertwined with #3 where the IT organization and other lines of business work fluidly and collaboratively toward common objectives. Lines of business outside of IT view IT as a strategic asset, not a tool. And, there is no more talk of IT and ‘the business’ as if they’re separate groups. IT is part of ‘the business’.
  5. A clear future, not cloudy: It would be great if the future state were clear as a bell to the entire IT ecosystem. Right now, it’s pretty cloudy (pun intended). That’s not to say that clouds don’t have a place. Cloud computing represents the single biggest opportunity for IT organizations today.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This is absolutely the best time to work in IT. I know there are IT professionals that have a hard time with that statement. However, much of that consternation comes from the ambiguity currently within the IT industry. Let’s face it; there is a ton of change happening in IT right now. Things we took as gospel for decades is being questioned. Best practices are no longer so.

But with change and disruption comes confusion and opportunity. Once we get beyond this temporary state, things will quell and the future state will become clearer. Here’s to an exhilarating 2015!

Happy Holidays and here’s to an amazing 2015!

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 12/22/2014

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/12/5-things-a-cio-wishes-for-this-holiday-season/

5 Tectonic Shifts facing today’s CIO

The past several years have presented an interesting time for CIOs, their staff and the companies they work within. In many ways, the changes are significant shifts how companies have operated.

IT has a history of tectonic shifts

Tectonic shifts are not new. In just the past 25 years, we have seen many major shifts in the way we operate. Many of the changes were about technology. But others directly impacted how we think of and consume technology. Here are just a few:

  1. Distributed Computing: Moving from centralized mainframe computers that took up entire rooms to small computers that could fit on a desk. The smaller size presented greater processing capabilities at a fraction of the cost. This trend has continued right down to the very smartphone we carry today.
  2. Internet: There was a time when companies actually believed the Internet was a non-essential connection. A gimmick of sorts. Today, a company would have a hard time surviving without connecting to the Internet.
  3. Virtualization: Virtualization presented the opportunity to do two core things: 1) create abstraction between the application and hardware and 2) more fully utilize resources. This provided greater flexibility and utilization.
  4. Cloud Computing: The advent of cloud presented the opportunity to take virtualization to a whole new level through the abstraction of resources and ownership. Now, a company can operate while abstracting from the physical resources. In essence, cloud presents a significant leverage point for organizations.

Each of these shifts passed through a period of disbelief, challenge and eventually acceptance. Arguably, one could suggest that cloud still sits on the precipice of acceptance. However, each has also become a core foundation to today’s computing environment.

Today, there are a number of new tectonic shifts in flight. Each shift follows a similar path of disbelief, challenge and will eventually gain acceptance.

The five tectonic shifts facing today’s CIO

  1. The IT customer is the company’s customer: Technically, this has always been the case. It may have come through a secondary source: The internal user. Many IT organizations still believe their customer is the internal user. Today’s IT organization needs to think about how IT supports the company’s customer. That’s not to say that the internal user is not important. But supporting the internal user is in concert with supporting the external customer. It also positions IT to align with other departments within the company.
  2. Consumers drive business behaviors: This could be seen as a ‘who-drives-who’ statement. The reality is that consumer behaviors are driving business behaviors. One can look to several examples to support this:
    1. Cloud: Gmail, Yahoo, Netflix, Dropbox.
    2. Mobile: Smartphones, tablets and wearables.
    3. Speed: Real-time satisfaction of results, information and access.

To understand where we are going, just look toward the next generation of millennials, digital natives and ultimately, children. Understand how the next generation is adopting technology and adapt accordingly.

  1. Real-time replaces batch process: Many core IT processes follow a batch processing methodology. However, today’s business is moving toward real-time access to information and analytics. Speed is the keyword here and plays into the consumer/ customer drive for real-time satisfaction.
  2. Transformational CIOs replace Traditional CIOs: This is probably one of the most sensitive shifts to discuss. Transformation CIOs are business leaders first that happen to have responsibility for technology. They understand how the company makes and spends money at an intimate level. Traditional CIOs are more technology-focused.
  3. IT becomes a business organization that happens to have responsibility for technology: IT (and the CIO as its leader) needs to become a business organization from top-to-bottom. Each function must consider the business value of their actions and the best course to take.

Reaching for the stars

There is no question that these shifts (like those in the past) will rock IT to the core. We can expect each to follow the same sequence of disbelief, challenge and acceptance. In fact, a small number of CIOs are already well down this path. The reality is that technology, or how it is used, is changing right around us.

Now is absolutely the best time to be in IT. It is also the scariest for IT folks and the stakes are only increasing. The hope is that IT (as a profession) and the CIO see the future and aim for the stars. The future is brighter than ever.

Originally published @ Gigaom Research 12/15/2014

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/12/5-tectonic-shifts-facing-todays-cio/

HP charts a course for the enterprise CIO from the inside out

Last week, HP (NYSE: HPQ) held their Discover Conference in Barcelona, Spain and the first since announcing their split into two major technology companies. Post split, HP Enterprise, the half focused on enterprise-class solutions, will need to demonstrate a strong leadership position to remain relevant in the dynamic and ever-changing enterprise space. Not a short order for such a large incumbent as HP. The split, however, brings into focus a renewed vigor to go after the enterprise CIO.

Looking inside to look outside

Over the past two years, HP assembled a powerhouse of CIO talent. The talent is not an advisory council, but rather executive leadership within the HP machine. In August 2012, HP went outside to hire Ramon Baez as their Global CIO. Previously, Baez was Vice President and CIO at Kimberly Clark. Then, in July 2014, HP made two other significant CIO hires. Former Clorox SVP & CIO Ralph Loura joined HP as CIO of HP’s Enterprise Group. At the same time, HP hired Paul Chapman as CIO of HP Software. Paul was formerly VP of Global Infrastructure & Cloud Operations at VMware. All three are highly respected among both their CIO peers and fellow executive colleagues. And one only needs to spend a few minutes with each to see how their thinking aligns with HP’s vision of the New Style of IT.

In their former roles, all three individuals accomplished many of the very activities that HP is helping their customers with today. For HP as a provider of products, solutions and services, it only needs to look internally to gain insight on which direction to take. Think of it as having the inside track on the transformational CIO.

On day one of the conference, I had the opportunity to join Paul Chapman and Paul Muller, VP of Strategic Marketing, HP Software to discuss The Evolving CIO.

Emphasis on cloud and big data

At Discover Barcelona, HP’s Helion cloud solutions and Haven data solutions were front-and-center at the front of each exhibit hall.

FullSizeRender-1 FullSizeRender-2

HP’s Helion cloud division continued their beat toward an OpenStack based ecosystem. The group, soon to be lead by former Eucalyptus CEO Marten Mickos, is placing a strong showing behind the OpenStack platform with solutions that address the enterprise challenges with Private Cloud to Public Cloud solutions.

Even so, there is still quite a bit of work to be done by both HP and their customers. Enterprises are still, in large part, working out how best to leverage cloud-based solutions. In addition, OpenStack has its own set of challenges to become a viable product for the masses. HP’s intent is to bridge the gap between what the enterprise needs and the current state of the technology. Mickos’ new position heading up the Helion division is already starting to turn a battleship in great need to a significant course correction.

On the big data front, HP made a splash in June 2013 with their HAVEn set of core technologies. The idea was to bring the best of both worlds with their acquisitions of Vertica and Autonomy. Since the announcement, the products were perceived to be a grouping of parts rather than a cohesive solution. At Discover Barcelona, HP unveiled their updated branding to Haven that signifies the integration of the products into a more comprehensive solution.

While the marketing is coming together, it is unclear that customers are resonating with the broader appeal of Haven beyond just that of each component. Haven is, however, moving to a Helion application offered in the cloud or on-premises, which could appeal more broadly to enterprise CIOs.

Infrastructure incredibly important

At the conference, HP made it clear that infrastructure remains incredibly important. And from the size of the crowds around their Converged Systems areas, it would seem customers are resonating with the same view. Anecdotally, the hardware areas were the most crowded sections of the exhibit floor.

IMG_0363

Packed within the Converged Systems group is HP’s OneView management platform. Today, OneView presents a management platform for the broader infrastructure platform. However, the real value will come from the ecosystem HP is building around the platform.

A comprehensive management platform is one area that will become increasingly more important for the CIO facing a potpourri of different vendors, providers and solutions.

Devil in the details

Ultimately, for HP, the devil is in the details. For the enterprise CIO, however, HP presents some interesting potential in their portfolio. They do have some formidable challenges ahead as they split in two and bring focus to the enterprise of tomorrow. Neither is easy, but will be interesting to see how HP fares moving forward.

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 12/8/2014

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/12/hp-charts-a-course-for-the-enterprise-cio-from-the-inside-out/

Think you are ready to build a cloud? Think again.

There is plenty of banter about what it truly takes to play in cloud. Do you think you are ready to jump into the deep end? Is your team ready? What about your processes? And finally, is the technology ready to take the leap? Read on before you answer.

Two months ago, I wrote “8 Reasons Not to Move to Cloud” to address the common reasons why organizations are hesitant to move to cloud. This post is geared to address the level one must play if they want to build their own clouds. Having built cloud services myself, I can say from experience that it is not for the faint of heart.

Automation and agility

Traditional corporate infrastructure is typically not automated or agile. Meaning, a change in the requirements or demands may constitute a change in architecture, which in turn, requires a manual change in the configurations. All of this takes time, which works against the real-time expectations of cloud provisioning.

Cloud-based solutions must have some form of automation and agility to address the changing demands coming from customers. Customers expect real-time provisioning of their resources. Speed is key here and only possible with automation. And a prerequisite for automation is standardization.

Standardization is key

The need for standardization is key when building cloud-based solutions. In order to truly enable automation, there must be a level of assumption around hardware configurations, architecture, and logical network. Even relatively small things such as BIOS version, NIC model and patch level can throw havoc into cloud automation. From a corporate perspective, even the same model of server hardware could have different versions of BIOS, NIC and patches.

Add logical configurations such as network topology, and the complexities start to mount. Where are the switches? How is the topology configured? Which protocols are in play for which sections of the network? One can quickly see how a very small hiccup can throw things into whack pretty quickly.

For the average corporate environment, managing physical and logical configurations at this level is challenging. Even for those operating at scale, it is a challenge. This is one reason why those at scale build their own systems; so they can control the details.

The scale problem

At scale, however, the challenge is more than just numbers. Managing at scale requires a different mode of thinking. In a traditional corporate environment, when a server fails, an alert goes off to dispatch someone to replace the failed component. In parallel, the impacted workload is moved or changed to limit the impact to users. These issues can range from a small fire to a three-alarm inferno.

At scale, those processes simply collapse under the stress. This is where operating at scale requires a different mode of thinking. Manual intervention for every issue is not an option.

The operations math problem

First, the cloud architecture must endure multiple hardware failures. Single points of failure must come out of the equation as much as possible. I wrote about this back in 2011 with my post “Clouds, Failure and Other Things That Go Bump in the Night.” This is where we revert to probability and statistics. There will be hardware failures. Even entire data centers will fail. The challenge is how to change out operational thinking to assuming failure. I detail this a bit further in my post “Is the cloud unstable and what can we do about it?

Discipline, discipline, discipline

All of these lead to a required chance in discipline. No longer is one able to simply run into the data center to fix something. No longer are humans able to fix everything manually. In fact, the level of discipline goes way up with cloud. Even the smallest mistake can have cataclysmic consequences. Refer to the November Microsoft Azure outage that was caused by a ‘performance update’. Process, operations, configurations and architectures must all raise their level of discipline.

Consider the consequences

Going full-circle, the question is: Should an enterprise or corporate entity consider building private clouds? For the vast majority of organizations, the answer should be no. But there are exceptions. Refer to my post way back in 2009 on the “Importance of Private Clouds.” Internal private clouds may present challenges for some, but hosted private clouds provide an elegant alternative.

In the end, building clouds are hard and complicated. Is it plausible for an enterprise to build their own cloud? Yes. Typically, it may come as a specific solution to a specific problem. But the hurdle is pretty high…and getting higher every day. Consider the consequences before making the leap.

 

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 12/1/2014

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/12/think-you-are-ready-to-build-a-cloud-think-again/

Will the real change agent please stand up?

For twenty years, IT pitched itself as the ‘change agent’ in the company. More specifically, IT was positioning itself as the provocateur to bring increased value to the company, lines of business through the use of technology.

But is IT really the change agent? And should IT be the change agent? The short answer for many is: No, IT is not the change agent today, but they should be. And the CIO should be the one leading the charge. Refer back to the post ‘Transforming IT Requires a Three-Legged Race’ that details the three components required for change…and the CIO should take the lead. The reality today is that the catalyst of change is coming from groups outside of IT.

For more than three decades, IT has seen a fair number of evolutionary changes. While many of these changes resulted in great improvements for businesses, over the past decade, the IT organization struggled to keep up. Is it evolving? Yes for some, but far too slowly for the vast majority of organizations. And the scary thing is that many IT organizations (and CIOs) are in denial of the problem.

Unfortunately, some outside of IT refer to IT as the ‘department of no’ or ‘where big projects go to die.’ These are actual statements made by company executives when referring to IT. While not a flattering impression of IT, it is a key reason why organizations outside of IT are driving the change.

Velocity of change

Another reason for the discrepancy is due to velocity of change. IT is simply not able to keep up with the onslaught of requests coming from the different lines of business and the rates in the two vectors is creating a growing rift between the two.

Velocity Innovation Change

We can clearly attribute the changes in business change (and customer demand). However, to understand the IT vector, one needs to dig a bit deeper and consider the anthropology of IT. IT has made it their mission to build systems and architectures for growth. The planning did consider scale and agility. The problem is that it did not take into account the rate of scale or worse yet, the requirements around agility. This is the crux of the problem in most technology architectures today.

The technology choices only tell one part of the story. The other two parts deal with process and organizational challenges. The structure of the IT organization has not changed much over the past two decades. Even the processes used to manage demand and change has not evolved much. Mention concepts such as DevOps to some organizations and you might as well be talking in some incomprehensible language. The core issue is that the current state of IT is not in a position to handle the current, let alone future demands coming to its doorstep.

Resistance to change

That seemingly paints a pretty negative view of IT, right? Understanding these issues should push many CIOs and IT organizations to start making the change, right? Unfortunately, it is not that simple. The irony is that the same organizations that see themselves as change agents are viewed, externally, as ultimately resistant to change.

Even today, phrases like “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is still widely in use. The way that solutions are purchased by IT has not changed either. For example, IT organizations are still buying cloud services just like any other enterprise software. From the language used to communicate requirements to the vetting of the solution by asking what hardware the provider is using to the terms used in contract, the examples are widespread.

CIO leadership

It is time to do away with the old way of thinking and start adopting the new ways. That does not mean a wholesale change. It means starting by understanding the changes needed and building a plan of attack. This is where the transformational CIO comes in. Consider the post ‘Three harmonious factors that change the CIO octave’ that outlines the steps to assist the CIO in leading the change.

Does this doom-and-gloom picture represent every IT organization out there? No. There are pockets of success either wholesale or starting the journey of change. The key for the CIO is to start with an outside, objective perspective and conduct a self-evaluation. Do not get defensive. Listen and understand.

From experience, making the change and turning the corner can actually be very liberating. Just be aware that the largest challenge will be the people. This is where the CIO needs to work closely with their team through the process. Team is not an individual sport and this is a great opportunity for the CIO and IT to turn the corner and shine.

Bottom Line: This is the best time to be in IT and to be a CIO. For those that have made the transition, the potential is huge.

 

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 11/24/14

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/11/will-the-real-change-agent-please-stand-up/

5 things that prepare the CIO for innovation

Last week, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) held their annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas. Gigaom’s Barb Darrow summarized her Top-5 lessons learned from the conference here. Specifically for CIO’s, there were a number of things coming from the conference that every CIO should take note of. One of those is to prepare for innovation. It is not a matter of if; it is a matter of when.

Innovation is not a destination, but rather a journey. The path is not always rosy and presents a number of challenges along the way. The upside is an outcome that positions the CIO, the IT organization and ultimately the company in a unique position among their competitors.

There are a number of core items that prepare the CIO for advancing down the innovation path:

  1. Keep it simple: The world of Information Technology (IT) is getting complex, far more complex, and not simpler. Yet, the importance to become agile and responsive to changing business demands is ever-present. The IT organization must find ways to streamline their processes across-the-board. We all know the KISS principle.
  2. Create innovative culture: Innovation is not innate for most. Current culture may actually inhibit innovation within the organization. Understand that culture must change. A good friend and CIO, Jag Randhawa wrote the book “The Bright Idea Box: A Proven System to Drive Employee Engagement and Innovation.” Jag outlines a process that he found to be successful and applicable to many different types of organizations.
  3. Avoid constraints: It is easy to find ways to avoid problems. Preparing for innovation can cause disruption. However, questioning the status quo may be exactly what the organization needs. Look for ways to address constraints whether from technology or from conventional thinking.
  4. Find leverage: IT is not able to do everything. In the past, it was necessary for IT to do everything (relatively) since there really was no other alternative. Fast-forward to today and there are many more options available. Identify what is strategic and should be a focus for IT. Find leverage for the other points to avoid distraction and paralysis.
  5. Seek difference: Being different is often a scary proposition. Many see differentiation as a sign of risk. The thinking that there is safety in numbers. But the thinking must change. Differentiation is something not just to be cherished, but sought out! Look for opportunities to change and provide differentiation.

The combination of these mantras set the stage for a different perspective and line of thinking. Are these the end-all, be-all list of steps? No. But they present a good short-list to start with. Start small and do not expect the changes to happen overnight. It will take time and reinforcement.

Many of the discussions taking place last week at AWS re:Invent spoke of innovation and new ways of thinking. They spoke of a future state for IT. Consequently, traditional thinking had a hard time gaining a platform for discussion.

Connecting the dots

Yet, much of the challenge traditional enterprises have is around connecting the dots between current state and future state. For the CIO, setting the stage, cadence and direction is much of the challenge. It is a lot of work, but still needs to be done.

The first step is in setting a vision that aligns with the business strategy. Understand the core business of how the company makes and spends money. Seek out ways to provide innovative solutions. Start out small, learn from the experience and grow. Look for ways to streamline how IT operates and continually improve IT’s position to become more innovative.

Innovation is about the journey, not the destination. Innovation is an opportunity for differentiation that must be accepted and celebrated. Innovation presents a significant opportunity for companies from all industries. And IT plays a key role in driving today’s innovative processes.

 

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 11/18/2014

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/11/5-things-that-prepare-the-cio-for-innovation/