Business · Cloud · Data

Shifting the thinking of enterprise applications

Enterprise applications are not new and have been around for decades. Since their start, enterprise applications have increased in their level of sophistication and business automation. However, this sophistication comes with a significant degree of complexity too.

Historically, enterprises were in the position where they needed to build everything themselves. Much of this stemmed from the fact there were limited options to consider. Fast forward to today and there are a myriad of options of how an enterprise can consume an enterprise application.

However, getting from here to there is not trivial. Practically every enterprise application has a strong degree of complexity that is directly tied to the intricacies of their specific business operations. For decades, enterprises have taken the approach of customizing the application to match their existing business processes. Due to the degree of customization, every enterprise Information Technology (IT) organization essentially created their own enterprise application snowflake.

CHANGING THE ENTERPRISE APPLICATION PARADIGM

One of the challenges for enterprise applications in the cost to upgrade. All of the unique customizations significantly increase the cost and complexity to upgrade the system. The customizations, related programming, configuration and testing involved turn each upgrade into the equivalent of a new implementation.

For many enterprises, it is common practice to skip versions rather than maintain currency due to the cost and disruption associated with the complexity to upgrade. This also means that many enterprises delay their ability to leverage new functionality.

New opportunities from cloud computing and Artificial Intelligence (AI) present unique opportunities to enterprise applications. With cloud-based enterprise applications, no longer is the enterprise required to install, manage and operate the underlying enterprise application. As applications increase in their level of complexity, this takes an increasingly huge burden off the shoulders of the IT organization.

AI presents a different type of opportunity. Enterprises are increasingly their reliance on data to gain greater insights. The volume and types of data are adding increased pressure on the traditional methods to analyze data. AI presents a unique opportunity to automate the process and gain insights not previously possible. However, the more data available to the AI algorithm, the more supportive it can be. And that is where cloud comes in to provide additional resources in a meaningful way when needed without the need to build a fortress internally.

TRADITIONAL VERSUS TRANSFORMATIONAL

Of late, enterprise IT organizations are shifting their focus from a traditionalIT organization to that of a transformationalIT organization. That is to say that their focus is shifting from technology-centricto business-centric. As part of this shift, IT organizations are looking for ways to streamline their technical operations and focus more on data and insights.

The shift to transformational IT organizations is having an impact on the most sacred applications within the IT portfolio including the enterprise applications.

MATURING THE THINKING ABOUT ENTERPRISE APPLICATIONS

More mature enterprises are starting to shift their thinking about enterprise applications. This is due to a number of factors including 1) IT organizations are shifting their focus on business-centric outcomes, 2) Mature alternatives exist for even the largest of implementations 3) The pressure to implement advanced functions is increasing and 4) The speed in which IT organizations must respond with changes is increasing.

Each of these pose a significant challenge to the traditional approach of maintaining enterprise applications. The only real solution is to change the thinking around enterprise applications to avoid proliferating snowflakes.

 

This post was sponsored by:

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Business · Cloud · Data

How cloud is changing the business and IT landscape

 

Enterprises around the globe are facing disruption from a number of different directions. To combat this disruption, they increasingly turn to cloud computing.

Cloud computing is the single biggest opportunity for organizations to dramatically change how their business operates through changes in their Information Technology (IT) landscape. Organizations are evaluating ways to leverage cloud-based solutions in differentiated ways. As these organizations evaluate how best to leverage cloud, there are a number of factors to consider when moving into a cloud-based world.

SHIFTING HOW WE THINK ABOUT ORGANIZATIONS

The move for enterprises leveraging cloud-based technology causes more than just a shift in technology. It also causes a shift in how we think about strategy, organization and culture. In the past, enterprises were required to build their strategy, organization and support around the entire technology platform. There were few to no other reasonable options.

In the cloud-based era, those aspects change. Today, there are mature, viable solutions that allow the enterprise to leverage alternatives. By shifting functions that are important but not strategic nor differentiated, it allows organizations to shift their focus as well.

By making this shift, organizations are able to up-level conversations and focus on business outcomes rather than technology features. These changes open the door to other shifts as well.

CHANGING THE WAY WE WORK

Two of those shifts directly impact the advantage to a business and their customers. The first shift is leverage. Cloud computing provides leverage in ways not previously feasible. IT organizations now have access to a bevy of solutions and virtually unlimited resources. Prior to cloud computing, organizations were limited in their ability to quickly scale resources and leverage new technology. For many, cost constraints were a significant limitation to potential growth.

Beyond technology, cloud provides the organization with the ability to leverage the expertise of others. As mentioned, previous methods required IT organizations to be an expert across a myriad of strategic and non-strategic areas. With cloud, organizations can focus on those aspects strategic and differentiated for their business and customers. This shifts the organization and culture to focus more directly on solutions that provide business advantage.

The second shift is speed. Unlike past options that may take weeks or months for the availability of applications and resources, cloud shortens the time to a matter of minutes. As businesses are looking for ways to respond quickly to ever-changing customer requirements, this rapid flexibility provides the organization with the ability to respond in a timely fashion.

OPENING UP NEW OPPORTUNITES

Aside from speed, cloud opens up a whole new world of opportunity for organizations. Historically, there was a minimum cost of entry for many of the more advanced systems. Unfortunately, these costs were far outside the realm of possibility for Small and Medium Businesses (SMB). With cloud, SMB organizations now have access to the same solutions as the largest of enterprises. Essentially, this levels the playing field by lowering the barriers to entry of these advanced systems.

As organizations shift toward a greater focus on customers through quicker and more accurate business decisions, so does their reliance on data. At the same time, organizations are facing an explosion of data. Traditional reporting and analytics are collapsing under the weight of this new influx of data.

To combat the data deluge, organizations are increasing their reliance on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to automate the insights gleaned from the data. While AI & ML require large quantities of data, traditional solutions are simply unable to provide the resources that AI & ML algorithms require. Again, cloud computing opens the door to organizations, large and small, to leverage these advanced functions.

BRINGING IT TOGETHER

The combination of cloud-based resources with advanced functions provide organizations with new opportunities to glean greater insights much quicker than previously possible. Cloud’s leverage provides organizations the ability to shift the IT landscape to focus on business outcomes and strategic initiatives rather than deep technical expertise.

In summary, cloud computing presents not only an alternative option for technology consumption, but a required pillar for tomorrow’s business.

 

This post is sponsored by:

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CIO · Cloud

3 ways enterprises can reduce their cybersecurity risk profile

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If you are an executive (CIO, CISO, CEO) or board member, cybersecurity is top of mind. One of the top comments I often hear is: “I don’t want our company (to be) on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.” Ostensibly, the comments are in the context of a breach. Yet, many gaps still exist between avoiding this situation and reality. Just saying the words is not enough.

The recent Equifax breach brings to light many conversations with enterprises and executive teams about shoring up their security posture. The sad reality is that cybersecurity spending often happens immediately after a breach happens. Why is that? Let us delve into several of the common reasons why and what can be done.

ENTERPRISE SECURITY CHALLENGES

There are a number of reasons why enterprises are challenged with cybersecurity issues. Much of it stems from the perspective of what cybersecurity solutions provide. To many, the investment in cybersecurity teams and solutions is seen as an insurance policy. In order to better understand the complexities, let us dig into a few of the common issues.

Reactive versus Proactive

The first issue is how enterprises think about cybersecurity. There are two aspects to consider when looking at how cybersecurity is viewed. The first is that enterprises often want to be secure, but are unwilling or unable to provide the funding to match. That is, until a breach occurs. This has created a behavior within IT organizations where they leverage breaches to gain cybersecurity funding.

Funding for Cybersecurity Initiatives

Spending in cybersecurity is often seen in a similar vein as insurance and comes back to risk mitigation. Many IT organizations are challenged to get adequate funding to appropriately protect the enterprise. It should be noted that no enterprise will be fully secured and to do so creates a level of complexity and cost that would greatly impact the operations and bottom line of the enterprise. Therefore, a healthy balance is called for here. Any initiatives should follow a risk mitigation approach, but also consider the business impact.

Shifting to Cybersecurity as part of the DNA

Enterprises often think of cybersecurity as an afterthought to a project or core application. The problem with this approach is that, as an afterthought, the project or application is well on its way to production. Any required changes would be ancillary and rarely get granular in how they could be applied. More mature organizations are shifting to cybersecurity as part of their core DNA. In this culture, cybersecurity becomes part of the conversation early and often…and at each stage of the development. By making it part of the DNA, each member of the process is encouraged to consider how to secure their part of the project.

Cybersecurity Threats are getting more Sophisticated

The level of sophistication from cybersecurity threats is growing astronomically. No longer are the traditional tools adequate to protect the enterprise. Enterprises are fighting an adversary that is gaining ground exponentially faster than they are. In essence, no one enterprise is able to adequately protect themselves and must rely on the expertise of others that specialize in this space.

Traditional thinking need not apply. The level of complexity and skills required is growing at a blistering clip. If your organization is not willing or able to put the resources behind staying current and actively engaged, the likelihood of trouble is not far way.

THREE WAYS TO REDUCE CYBERSECURITY RISK

While the risks are increasing, there are steps that every enterprise large and small can invoke to reduce their risk profile. Sadly, many of these are well known, yet not as well enacted. The first step is to change your paradigm regarding cybersecurity. Get proactive and do not assume you know everything.

Patch, Patch, Patch

Even though regular patching is a requirement for most applications and operating systems, enterprises are still challenged to keep up. There are often two reasons for this: 1) disruption to business operations and 2) resources required to update the application or system. In both cases, the best advice is to get into a regular rhythm to patch systems. When you make something routine, it builds muscle memory into the organization that increases the accuracy, lessens the disruption and speeds up the effort.

Regular Validation from Outsiders

Over time, organizations get complacent with their operations. Cybersecurity is no different. A good way to avoid this is to bring in a trusted, outside organization to spot check and ‘tune up’ your cybersecurity efforts. They can more easily spot issues without being affected by your blind spots. Depending on your situation, you may choose to leverage a third-party to provide cybersecurity services. However, each enterprise will need to evaluate their specific situation to best leverage the right approach for them.

Challenge Traditional Thinking

I still run into organizations that believe perimeter protections are the best actions. Another perspective is to conduct security audits with some frequency. Two words: Game Over. While those are both required, security threats today are constant and unrelenting. Constant, evolving approaches are required today.

As we move to a more complicated approach to IT services (SaaS, Public Cloud, Private Cloud, On Premises, Edge Computing, Mobile, etc), the level of complexity grows. Now layer in that the data that we view as gold is spread across those services. The complexity is growing and traditional thinking will not protect the enterprise. Leveraging outsiders is one approach to infuse different methods to address this growing complexity.

 

One alternative is to move to a cloud-based alternative. Most cloud-based alternatives have methods to update their systems and applications without disrupting operations. This does not absolve the enterprise from responsibility, but does offer an approach to leverage more specialized expertise.

The bottom line is that our world is getting more complex and cybersecurity is just one aspect. The rate of complexity and sophistication from cybersecurity attacks is only growing and more challenging for enterprises to keep up. Change is needed, the risks are increasing and now is the time for action.

CIO

IT has a serious credibility problem and does not realize it

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One challenge for many IT organizations is that of credibility. In a recent post, I discussed the importance of credibility and the network effect in IT. What is credibility? According to Merriam-Webster, credibility is ‘the quality or power of inspiring belief or (the) capacity for belief.’

The question every IT professional, whether the CIO or otherwise should ask is: What is my reputation with those outside of IT? Do others outside of my organization believe me? Put a different way, do others outside of IT find my ability credible. This may sound strange, but could also be seen as a form of effectiveness for the IT leader and their organization. Sadly, the answer to this question differs on who you ask. When talking about this with CIOs and IT staff, I often find the answer to be ‘yes’. However, when talking with folks outside of the IT organization, the answer is often ‘no.’ I have seen this play out across a number of organizations.

THE IMPORTANCE OF CREDIBILITY

At this point, some may be asking: “So what?” or “Why is this so important?” The short answer is: without credibility, it is increasingly more difficult if not impossible to be effective in IT. For the CIO we often talk about wanting a “seat at the table” as if it is an entitlement. Bottom line: it is something earned, not freely given. Nor is it an entitlement. And without credibility, it is a non-starter. If you cannot effectively manage basics, do not expect to be included in the more interesting and strategic efforts.

Credibility provides the ability to navigate through these points in a meaningful way. Getting to a point where one can transact on their credibility takes time and work. It is important to focus on building credibility over time and avoiding the missteps that erode it.

KNOW YOUR BLIND SPOTS

One way to avoid missteps is awareness of your blind spots. Everyone has them. Few will admit to their existence and even fewer will actively seek to understand and manage them. Yet, understanding where they exist puts you in a very powerful position.

Part of understanding your blind spots is to genuinely listen…and with an open mind. Many in IT are quick to judge, offer alternative solutions or take a defensive posture. Yet, there are times when the best approach is simply to listen and learn. If we, as IT professionals, are truly interested in being perceived as change agents, we need to be genuinely open to feedback. Remember that perception of those outside of IT is reality. It matters less about what IT thinks about itself internally. Do we have all the answers? No.

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

By seeking out input and taking the feedback seriously, we can learn where our blind spots are. We also do something else in the process. We build stronger relationships. The positive engagement with others opens the door to deeper conversations where folks learn more about each other. These relationships will naturally lead to showing empathy and appreciation in understanding each other’s perspective.

Let’s face it: IT professionals are not that great at building relationships with those outside of IT. Yet, that is exactly what we need to do. Perception is reality and it is important to understand these differences. Remember, it is more important what they think, not what you think. Perception is reality.

Part of building relationships is knowing when to fall on your sword. This is particularly hard for IT folks who have come up in a culture where failure is seen as a sign of weakness. More important is to maintain a healthy balance. Again, empathy and a good dose of humility are good attributes.

Following these steps while keeping an open mind will help build credibility with those most critical to your success. Understand your blind spots and work on building strong, healthy relationships both within IT and externally. The combination of these actions will change the perception and build credibility.

Business · CIO

Understanding the Network Effect in IT

When discussing the combination of Information Technology (IT) & network, one quickly runs to thinking about cabling, connectors, switches, hubs and routers. However, there is another type of network that has nothing to do with technology yet directly impacts the effectiveness of an IT organization. This type of network involves people, empathy, credibility and humility.

THE NETWORK EFFECT

Many enterprise organizations believe that the Chief Information Officer (CIO) or the senior most person in IT is the key person that engages with the rest of the company. That is only slightly correct as it ignores the impact from the rest of the IT organization. And it is this impact that actually has a more significant bearing on how those outside of the IT organization view the organization itself. What is at work here is the Network Effect.

How does the network effect affect IT? Let us assume that the CIO spends all 40 hours each week engaging with those outside of IT. Yet, their staff of 100 only spends 20% of their time engaging outside of IT. That would equate to (100 staff x 20% of time x 40 hrs/wk) 800 hours each week or 20x more time than the CIO.

While it is important for the CIO to carry a consistent and appropriate message when engaging with those outside of IT, the same is true for rest of the IT organization. The more people that engage with folks outside of IT, the greater the network effect. And from a numbers perspective, the impact is significant. So is the risk.

UPSIDES AND DOWNSIDES

Creating a consistent message and culture is a critical objective for any leader, not just the CIO. However, when it comes to IT, there are other factors that can turn a positive opportunity into a negative experience.

Most leaders understand the importance of credibility and empathy. This is especially true when considering the support nature of an IT organization. When moving further into the organization, these qualities are often less developed or immature. As a consequence, a potentially positive interaction can quickly turn negative in the form of diminishing credibility for the entire organization.

Each organization is unique in their culture, leadership, and way they engage. Whether it be the CIO or their staff, one should never lose sight of the big picture as it provides the context and guidance for everyone in the company. It is easy to get caught up in the situation and lose sight of the overall situation. Even the smallest actions can have a demonstrable impact.

Too often, IT folks try to mask transparency and quickly run toward solutions centered around their frame of reference which often comes from a siloed perspective. As such, they lack empathy in the user’s situation and how it relates to the big picture.

THE SOFT SKILLS

In IT, we tend to focus on the hard skills of technology with less emphasis on the softer side. Yet, it is those soft skills that can quickly turn a situation into either a positive or negative one. Showing genuine empathy to a situation without placing blame creates a very different perspective.

In the end, whether you are a CIO, leader of an IT organization or individual contributor, it is important to understand the impact of your actions and the actions of your staff. Even those interactions that may seem innocuous can have a resounding and lasting effect. It can lead to building credibility or tearing it down. And credibility is what provides the foundation for relationships, yet we often do not think about how our actions build or diminish it. Hence, the network effect creates a level of opportunity and challenge.

Business · CIO

Changing the language of IT: 3 things that start with the CIO

IMG_3184The Information Technology (IT) organization is going through a significant transformation. The transformation itself is not only disruptive, but confusing for many of the stakeholders including IT leadership, IT staff and those outside of the IT organization. Three years ago, I wrote about this in Transforming IT Requires a Three-Legged Race. The path through this tumultuous time is fraught with confusion, misdirection and significant potential for failure.

But fret not. As the top IT leader, the Chief Information Officer (CIO) is uniquely positioned to lead the organization through this transition. There are three things that will help turn the corner.

  1. REMOVE ALL REFERENCES TO ‘THE BUSINESS’

It is very common to hear IT staff referring IT and “the business” as if they are two different organizations. Unfortunately, this creates a culture of ‘us’ and ‘them’. As I discuss in Transforming IT Requires a Three-Legged Race, how IT refers to non-IT organizations is just as important as how non-IT organizations view IT. Today, they are seen very differently. That needs to change…and now. The CIO should see themselves as a business leader first, that happens to have responsibility for IT. Just this one mental change starts to create a waterfall of differences in both language and culture.

  1. DISCUSS VALUE IN MONEY TERMS…NOT TECHNOLOGY

Too many times, IT focuses on the value of change in terms of technology. And many times, IT staff find frustration in why business leaders do not understand their pitches. At the end of the day, the official language of the business is money. How does a change impact the organizations ability to change their financial picture? In the past, the focus for IT was on cost constraints (save money). Today, that has changed where IT provides greater leverage to business agility and economic growth. Note that both of these significantly leverage technology, yet neither mentions technology terms.

  1. FOCUS ON THE VALUE CHAIN OF THE CUSTOMER

There are many ways in which to discuss business agility and economic growth. However, neither are particularly important unless you first understand the value chain of the customer. To be clear, the customer here is the customer of the company…not internal users. When the CIO and IT starts thinking of itself as a business organization, so changes the perspective of who the customer really is. The customer, after all, is the one that provides said economic growth for the company. Ironically, IT is one of the few organizations in a company that historically has had limited interactions with the customer. That must change. In order for IT (and company as a whole) to succeed, the CIO not only needs to understand the customer, but also be engaged with the customer.

These three things provide a unique, but foundational shift in the way the CIO can impact change in their language and culture. Are these the only changes needed to impact transformation? No. However, these three represent a significant shift in the communications for the CIO and IT with other stakeholders.

Cloud · Data · IoT

IBM and Weather Company deal is the tip of the iceberg for cloud, data and IoT

Technology and how we consume it is changing faster than we know it. Need proof? Just look at the announcement last night between IBM & Weather Company. It was just a short 4.5 months ago that I was sitting in the Amazon AWS re:Invent keynote on Nov 13, 2014 listening to Weather Company’s EVP, CTO & CIO Bryson Koehler discuss how his company was leveraging Amazon’s AWS to change the game. After the keynote, I had the opportunity to chat with Bryson a bit. It was clear at the time that while Amazon was a key enabler for Weather Company, they could only go so far.

The problem statement

Weather Company is a combination of organizations that brings together a phenomenal amount of data from a myriad of sources. Not all of the sources are sophisticated weather stations. Bryson mentioned that Weather Company is “using data to help consumers gain confidence.” Weather Company uses a number of platforms to produce weather results including Weather Channel, weather.com and Weather Underground. Weather Underground is their early testbed for new methods and tools.

Weather Company produces 15 billion forecasts every day. Those forecasts come billions of sensors across the globe. The forecasts for 2.2 million locations are updated every four hours with billions more updated every 15 minutes. The timeliness and accuracy of their forecasts is what ultimately builds consumer confidence.

Timing

The sheer number of devices makes Weather Company a perfect use-case of leveraging Internet of Things (IoT) powered by Cloud, Data and Analytics. Others may start to see parallels between what Weather Company is doing with their own industry. In today’s competitive market, the speed and accuracy of information is key.

IBM’s strategy demonstrated leadership in the cloud and data/ analytics space with their SoftLayer and Watson solutions. Add in the BlueMix platform and one can see how the connection between these solutions becomes clear. Moving to IoT was the next logical step in the strategy.

Ecosystem Play

The combination of SoftLayer, BlueMix and Watson…plus IoT was no accident. When considering the direction that companies are taking by moving up the stack to the data integration points, IoT is the next logical step. IoT presents the new driver that cloud and data/ analytics enable. BlueMix becomes the glue that ties it all together for developers.

The ecosystem play is key. Ecosystems are everything. Companies are no longer buying point solutions. They are buying into ecosystems that deliver direct business value. In the case of Weather Company, the combination of IBM’s ecosystem and portfolio provides key opportunities to producing a viable solution.

Next Steps…

That being said, the move by IBM & Weather Company should not be seen as a one-off. We should expect to see more enterprises make moves like this toward broader ecosystems like IBM’s.