Even before the global pandemic, the digital transformation that IT had been promising for years if not for decades was appearing on the horizon, not as a mirage destined to vanish upon closer inspection but as something concrete and highly quantifiable. And not a moment too soon.
In its Modernizing-IT-for-digital-reinvention-Collection-July-2018, McKinsey reports that a majority of respondents predict that, in the next few years, technology will drive business results rather than just creating value through more traditional business enablement and operational support, which is its current role. Respondents expect IT to both implement innovative solutions and integrate technology solutions to support the company’s business results, a big shift from its current role.
Six Growing Trends
In her article Gartner: 6 trends changing the I&O landscape, Katie Malone quotes Jeffrey Hewitt, research vice president at Gartner, who claims by 2023 more than 90% of infrastructure and operations (I&O) organizations will have a majority of their staff working remotely. This migration to remote work means IT leaders need to prepare for a dispersed workforce.
Malone says six interconnected I&O trends will drive decision-makers in the coming years, including the drive for companies to operate from anywhere, to optimize infrastructure, to offer continuous support for their dispersed workforce, to modernize at the core, to use a distributed cloud, and to promote critical skills over critical roles.
During the COVID pandemic, many businesses had to offer remote work to their staff. This drastic alteration to the normal way of doing business won’t recede once the pandemic is brought under control. “As the shift to remote work creates a more distributed workforce, businesses will task I&O staff with supporting operations from anywhere,” argues Malone.
This new work-from-home revolution means businesses will have to optimize their infrastructure, with a focus on data centers and edge infrastructure tools. “One example is computational storage,” says Hewitt, adding, “Instead of having to move the data from the storage plane into the compute plane to process, it processes that data directly in the storage plane. This can be optimal for situations where you’re processing big data.”
To help a dispersed workforce thrive, IT needs to provide continuous service support and delivery, including automated deployments and minimal-touch maintenance.
Modernizing I&O lowers technical debt and paves a way forward for agile infrastructure to respond to business needs, according to Hewitt. The maintenance and modernization of I&O needs to be a regular and continuous process. Modernization at the core of I&O “helps the infrastructure evolve in lockstep. You don’t have all these different kinds of infrastructures out of sync,” says Hewitt. Technical debt is lowered, while more flexible and agile infrastructures help the company respond to its unique business needs.
As the workforce disperses away from the office, a more nimble decentralized cloud infrastructure will replace the old rigid centralized one. “In some cases, this could be an optimal solution,” argues Hewitt. Although high now, distributed cloud prices are expected to fall as competition heats up and the market matures, says Hewitt, so businesses need to embrace an effective distributed cloud model.
McKinsey says a lack of priorities, operating-model weaknesses, and a dearth of talent must be addressed if IT departments are going to have any kind of success in 2021 and beyond. A frank discussion about technology and the role it plays within the company is needed because there is a gap between perceived and actual priorities.
There is almost an embarrassment of software riches available for CIOs today, but while some technology exists that allows widescale use of data within an organization, other technology requires a commitment to one system over another. Once chosen, development along that one track is required as there is limited crossover. “Agreeing on priorities will help IT play a clear, focused role in the organization, ensure visibility and appreciation for the technology-related transformations IT is leading, and let IT leaders shift their time and resources to the areas the business values most, such as innovation and integration,” says McKinsey.
From AIOps tools that claim to self-heal to robotic process automation tools that automate away boring and repetitive human jobs, to digital marketing tools that provide codeless analytical models, today’s software vendors offer powerful tools that are simple to use and take the theory out of the practice. Instead of hiring a Ph.D. to code complex revenue management models, lesser-educated professionals can build similar models on commercial software that contains drop-down analytics functionality. Even standard BI solutions now contain sophisticated analytical modeling add-ons. Other data integration software allows R or Python tools that add complex analytics and AI functionality, like machine learning or NLP capabilities.
The second priority is strengthening IT’s operating model, which is needed for organizations pursuing digital transformations. says McKinsey. A more consolidated and flexible operating model that can support legacy and next-generation technology with both agile and traditional delivery services, adds McKinsey.
Thirdly, McKinsey says, “the search for top IT talent must include new approaches to workforce planning, attraction, evaluation, and development, as well as the culture of the IT organization.” Paradoxically, while software tools are getting simpler to use, a lot more is being demanded of them so training is becoming more and more necessary. The good news is training is cheaper and more prevalent than ever before. Many of today’s AI, business intelligence (BI), data integration, and analytical tools are free.
Tensorflow is powerful AI software created and open-sourced by Google. BI tools like Qlik, Tableau, and PowerBI offer free or personal versions that provide full functionality. Many DI tools like KNIME and Vantara (formerly Pentaho) offer community versions for free. Python, R, and the WEKA analytics tool are open source and have huge communities built up around them. The web is filled with both free and low-cost online courses that users can utilize to attain at least rudimentary skills on the software.
“Success in the age of digital disruption will belong to companies that digitize their core businesses, launch new business models, and apply state-of-the-art technologies — activities that are possible only with sophisticated IT architectures and well-coordinated technology teams,” says McKinsey. In 2020, the role of the CIO was completely turned on its head at most companies. With the radical changes that working from home brought to IT departments the world over, it’s doubtful any CIO will have to work hard to elevate their role within the organization he or she works for anymore. IT-led the way in 2020 and the changes that occurred this year won’t be going away anytime soon.
The days of a CIO expecting C-level associates to wait just one more year for IT investments to pay off are surely behind them now. Rather than the pandemic giving CIOs a reprieve of a year or two to make these investments pay off, COVID actually showed IT departments how to modernize quicker. 2020 might have been the year when IT was able to prove that modernization initiatives should no longer be seen as overhead costs but as necessary business costs. IT might have been one of the rare winners of 2020, but, as any champion will tell you, it’s one thing to reach the top and another thing to stay there.