“It’s a great time to be in Information Technology.” While this is a true statement, not everyone clearly understands why (or perhaps, has the fortitude to make it so). In the face of a massive movement to public cloud—by 2020, 92% of world’s workloads will be in cloud—68% in public and 32% in private—many in IT feel their value in the workplace eroding along with their identity. This feeling doesn’t need to be reality. Businesses are changing the way they operate and are transforming to leverage information technology more strategically. IT has a real opportunity to lead this transformation, not let the transformation happen to them.
IT has led digital transformations before and can do it again. About ten years ago, the video security surveillance industry underwent a digital transformation wherein video security systems transitioned from coaxial cable networks to IP-based Ethernet, from analog video on tape to digitally-encoded video on disk, and from physically separate networks to consolidating into IT-run data centers. IT was the digital leader here, bringing many improvements to the way in which physical security functions. At the end of the day, the physical security guard remained, and in combination with their IT partners, delivered on their charter more efficiently than before.
IT has an opportunity to drive digital transformation again, particularly as many businesses are changing the way they operate. Concerned with disrupting or being disrupted, many businesses are pivoting to become software companies. Yes, software is eating the world. As I arrive to the SolarWinds corporate headquarters each work day, I’m reminded of that fact by literal example—AMD, a leading chip designer, has shrunk its operations to share it campus with SolarWinds, a global software company. As businesses shift, CIOs are poised to help IT switch from a cost center to a source of differentiated value in terms of how a business might differentiate from other players in their industry. CIOs are positioned to be in a highly strategic, visible, and collaborative position within the company. A recent Harvard Business Review study shows that while nearly half of lines-of-business leader respondents said they would like to learn more about digital trends from their CIO, unfortunately, close to two-fifths said their CIO does not seek to educate and empower line-of-business leaders when it comes to all things digital. Over a third of the organizations polled said IT does not provide useful knowledge about technology or understand which digital knowledge is important to specific business functions. Expectations of CIOs are changing and it behooves IT to rise to the challenge.
The white knuckles of IT needs to relax their grip and embrace internal customers as their lifeline, not shun those running shadow IT—be an accelerator, not an inhibitor. Understand that convenience drives retail consumer purchasing behavior more so than price does. Considering those same individuals bring their consumer behaviors (convenience = agility) to the workplace, it’s no wonder shadow IT is prevalent and always lurking. IT needs to develop holistic strategies in alignment with the business mission. IT organizations that are digital leaders don’t just let hybrid happen to them. Digital leaders are three times more likely than to have a comprehensive, enterprise-wide strategy for hybrid cloud.
Hybrid IT strategies may include outsourcing commodity functions. IT can be the provider and the trusted broker by enabling lines of business with application support, cloud design, not necessarily equipment. A foremost focus on empowerment of the business mission—whether sourcing or providing—is how businesses will leverage IT to renovate I&O and innovate. In some cases, that strategy may involve factions of IT reporting into different LOBs (e.g. marketing and finance). Strategies of hybrid IT organizations embracing public and private cloud are evolving from infrastructure-centric thinking to application-centric thinking, recognizing that operations automation is friend, not foe.
Implementing a strategy is not without challenge. Less than a third of the IT
organizations polled in a recent SolarWinds study consider that they have adequate resources to manage hybrid IT environments. Fortunately, any business can excel at digital leadership and management, regardless of its size or budget. Strategies may consider aggressively retiring legacy technology where the application and business case allow. Often it’s not technology impeding implementation of strategy, but people and process. CIOs can mitigate inhibitors from evolving into a hybrid IT organization by helping their people to set aside fear, insecurity, and politics. CIOs need to help individuals within their organization to understand their changing jobs, migrate to new roles, and how to be champions of change in their organizations while continuing to ensure security and continuity.
The digital transformation of today is a hybrid evolution of IT. The broad-sweeping influence technology has on how businesses operate continues to accelerate and leaves no industry untouched. Organizations are learning how to become software companies. Established businesses are being turned upside-down and inside-out as new players have a software-centric view of the world. Current market dynamics are fundamentally changing the relationship businesses have with their IT organization and IT must evolve as business leaders need IT more than ever. It’s an exciting future ahead and a great time to be in information technology!
Lee Calcote is an innovative thought leader, passionate about developer platforms and management software for clouds, containers, infrastructure and applications. Advanced and emerging technologies have been a consistent focus through Calcote’s tenure at SolarWinds, Seagate, Cisco and Pelco. An organizer of technology meetups and conferences, a writer, author, speaker, he is active in the tech community.
Cisco Global Cloud Index: Forecast and Methodology, 2015–2020 – http://www.cisco.com/c/dam/en/us/solutions/collateral/service-provider/global-cloud-index-gci/white-paper-c11-738085.pdf
Driving Digital Transformation: New Skills for Leaders, New role for the CIO – https://hbr.org/resources/pdfs/comm/RedHat/RedHatReportMay2015.pdf
Growing up hybrid: Accelerating digital transformation – http://www-01.ibm.com/common/ssi/cgi-bin/ssialias?htmlfid=GMW14087USEN
 IT Trends Report 2016: The Hybrid IT Evolution – http://it-trends.solarwinds.com