The hybrid evolution of IT

The digital transformation of today is a hybrid evolution of IT, and IT must drive the change to meet the business's needs

The hybrid evolution of IT
Nick Youngson/The Blue Diamond Gallery (CC BY-SA 3.0)

It’s a great time to be in information technology.

While that statement is true, 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 percent of world’s workloads will be in cloud, with 68 percent in public and 32 percent in private—many in IT feel their value in the workplace eroding along with their identity.

That feeling doesn’t need to be reality. Businesses are changing the way they operate and are transforming to leverage IT more strategically. IT has a real opportunity to lead this transformation, not let the transformation happen to them.

IT must drive the digital transformation

IT has led digital transformations before and can do it again. About 10 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 its 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.

CIOs need to step up

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, 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. 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. In fact, digital leaders are three times more likely to have a comprehensive, enterprisewide strategy for hybrid cloud, according to IBM's report "Growing Up Hybrid: Accelerating Digital Transformation."

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 lines of businesses (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 set aside fear, insecurity and politics. CIOs need to help individuals within their organization to understand their changing jobs, migrate to new roles, and 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 because business leaders need IT more than ever. It’s an exciting future ahead and a great time to be in information technology!

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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