The next IT: What it is and what you need to know to be successful

Mastering a distributed and highly virtualized computing environment is key to job security in IT’s next wave

As an analyst, I am constantly pressed to answer a fundamental question: What is the future of IT? With the overwhelming amount of new technology being delivered to enterprise computing, IT professionals are understandably concerned about what the future holds. Will there even be a place for enterprise IT departments any more? The answer to this question has both good news and bad news.

Traditional IT: a focus on data

Let’s start with the bad news. Traditional IT—centered on datacenters and applications—is on its way out. The reason is simple: traditional IT has always been concerned, not with information as the acronym would suggest, but with data. As a profession we have learned how to create, store, manipulate, and transmit data. Information creation, such as it was, typically was generated between the ears of the data user. That is, data are facts, but information is facts in context; and context generation has been a uniquely human endeavor.

Now, though, with big data, we have broken the bank. There is simply so much data that people can no longer reliably make sense of it anymore. What decision makers crave is not more data, but more actionable insights generated by data. They want context on demand and in near real time, and this is a whole new ball game.

Next IT: a focus on information

The good news is that big data technologies, despite causing the conventional IT model to fracture, form the basis for the new IT. If too much data is now passé, then IT is essential to building the infrastructures necessary to access it. However, once the data has been made accessible, there must be the appropriate automation to derive context from it. That is where advanced analytics and AI come into play. AI, in particular, can digest enormous amounts of data, learn from it and generate insights informed by the data.

Of course, most companies will not be able to, or desire to, build the necessary infrastructure to support their new analytical capabilities. They won’t want to invest in the hardware or software required to build a big data lake, nor will they want to acquire the computing capacity to run the advanced analytics needed to make sense of it. The rational thing will be to do most of this in the cloud, where computing and storage resources are flexible and scale with the task at hand.

So, if the old IT was essentially data-driven, the new IT is truly information-driven and its focus is on building a new architecture that facilitates information generation. This means that rather than a data center-centric architecture, the new IT will use an architecture built on big data and advanced analytics, much of which lives in the cloud. And because this new architecture will depend on an environment where data and information live remotely, the new IT will also be profoundly interested in data networking and security.

IT professionals: a new skill set

IT professionals who want to grow with the new Information Age, need to acquire the new information-centric skills. These include:

  • Statistical skills: Information is data in context. Context is often generated through statistical analysis. IT professionals will want to acquire a through grounding in statistical principles.
  • AI, including machine learning, skills: It is true that AI in most cases is the application of self-modifying statistical algorithms, which once trained become in a sense self-directed. Nevertheless, IT professionals will need to have the fundamentals of the various approaches to AI so that they can apply them effectively.
  • Cloud skills: Cloud doesn’t simply mean parking storage and applications in someone else’s machine room. Where, how, and how much to use cloud resources can make the difference between a cost-effective and efficient computing environment and one that is incapable of supporting business computing requirements.
  • Big data architecture skills, including data preparation: Big data is not simply large storage facilities; it is often knowing what data matter, and which can be or must be discarded. Additionally, understanding the hardware and software associated with big data is essential to building computing environments that can support executive decision making.
  • Data networking skills: A killer of information generation, especially in a distributed environment, is latency. When processing data for its information content in near real time, every second counts. Data communications must be low-latency, nearly fail-safe, and secure. Knowing how communications factors into the new IT architecture is essential.
  • Security skills: Data in motion implies a new level of security concern. If strategic decision making depends on the remote access of information, then data security is no longer nice to have, if it ever was; it becomes a critical requirement.

So, the answer to the future of IT is that IT is facing a time of transformation, where the focus will be on building and managing a distributed computing architecture, where much of the technology isn’t even in-house anymore. Yet this doesn’t mean that IT will be unnecessary. Armed with a new set of competencies driven by technologies such as big data, cloud computing, and AI, IT will become the essential engine of growth as enterprises increasingly look to IT to provide the insights that will drive executive decision making.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?