Disruption. It’s what SouthWest Airlines and EasyJet have done to the staid, formal airline industry. It’s what Formule 1 has done to the travel-lodge/hotel trade in Europe. It’s basically become a synonym for ‘changed beyond recognition, and how come it took us so long to work out that we would like this?’. And now it’s happening in IT. The rise of cloud, mobile internet, and machine to machine connectivity, to name but a few, have changed the way that we use and view technology on a day to day basis.
A brave new world
The last five to ten years has seen a huge change in the way that we use technology. We all have smartphones and tablets at home. Those leaving university now are the first generation of ‘digital natives’: those who cannot remember a world without the internet. If we want an app to do something, we go and get it. And the same applies to the way in which we work. If we want an app, we want to be able to go and get it. We don’t expect to have to wait 6 months while the IT department thinks about it, and then decides that they don’t approve. In fact, there’s evidence that the majority of IT spend is no longer spent by the IT department.
This is massively disruptive. Many of those working in IT, including CIOs, don’t know how to respond. And that has huge implications for IT departments.
Ian Cox, a former CIO and now a consultant, has been watching and writing about these changes for several years. Increasingly, about changes that IT departments and CIOs had to make to fit into the ‘brave new world’, and realised that many were no longer fit for purpose. His book, Disrupt IT sets out a new model for a radical transformation of the way in which IT is delivered.
At the heart of the matter is the way in which the IT department, and the CIO, need to change to meet the needs of digital businesses, and to stay relevant. He discusses a new role for the IT department as a collaborative and supportive technology broker. And much of what he says shows why data centres, and especially colocation providers, are a key part of the new model of IT.
IT departments used to function as providers of technology and of a service. However, there are now many external vendors who can provide the same type of service. In fact, given the lifetime of technology, they can probably do it much more efficiently and cost-effectively. In-house IT departments need to move from being a service provider to being a service broker, and that means a new set of core competencies, which are much more business-focused. They are architecture and design, delivery management, data management and vendor management, as well as managing internal relationships and developing an understanding of the business. Instead of being about building and maintaining infrastructure and applications, they’re about adding value to the business. And in order to provide value in the new world, IT departments need to focus on these new core competencies, so that they drive changes in structure, recruitment, and the way that the department operates.
Working in a different way
Having focused on the core competencies, the IT department then needs to make sure that it’s really focused time and resources on things that add value to the business. And this means outsourcing the low-value, non-core areas and anything that is not a differentiator.
Outsourcing is routine in business. We all know the mantra: focus on your core competencies, the things that distinguish you from your competition, and outsource anything that requires specialist knowledge or skills, or does not differentiate you. And much of the old business of the IT department can be outsourced, so that the IT specialists within the company can focus on enhancing the customer experience and adding value to the business. Colocation providers can offer the data centre capacity and space that’s needed for this outsourcing, in new and more up-to-date premises than any company can afford to equip themselves, and the newly-refocused IT department is well-placed to advise on which offers best value.
It sounds simple, but such changes take time and money, and are not easy to achieve in practice. However, they are essential if IT departments and CIOs are to remain useful and functional, and not be bypassed by the rest of the business.