Breaking the chains of infrastructure


Ovum analyst Douglas Hayward argues that real chief information officers shouldn’t even consider managing the IT.


Ovum analyst Douglas Hayward argues that real chief information officers shouldn’t even consider managing the IT.

As chief information officer, you are not required to ‘manage’ technology. If for some bizarre reason you think your role is to make it run ‘smoothly’ or to keep it ‘ticking over’ nicely, then you’re probably not senior management material.

And if by some fluke you’ve made it to the role and you’re happy just concentrating on operational stuff, then you’re definitely in the wrong job.

Or maybe there’s something wrong with the job. Either way, you’re wasting everyone’s time and money. Sure, technology matters. But when your attention must turn to the installed IT infrastructure, it should be to turn it upside down – definitely not to run it.

The job of the real chief information officer ð not the fraudulent impostor from the operations department – is to create value by helping to rip up business structures right across the organisation. You can’t do this if you spend your time planning software upgrades and checking SLAs.

Business desperately needs liberation from the shackles of over-complex, costly and inflexible IT infrastructure.

We’re seeing the hesitant beginnings of a return to spending by large organisations on innovative applications that deliver revenue growth, something effectively off the agenda since the year 2000 debacle and the dotcom collapse.

Technology is about to be used for its real purpose again: changing the organisation, not just running it. That means shifting more IT spend from infrastructure to applications where the real value is created. But that can’t happen until the IT infrastructure has been thoroughly overhauled.

It has finally dawned on us that the over-complexity and inefficiency of today’s IT installed base is a serious problem.

Without a much more effective and flexible infrastructure, the next generation of business applications will never deliver their promises, and today’s applications will become progressively strangled.

So your personal liberation goes hand in hand with your organisation’s emancipation from 50 years of ad hoc infrastructure management. The tide of history has turned in our favour, although it may not feel like it yet.

IT infrastructure technology is growing up at last. Consolidation, rationalisation and the slow but real move towards service-oriented architectures are laying the groundwork for infrastructure liberation: IT that’s flexible, cost-effective and self-managing.

Outsourcing techniques are also maturing ð at last. We know far more about what to outsource (and remember, it’s not compulsory), when to outsource, how to choose the outsourcer and then how to manage them.

And we’re about to experience a wave of new technologies that will help us by blurring the boundary between software, hardware and outsourcing, so that it becomes difficult (and indeed pointless) to tell the difference. I’m talking about utility computing, or ‘on-demand’ computing as IBM calls it.

It promises a self-managing IT infrastructure that hums quietly in the background, keeping out of sight but smart enough to anticipate operational problems before they get serious, and flexible enough to reconfigure itself quickly to meet changed business needs.

Even more than outsourcing, utility computing promises the personal and organisational liberation that real chief information officers crave.

Unfortunately, it’s hardly around the corner. Hewlett Packard, the firm that first used the phrase ‘on demand’ many years ago in its previous incarnation as Digital, warns that full utility computing won’t arrive until 2011.

Who knows? Maybe that’s optimistic. And when it does arrive, it’ll be flawed, just like every revolution. But parts of it are already becoming real, and we should use them as soon as they can create genuine value.

Don’t ‘manage’ infrastructure you inherited: tear it up, outsource it, or leave it to an able deputy. It’s holding back your business – and your career.

Douglas Hayward is a senior analyst at Ovum.