By John Gentry, Chief Technology Officer, Virtual Instruments
Let me begin by saying that I am honored to have been invited to be a part of such a prestigious and unique forum for discussing major trends in technology and their impact on business and society in general. I am also excited to share learnings and experience from more than 25 years of enterprise market experience, technology evolution and customer perspective to contribute to the conversation with a global community of thought leaders. Finally, I am intrigued to see how the thought leadership dialogue evolves as we collaborate with such a diverse group of contributors — and how it may inform and be informed by trends in business and technology in the years to come.
First off, a definition: When I generally use the term “IT” in the following, I am referring to the broadest definition of the people, processes and technology required to plan, build and run the applications and infrastructure supporting business operations.
It’s no secret that technology, technology enablement and technology differentiation play a pivotal role in the innovation and advancement of modern business. From the early mainframe deployments supporting centralized financial services, to early client server environments expanding compute capabilities to departmental functions, to distributed computing truly democratizing IT for the first time, IT has primarily been a supporting function for the advancement of business capabilities. The resulting business impacts were largely specific to vertical markets and business functions. As such, IT has historically been viewed as a “necessary evil”—a cost central to lines of business and companies in general.
Over the past 20 years, with the impact of Moore’s Law and broad adoption of technologies like virtualization and software defined infrastructure, IT has evolved from providing specific, purpose-built solutions, to being a general service provider to the business to now becoming central to the delivery of business services.
Keeping this in mind, I can offer three fundamental observations of the “modern world of IT,” or perhaps more appropriately, the “brave new world of IT.” First, technology now powers business regardless of vertical market or business function. Second, this creates an interesting dichotomy where the myriad of choices available for delivering IT services is more diverse and dynamic than ever before—yet how businesses leverage these choices is surprisingly similar across vertical markets and business functions. There are of course unique differences depending on where any given company began their technology journey (think E*Trade vs. Fidelity). By and large, however, the goals, use cases and approaches across organizations are similar. And, despite the central importance of IT, amazingly very few businesses view or leverage IT for competitive advantage.
Why is this the case? For most of the companies I’ve worked with, and the customers I’ve helped architect strategies and capabilities, the disconnect occurs as a direct result of siloed disciplines within IT (required for deep expertise) and the lack of cross-functional understanding and collaboration between those disciplines (necessary for transformation.)
For example, the business unit, or BU, has requirements for the application teams – they’re expected to innovate, be agile, and create successive differentiating features and functionality that spur revenue growth opportunities.
The application teams in turn have subsequent requirements for the infrastructure teams (a term that commonly refers to the IT systems required to run the applications). These requirements often differ depending on development time and test and production deployments, and they are ever-changing. Hence the rise of “DevOps”, an evolutionary collaboration between development and IT operations, where focus is on better understanding, supporting and enabling the full application development lifecycle.
Infrastructure architecture, engineering and operations teams have subsequent requirements to design, build, and run the IT infrastructure to support the applications that support the business. Compounding this already fragmented picture, the infrastructure teams are further siloed by domain expertise, such as “Server,” “Network,” and “Storage,” with some subtle variation.
Now compound this reality with the combination of legacy tools and new technology, along with the pressures and false promises of cloud, the rise of the “app-economy” and software-defined everything, and it’s no wonder we need a group like the Forbes Technology Council to help guide the way through the IT labyrinth.
…So where do we go from here? Look out for my first article that will attempt to offer at least one perspective on what’s required to innovate and transform IT into a competitive advantage and bring us all together!