Digital Transformation
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The new value creators powering IT infrastructure


 Guest post by Arthur Cole

For much of its history, IT infrastructure has been a cost center for the enterprise—a necessary one, but a cost center nonetheless. IT's main function was to help other departments like sales, marketing, and business development contribute to the organization's core mission more effectively.

But change is happening in IT, and for the better. At last, IT is playing an active role in crucial processes like product development, sales, distribution, account management, finance, and even strategic planning. In this way, IT is emerging as a true driver of value in the business process, not just a supporting player.

Still, the transition is not as clear-cut as it may seem. Team-Meeting.jpgAccording to Atlanta-based consulting firm 5Q Partners, "Many organizations find themselves tangled in their cost-centered model of IT that neither allows for the funding of strategic IT investments, nor fosters the type of culture where this evolution can flourish." The main challenge is weaning IT off its traditional role as a provider and maintainer of infrastructure to a supporter of more value-added services, such as CRM, business intelligence, and application development. This will likely involve a three-stage process in which IT, and the CIO in particular, shies away from the traditional operational model—first to a transitional model that stresses improved IT service delivery and less costly, more streamlined infrastructure and workflows, and then finally to a strategic model of providing insight and foresight to the executive leadership team. New technology will fuel this transition, but it will require deep introspection on the part of IT decision makers to determine where and how it can produce the most effective change.

Shifting IT's focus

One of the overarching goals here is to drive innovation, and this can be accomplished by incorporating many of the same capabilities that IT is pushing out to other departments. For example, team-based, collaborative workflows that leverage advanced analytics tools will help shift IT's focus from infrastructure to data, which can then be used to make concrete changes in procedures, processes, and even the business model itself. IT's reach will extend beyond the data center to the front office, the manufacturing floor, and across the wide area to partners, channel providers, and customers. "The goal," says Don Lewis, vice president and CTO at Group Health, "is that IT serves as the caretaker for IT systems and applications, and as an advisor and expert collaborator on how technology can help grow the overall business." For once, knowledge workers will be eager to seek IT's help because it will be an organization that focuses on getting things done, rather than constantly quashing expectations due to the limitations of static infrastructure.

None of this will be possible without a technology upgrade, however. According to Bill Briggs, CTO of Deloitte Consulting, the new IT stack should be built around several key point solutions designed to support high-value services. These include not only automation but also autonomic platforms that blend software-defined infrastructure with DevOps operating models, as well as application-centric core IT infrastructure components. Since data is now the foundational component of the digital economy, industrial-grade analytics is needed to convert raw, unstructured data into a strategic asset.

DevOps model helps create value

It's hard to overstate the importance of the emerging DevOps model of application development in the new IT. A recent series of blogs by's Todd Vernon highlights the sea change this new approach represents over the Agile development methodologies of just this past decade. "A decade ago, Agile software development methodology forced more pressure into the IT system by deploying software at an ever-increasing rate to the point it's at today—where innovative companies can deploy new software multiple times a day. DevOps is at the forefront of addressing the question of how IT deals with these problems, but like Agile before it, there's a learning curve."

Long gone are the days of static infrastructure and the largely separate worlds of development and operations. In this era of SaaS and cloud-based infrastructure, DevOps treats both roles as an integrated, interdependent function that is both ongoing and singularly focused on improving business processes and creating value. Rigid segmentation of hardware, software, middleware, and the like is out, while dynamic, self-service provisioning and collaboration are in. Best of all, users gain direct access to the app developers themselves for support and other functions, rather than having to navigate a labyrinth of systems, managers, and incomprehensible technical constructs to get what they need to be productive.

The popular image of IT as an inhibitor to business activity over the years has been a bum rap. The fact is, IT was limited by the capabilities of the static, silo-based infrastructure that had evolved over the years. With a flexible, software-defined and largely automated stack at its disposal, IT can finally provision the resources the knowledge workforce requires at scale and can turn its attention to what really matters: the data.

After so many years of being the butt of jokes in the enterprise ("How many programmers does it take to change a light bulb?—none, it's a hardware problem"), IT staff will have to get used to hearing things like, "Oh, good, IT is here. Now we can get to work."

Register for HPE Discover Las Vegas 2016, June 7-9 in Las Vegas, to learn more about digital transformation.

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