IT or information technology is on an interesting journey.
Traditionally, IT’s role within an organisation was fairly predictable. The department was there to maintain the back-end of the organisation, ‘keep the lights on‘ and was often driven out of the financial department.
Organisations have continuously struggled to marry this closed off IT environment with the front-end of a business, in terms of engineering — the output of a business often involves system engineering and things that interact with the physical world; whether it’s manufacturing, oil and gas or even the front line services in parts of government that are dealing with front line activities.
Today, however, things are different. The role of IT is changing and impacting the physical.
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A real convergence
Within organisations, there is a real convergence between traditional system engineering — at the front-end of a business — and IT, which has often been at the back-end of a business.
The companies that recognise the need for this convergence and get it right by reimagining the way they work as an organisation are the ones that are moving ahead of their competitors.
Reimagine business and IT
In the innovation landscape, IT leaders and executives can not only reimagine the outcomes that their organisations are delivering but also how their organisations are set up to do that.
Historically, organisations were hardware-first and had very traditional processes around engineering systems. These were designed to last for the life of an asset. But, the changing IT world is bringing a new look to this.
IT’s role as an innovator can help organisations keep up the rate of change, exploit technology and move the dial forward. In order to achieve this, organisations need to move to a software-defined environment, where they can create an asset that can be updated, modified and changed.
We’re at a really exciting intersection that cuts across traditional systems engineering and IT engineering; it’s the best of both those worlds coming together.
As IT becomes part of an organisation’s strategy, a new way of thinking is required. Forward-thinking businesses will need to plan and design for the changing role that technology is going to play: how do you make sure that you can implement new capabilities without having to do big forklift changes?
“In more and more industries, the front mission of an organisation will need technology that can grow in capability without big refresh cycles,” says Simon Daykin, UK CTO at Leidos.
“Everything will be much more incremental and will need a continuous improvement model for how technology is delivered. And, that’s really about liberating information, making information available to the technology to make more informed decisions, and make that information available back to the end user, so they can actually get value from it and use it to improve what they’re doing; their operation, their business outcome, their capability and feedback cycle.”
Security: from the outset
This new way of working, based on collaboration and the sharing of information, needs to be balanced with security. And, it needs to be considered from the outset.
As businesses become more reliant on the virtual/physical relationship, they need to consider “hard failure modes and situations when the technology may fail,” explains Daykin. “How do we handle this in a way that operations can continue and, depending on what nature it is, can cope with those things?”
These new systems need to be designed with resilience in mind.
Data, information and collaboration
There’s a real demand for information growing in organisations.
Part of the challenge is that unless they have a joined-up data and information strategy, “there’s often an insatiable demand that is struggling to be fed,” says Daykin. “The reason why organisations need to invest in data and information strategies pretty rapidly is because of the risk associated with making data rich decisions without the quality. Making sure that the quality of data is properly understood and the quality of the information that is derived from it is understood is really important to inform business decision making.”
This all comes back to the reimagining of technology in a business world, with a particular focus on collaboration. This makes sure that there are multiple parties involved in digital activities. Collaboration — between the back-end and front-end, or IT and engineering — needs to be at the heart of everything businesses do to make sure that people understand how it’s going to work from an ecosystem perspective.
“In a digital world, collaboration within organisations is absolutely critical to unlocking the business benefits that come from digital transformation,” says Daykin.
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Allowing IT to spread its wings and fly
It’s all well and good, understanding this new, collaborative way of working. But, how can businesses create an environment where IT spends less to no time on ‘keeping the lights on’, and more time on innovation?
Embracing automation is key. “But, it’s often an easy thing to say and a difficult thing to deliver,” says Daykin.
Often, the process of integrating a solution initially involves convincing IT that automation is beneficial. They see it as a threat, but actually the technology will help them focus on more exciting and relevant innovations for the business.
“IT organisations have often taken a very rigid approach to IT delivery because it’s simplified their ability and codified their ability to support and manage environments,” continues Daykin. “By kind of rethinking some of that and removing some of those fossilised artefacts from the old, more complex days of users who were perhaps not as tech-savvy, by reimagining some of those things, users can be empowered, they can do more themselves, they can self-heal, they can self-manage. And that often gives benefits to the users, it’s something they want, but it also frees up IT organisations to focus on what really matters, which pushes the business forward.”
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He points to an airport as an example: “How long ago would it have been that I would go to an airport and need to go to a check-in desk to get my boarding pass? Now, with most airlines, you can check-in yourself online. That is a form of automation — it’s a way that an organisation, or industry, in this case, has changed the way they’re interacting with their end users. They’re empowering their end users, but again, it actually allows organisations to fit resources to focus on areas that are going to really impact the mission, the front line, in a positive way.
“The same holds true for IT organisations, empowering users, giving them the ability to service themselves, self-heal. And part of that is giving the choice and those kinds of things often change the relationship between IT and the business.”