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- Scott Sinclair, Enterprise Strategy Group
There's a lot of talk about IT digital transformation. This is certainly the case when it comes to technologies such as cloud, hyper-converged infrastructure, converged infrastructure and software-defined data center architectures. Even the shift from disk to all-flash storage is having a profound impact. True, IT has always been transforming, with a stream of new technologies, each superior to the last. So why does it seem so different this time?
The answer: Business is becoming defined by the digital economy. IT and revenue are more tightly linked than ever. And IT is increasingly becoming the business. In most cases, you can use one of the following three phases to define the relationship between a business and its data:
- Data is necessary for business. As the business grows, you need more data and more IT to support that data. Databases get larger and demand more resources. Email and file directories scale as the business adds employees. This is the way IT has been for decades.
- Data optimizes the business. Here we introduce analytics. Are you using the data your business collects to run more efficiently, to develop products better and faster? Is data helping you understand your customers? With insight and analytics, data helps foster a more efficient and nimble business.
- Data is the business. There's a direct correlation between data and revenue. Delays in infrastructure deployment hold up critical business initiatives and revenue opportunities. In addition, IT typically takes on new responsibilities and acts more like a product design and development organization with the business as its customer.
If you think IT digital transformation is something you can deal with in the future, think again. According to Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) research, slightly more than half (53%) of IT storage decision-makers said their businesses consider data strategic where effective storage strategies can lead to a competitive advantage. In other words, more than half of storage leaders believe their role falls somewhere in the last two phases above. If your business is still in phase one, it's likely behind.
The demands of the digital economy are certainly driving IT digital transformation. It is, however, the organizational transformation within IT that takes place in phases two and three and generates the biggest difference between competing in the modern digital economy and remaining stuck in the status quo of traditional IT.
Worrisome future for storage pros
The importance of IT is skyrocketing, and its responsibilities are increasing as infrastructure scales. As data becomes more closely linked to business results, IT organizations must take on new tasks, and IT leaders find themselves with new jobs to do while their current responsibilities get more difficult. You would think these added responsibilities would have every IT storage professional confident in their job prospects in the coming years. However, based on ESG data, the opposite is more likely true.
Only 12% of storage decision-makers surveyed expected storage to remain a distinct discipline where newer technologies, such as cloud, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure and software-defined storage won't impact their jobs. That means many IT storage leaders feel threatened by this new future. So IT is more important, but the architects that enable IT are concerned nonetheless. What's behind these two seemingly conflicting trends?
The likely explanation is IT infrastructure demands are starting to cross the buy versus build threshold. Businesses can't afford to build and scale IT infrastructure and personnel the same way they've done in the past. Increasingly, they're opting to buy IT capabilities as software as a service, infrastructure as a service and converged or hyper-converged infrastructure deployments. These approaches remove much of the architecture design, management and support work and are driving the perception that storage IT work is declining despite increasing demand. What does this mean for storage administrators?
Rethink your role
Ultimately, IT's role is changing. Some people adhere to the adage, if you make yourself indispensable, you can never be fired. Often, however, the more indispensable you are, the more likely you will be stuck doing the same thing for the rest of your career. Resisting IT digital transformation also can put your business at competitive risk.
Fortunately, as businesses become more digitally defined, IT is getting new responsibilities. Each new responsibility offers the opportunity for IT leaders to make both their businesses and themselves more competitive. Here are three areas where it's possible to capitalize on an IT digital transformation strategy to take on new responsibilities:
- Become an automation evangelist. IT initiatives drive business results, but delays cost money. Manual IT tasks are expensive and can hinder competitiveness. Map out every manual task and automate as much of the work as possible. Infrastructure components have long offered API capabilities to encourage automation, and self-service portals are becoming even more important. In addition, adoption of application development orchestration frameworks -- such as Kubernetes, Puppet and Chef -- is accelerating automation.
- Maximize workload and data understanding. As infrastructure becomes more automated, workloads and data are increasing in importance. The most obvious example is the growth in demand for cybersecurity expertise; as data value has increased, so has the value of the volume and variety of security threats. Furthermore, understanding of how applications, data and infrastructure work and interact has become critical as businesses adopt multi-cloud infrastructures.
- Hone your expertise. IT shops are finding they must assign new roles to work directly with line-of-business teams to optimize IT offerings and better serve the emerging digital business. These roles act like a product development team with the business as their customer.
The bottom line is that IT is changing. You can change with it, using these growth areas as a guide, or risk being left behind.