IT Operations: Problem-Solvers? Infrastructure Maintenance? Solution Providers?

By: Rich Ptak, Managing Partner, Ptak, Noel & Associates LLC

On a recent flight returning from an engagement with a client, my seating companion and I exchanged a few words as we settled into the flight before donning and turning to the iPod music and games used to distract ourselves from the hassles of travel. He was a cardiologist, and introduced himself as such, before quickly describing his job as basically ‘a glorified plumber’. We both chuckled knowing that while sharing fundamentals in basic concepts, there was much more to cardiology than managing and controlling flow. BTW, my own practical plumbing experiences convinced me of the value of a good plumber.

However, this set me off reflecting on how IT perceives and presents itself. There is no question that IT has progressed far from the days when a pundit launched his career asserting that “IT Doesn’t Matter”. IT operations and the impact of the application of the associated computer and communications technology are on display and felt everywhere around us – facilitating, speeding, complicating, escalating risk and changing our lives, professional and private. From pervasive monitoring to automated remote management and control over energy consumption, work habits, even purchasing, computers operate and impact it all.

In the enterprise today, technology itself is recognized as playing a vital role in business operations and success. Recent surveys of business executives from CEOs to CFOs to CIOs document their view that the application of information technology is linked directly to enterprise operations and growth. Unfortunately, too many IT staff are still struggling to come to terms with that impact and, more worrisome, how to respond to that reality. That is a problem for both the IT staff and the enterprise.

All too often, IT staff see themselves as primarily providers and maintainers (or restrictors) of access to technology, all the while ignoring the role and potential of IT as proactive and involved participants in activities that contribute to enterprise growth, profitability and revenue. IT isn’t simply maintenance, cost control and plumbing. IT is more than ever before, a potential source of competitive advantage and growth. Yet, many business staffs view IT as simply a source of cookie-cutter services which can easily, efficiently and even more effectively come from an outside organization.

Also familiar is the tension between IT as the ‘slow-to-respond’ gatekeeper for the introduction and adoption of new technologies and the business unit manager/sales/marketing professional ‘just trying to get the job done’. Neither is ‘wrong’; each has well-founded arguments that support their roles. However, the evolution in technology and in the enterprise, including the data center raises the risks of such conflict substantially.

The litany of change – cloud, big data, infrastructure as code, mobility, workload optimized infrastructure, deep analytics, etc. is familiar. The very nature of the data center is changing as computing moves from ‘systems of record’, i.e. traditional operational environments with dedicated infrastructure, where infrastructure limited applications to ‘systems of engagement, i.e. responsive and adaptive to the operating environment, demand and specific service provided. The implications for IT due to this shift are radical, exciting and still very much emerging. More fundamentally, these changes are revising how IT views, uses, applies and makes decisions about technology. IT must determine how to integrate, balance and effectively operate in an environment consisting of a combination of dynamic and fixed resources, infrastructure and assets.

The evolution of technology is changing how IT solution providers today provide products. The emphasis is on providing products and solutions that are smarter, more integrated, simpler to use, more comprehensive in application, quicker to implement and deliver a larger and faster payback using whatever exists as the current measure of success.

IT needs such solutions because it is the only way to meet the demands of their users while freeing resources for other activities. Non-technical business stake holders want these solutions because they see the power of applied technology to resolve real problems. Risk comes when the business side fails to see the potential of their own IT staffs to harness the power of technology and when business professionals begin to fail to involve IT in their adoption, introduction and use of technology.

Our own interactions with clients and vendors indicate that a transition within IT from problem-solver/technology maintainer to solution provider-business driver is underway. Unfortunately, it is occurring at a pace that is much slower than is healthy for IT and the enterprise. IT has to be proactive in positioning itself as an active partner in and contributor to business success. Fortunately, many vendors recognize the challenge facing their IT clients and are making the changes in their product offerings, training and presentation to support IT in the transition.