The question, “Can we find a way to do this that doesn’t depend on IT?” was once an unthinkable one; it simply wasn’t an option for most enterprise projects. However, it’s no longer a question that’s crazy to ask.
In my first job, it was clear how necessary IT was — I was an engineer helping design hardware for “big iron” enterprise servers, those refrigerator-sized (or, if you live in one of those insanely small New York or San Francisco apartments, the size of your living room) systems that were something you couldn’t think of making use of without a lot of IT help. Both the hardware and software were painfully complex, giving IT a critical role to play: monitoring and maintaining hardware, tuning and maintaining application software, managing upgrades and more.
However, the explosion of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings has created options that require significantly less IT involvement, or even none at all. That has led groups outside IT to start questioning when, and even if, they need to bring IT into the picture. Because they’ve come to see IT as a bottleneck, they have pent-up frustrations that lead them to look for alternatives to waiting for IT.
SaaS offerings in the cloud eliminate almost all of the infrastructure work that used to consume IT, giving people outside of IT new alternatives. Take the case of CRM systems. CRM implementation was initially a huge IT project. However, due to the rise of cloud-based CRM systems, it has now become something that is commonly driven and owned by the sales operations team, with only a small amount of IT involvement. Add to that the share of spend and budget that is not owned by IT, and there’s real questioning of whether IT has lost its influence.
So what role, if any, is there for IT in the cloud era? From my experience working with a lot of different organizations, there’s an even more critical and impactful role that IT needs to play. The proliferation of cloud and SaaS applications makes it increasingly easy to end up in a morass of complexity, incompatibility and siloed information—a recipe for “chaos as a service.”
It’s clear that IT’s role needs to change to avoid chaos and complexity, all while increasing innovation and productivity, but how? Here are a few tips on the new priorities of IT organizations that are adapting successfully.
1. Integrate data and applications
Whereas IT used to focus on integrating infrastructure, IT now needs to add a new focus on integrating cloud applications. The ease of deployment of cloud has created a proliferation of special-purpose offerings that fragment and silo both data and access to data. The best IT organizations provide needed expertise in tying things together — creating the connectors that use the Web-based interfaces (e.g., REST and other APIs) that cloud applications provide, identifying and choosing data integration tools and designing data pipelines to collect and bring together data.
2. Establish and enforce a consistent approach to security
In the rush to get projects done, security is something that frequently gets left by the wayside, particularly when those projects don’t involve IT. IT can prevent these risks by defining and applying policies for secure authentication, data encryption, access control and auditing as well as validating that cloud options under consideration can support those policies.
3. Determine and apply SLAs
A key challenge of cloud solutions is that service level agreements (SLAs) for performance, availability and troubleshooting are no longer under direct control of the company. Leading IT organizations bring an understanding of what it takes to design applications to leverage cloud to deliver on SLAs — how to take advantage of cloud elasticity to improve performance, how and where to incorporate redundancy to ensure availability in the cloud, how to implement disaster recovery in a cloud context, and what tools and approaches to use in the cloud for scalable monitoring and alerting when problems occur.
4. Prevent silos and ensure integration
By proactively helping to choose and deploy SaaS applications in a coherent, integrated way, IT can prevent shadow IT from leading to incompatible and inaccessible silos of information and insight that get in the way of business planning and decision making.
5. Identify and deliver best-in-class solutions
It’s prohibitively difficult and expensive for IT to be the best in the world at everything it has traditionally been asked to do: world class at data center operations, monitoring, capacity planning, security, application tuning, application troubleshooting, etc. But cloud and SaaS enable IT to raise the bar, finding and choosing vendors and products that deliver the highest standards of capability, performance, security, availability and more.
6. Deliver more successful projects, faster
A common IT challenge is that the number of project requests far exceeds what IT can deliver. Using cloud and SaaS to eliminate the time-consuming tasks that used to occupy them, IT can deliver more projects faster, increasing innovation and productivity across the organization.
Is there still a role for IT? Absolutely, but only for IT organizations that evolve to deliver new types of value. Successful IT organizations are reinventing themselves, identifying new areas in which they can add higher-level value by eliminating the chaos and complexity while driving innovation and productivity in today’s new cloud era.
Jon Bock is VP of marketing and products at Snowflake Computing. He has spent over 15 years creating and applying disruptive enterprise technology at both startups and established enterprises. Most recently, he has focused on data analytics in product and marketing roles at Aster Data, Teradata and Cloud9 Analytics. Prior to that, he was a core member of the VMware marketing team and an engineer at Hewlett Packard. Follow him on Twitter.