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Why CIOs must digitise internal IT processes to keep pace with change

Nothing ever stands still, and IT is now expected to be more adaptable than ever before to help businesses keep in step with the pace of innovation

The pace of change is not slowing down, which means CIOs need to think differently about the role of IT in the enterprise. This was the subtext behind Gartner’s London Catalyst Conference.

Traditionally, the effort of the IT department complemented the goals of business. The IT function developed the systems and software to support new business processes. Projects used to be run top-down with the executive management’s strategy for the business executed through the use of software-powered business processes. Projects took a waterfall approach, ran over several years and usually involved the deployment of major pieces of enterprise software infrastructure.

But the risks associated with major implementations failing, or the business changing before the systems were fully deployed, has seen a rise in different approaches to IT, where new functionality is delivered at a faster rate.

Speaking at the Gartner Catalyst Conference, Elias Khnaser, vice-president and analyst at Gartner, said: “We’ve always had continuous change in IT, but the pace of change has never been this fast, and it will never be this slow again.”

This pace of change is being driven by the way the web has evolved. Gartner believes the worldwide web is entering its third phase: in the 1990s, for the majority of users, the web was read-only; at the start of the 21st century, social media gave users a writeable web, allowing people to share comments, videos, pictures and “likes” with anyone who wanted to follow them; and now, according to Khnaser, we are “on the cusp of Web 3.0, where the web becomes executable”.

Gartner suggests that IT needs to evolve into a connected intelligent architecture. “We have to design in a world where infrastructure, data and applications and security is everywhere,” said Khnaser. “We need an end-to-end deployment model.”

Digital transformation redefined

In many ways, Gartner sees the approach that has made the cloud providers so successful at managing their vast IT estates evolving into standard practice for enterprise IT. 

“We’ve always had continuous change in IT, but the pace of change has never been this fast, and it will never be this slow again”
Elias Khnaser, Gartner

Rather than thinking of the IT that supports business as a fixed set of software and hardware, the software is part of a continuous development and continuous integration process, while hardware is swapped in and out and workloads shift between on-premise datacentres and the public cloud, based on business requirements.

Some would argue that this is what a digital transformation means for the IT department – instead of delivering IT projects, its role becomes about delivering capabilities on a continual basis, which enable the business to adapt and take advantage of new innovations.

A recent study by Cloud Foundry found that 69% of IT decision-makers believe digital transformation is important. Abby Kearns, executive director at the Cloud Foundry Foundation, said organisations that are able to adapt to a fast pace of change will be the ones that succeed at digital transformation.

Speaking at Cloud Foundry’s recent European summit in The Hague, Kearns said software development was a key pre-requisite for powering continuous business transformation. According to Kearns, to be successful, organisations need to be able to fail fast and work in an iterative and innovative way.

Infrastructure for everything

During the London Catalyst Conference, Gartner analysts discussed how an adaptable, connected infrastructure could be engineered. 

“We need the platforms to be programmable, modular and intelligent,” said Khnaser. “Infrastructure needs to be driven by APIs [application programming interfaces].”

Such an approach would make it possible to automate the management of complex IT systems and infrastructure, according to Khnaser.

“We can leverage intelligent, intent-based IT management. I would state a business requirement and the platform does the rest,” he said. “For instance, maybe I want to deploy a server, and it requires regulatory compliance. I don’t want to have to figure out which subnet it needs to be run in.”

Gartner believes IT will adopt some of the practices used by the major cloud providers to provide frictionless internal IT.

While it is clearly a major undertaking for organisations to rethink the way they work so they can innovate quicker and continually adapt to change, there is a very real risk that if they fail to adapt, their operating model will become untenable, as competition from the web giants extends into every industry sector.

According to Gartner analyst Dave Aron, Amazon, Google, Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba represent infrastructure for everything. “They are the most complex organisations we have ever seen,” he said. “They will be more important than countries. They are the master of physical logistics and infrastructure of everything – and they have deep pockets.”

The diverse range of services they offer – from e-commerce and payment services to insurance and logistics – means these organisations will touch every single industry. “They are in all industries,” said Aron.

Competing in a world where the likes of Amazon, Alibaba and Google represent the biggest risk to business requires more than a strategy that aligns IT with the business. The CIO needs an entirely new strategy, where change is the only constant.

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