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Executive interview: ManageEngine president Rajesh Ganesan on the ‘three Ws’ of digital change

Today's IT management model must assume that the workforce can operate from any workplace and use any workload with ease and security, as the security and service management software supplier explains

To measure the maturity of digital transformation, companies need to review the status of the so-called “three Ws”: workforce, workplace and workloads.

That is, having a workforce – which includes all of a company’s business partners and stakeholders – capable of working from anywhere securely and with a good experience, using any workload or tool available.

According to Rajesh Ganesan, president of IT management software supplier ManageEngine, in an interview with ComputerWeekly.es, this is “how you can see if you are more digitally mature”, and the IT management model should change based on that assessment.

The executive says that hybrid work with a strong service management experience, enterprise-wide IT functions and generative AI are the main trends being considered in changing the way IT is managed. In addition, he recommends that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) consider outsourcing and managed services so they can focus on what they do well.

What are the top IT management trends you’ve observed post-pandemic?

Rajesh Ganesan: The main challenge for organisations, not just IT, is to enable hybrid work and still be able to deliver a great service management experience for people. Ideally, one could be working in any front-office or back-office function, in any vertical, without compromising security or privacy, and following all the regulations. This has not yet been fully achieved, so delivering a really great experience is still a challenge.

When I talk about experience, I mean that I should have no barriers when doing work, in the access for people, to collaboration, to information, in the ability to create content or to communicate. At the same time, security is very important with the devices I carry, [as well as managing] my identity.

The second post-pandemic trend is that because employees are now self-sufficient, there is no longer a total reliance on IT teams. Professionals are becoming very tech-savvy. We used to have an enterprise IT team that served a function, the same as marketing, legal, sales, administration or HR. Now, that’s becoming something called enterprise-wide IT, which means that within each business area you will have someone fulfilling an IT function [rather than a centralised function].

Nowadays, HR is very technology-intensive because they must review thousands of resumes and they no longer review them manually. You need AI there to filter them. With one click you can schedule a virtual interview, conduct it, review the answers, analyse them, send a proposal, sign it. That means HR needs IT within its area, the same for marketing. All of this needs technology to run the services. At the same time, on top of that, must go security and privacy, which still needs a central IT function to govern the use of technology.

The third trend is all the talk about generative AI. This is shaping a lot of technology because the expectations on the IT team are getting higher and higher. People see the potential, the possibilities, and they want a piece of the pie. How can my company have the same benefits? Companies generate a lot of data and are always looking to get insights from that data to make better decisions. They are always considering what better things they can do, what complex problems they can solve, how much more creative they can be with all the data. So, they’re looking for expertise and IT professionals to help them do that.

Before, IT’s job was to keep the infrastructure running, deliver devices and services, and now we see these kinds of trends shaping how IT thinks, how they estimate infrastructure, how they do their job and deliver services, how they think about security, and so on.

What do you need to apply the enterprise-wide IT model without failure or frustration?

Ganesan: That’s a fair question, and that’s why we say that this is not “IT democratisation”. In fact, I personally feel uncomfortable using the term democratisation when it comes to IT, so I call it decentralisation or enterprise-wide IT.

Democratisation means that anyone can do anything, but people may not know the best way to do it. You can be the best legal counsel, but you don’t know technology; you can be the best salesperson, but you may not be good at technology. That’s why within each area – HR, marketing, sales, legal, and so on – you need a team of IT experts. If you look at the industry, we started with DevOps and then DevSecOps; now the trend goes towards FinOps (financial operations), MarkOps (marketing operations), RevOps (revenue operations).

Rajesh Ganesha

“Democratisation means that anyone can do anything, but people may not know the best way to do it”

Rajesh Ganesan, ManageEngine

This means you need a team of technologists within each business function of the organisation. They look at data to maximise profits and help incorporate features if needed in the field, for example, to collect invoices faster. These are people who have some programming skills, some analytical skills, who may not know all the programming languages, but do know scripting to look at gigabytes of data and give insights into what is the next opportunity and where is it coming from, what process changes can we make to maximise profit collection, what is the next geographic area we need to address.

That’s why I strongly recommend that every business function have a team of experts with full accountability, who know what they’re doing, who are responsible for their decisions and make them. This model solves the problem we used to have of what we called shadow IT.

Do you think this model also works for SMEs?

Ganesan: Let’s put them in three categories. Large corporations have different problems, but the model is not a problem for them. They may have silos; they can have decentralisation because they have the resources and the budget to handle it. At the other extreme, we have the ones that are very small and may have only one person or none running the show, so there it doesn’t make sense to talk about decentralisation.

The problem comes in the medium size, with hundreds or a thousand people, where you have a limit around talent and budget. Those companies must choose their area of expertise. You have a restricted team, and that team’s strength might be in service management for example, or security services. [They should] understand what they can do really well. Own that piece. For the rest of the pieces, you have the managed service provider model. Choose very well where to spend your money and what to outsource. My experience comes from places like India and Australia.

What are your observations on the evolution of cloud usage in enterprises?

Ganesan: The path now is very clear. When a new technology comes in, we want to go from zero to everything. Eventually, we ended up with the hybrid model. This also happened with remote working.

We have a lot of things on premise, we have the cloud, but we can’t move everything to the cloud because we can’t afford it. We have our private cloud, and we have things that are still on premises. There are applications that are very natural to move to the cloud, like sales management operations or e-commerce apps, but with the back-end, the databases, all the important data and personal information, the applications that process that, like HR or payroll, or if you’re a government agency, you don’t want to take any risk.

Why do you think companies have a hard time understanding the different forms of cloud and how to leverage them?

Ganesan: When it comes to the cloud, the technology is not at all challenging. It is much simpler than on-premise technologies and makes life simpler. The problem comes from the legal and compliance aspects. We have a dedicated standard with GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] in Europe, and the US has its own standards, as well as Latin America. This demarcation, this division, was not brought by technology but by [regulatory] factors. Imagine if you are a global company – these regulations and legislations change often.

Now, imagine small companies specialising in manufacturing, hospitality, healthcare, or insurance trying to move to the cloud. When you’re in healthcare, you have health records; if you’re in insurance, financial information. If you want to be a global company, you don’t know how accountable you are to different customers in different places, and to me that’s really the challenge.

When you’re in these situations, companies take the easier route of going to private cloud or hybrid cloud. We have an architecture where we know that the data – all the information about me, the responsibilities, and the regulations – sits in the cloud, on premise or in a private cloud, and we have APIs to mesh everything together, so we don’t take any risk.

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As a company, you have technology in the cloud, but you need customers to sign up with you, see your terms of service, see your licensing and pricing model, see the regulations, click OK and pay you. You need to give them confidence in who holds the data and what happens to that data – and that is still a very grey area for many companies.

By default, we have a public cloud model with software as a service. Depending on customer interests, we also have private cloud partners and on-premise offerings. We want to sell a 100% cloud model, but in five years we have realised that this single model does not work for everyone because life is not black and white, and the same goes for the cloud.

The answer is that companies have trouble moving to the cloud not because of the technology, but because of regulations and culture. The technology is the easy part – you know what works and what doesn’t.

Regarding the future of digital work, what do you think is most challenging for organisations as they move towards digital transformation?

Some of the trends we talked about earlier are some [of the challenges], but these are challenges that our clients understand. It’s about how you approach the problem [and understand] what options they have.

Today, IT is a problem that is taken care of by the IT team. It’s a centralised IT model. That mindset must change completely. Until now we were talking about separate management, separate customers, separate partners. But today you can’t treat all those people differently.

That’s another factor – companies assumed that all their employees would be working from one location. That was a company approach when managing technology. We no longer think of employees, contractors, freelancers separately – they all become part of your workforce, anybody who participates and contributes to your business is part of your workforce. The technology they use, the information they access, the actions they take, their identity, the devices they use, it’s all equally important. You need to treat them all the same because they are all part of the workforce. That’s the first W.

Then comes how you run your office. Your office may have the perfect security settings: firewalls, surveillance cameras, and so on. But the moment any of the workforce is working from home, a coffee shop or on the road, the security or IT team does not consider them with equal priority. Again, don’t look at those places separately. Any place where someone in the workforce is doing some work for the company becomes the workplace. That’s the second W.

Finally, we talk about technology’s decentralisation, how people choose what they want to use. Companies used to think, “I have my own datacentre inside my company” or “I have a cloud”, this is what I run. I don’t care what my employees, my contractors or my partners use.

Today, we say to our partners, “You can only use this software, these devices and these applications”. But every browser tab is an application. You can have a SIAM [service integration and management] application, so how do you give access to your contractors? Because you have different types of partners – distribution partners who have been with you for 15 years, and affiliated transactional partners who only signed up last week. We can’t have different applications for these people. And you have servers, applications, core devices, mobile apps, browsers – all of that becomes workloads, the third W.

If you want to talk about being completely digitally transformed you have to look at yourself through these three Ws – the workforce, the workplace and the workloads. The workforce working from any workplace, using any of the workloads. That’s how you can see if you are more digitally mature. That’s how the IT management model needs to change.

You can’t have divisive thinking but treat everyone equally. That is how companies need to think about this three Ws model and how ManageEngine is evolving our entire platform and product set to help our customers see themselves in this model and be able to manage efficiently and with great performance.

In that three Ws model, do you think identity becomes the new perimeter?

Absolutely. Whoever coined that phrase is a genius because that’s really the only perimeter. And identity is not just for humans, but for machines, applications and every technical entity you can imagine.

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