When an IT function does as little technology as possible

I've just returned from giving a key-note address at the Ovum Industry Congress in London, writes Terry White, research director, CXO Advisor.

I've just returned from giving a key-note address at the Ovum Industry Congress in London, writes Terry White, research director, CXO Advisor. The short version of my message was that the IT department as we know it is dead. We've never done the 'I' and the 'T' is now a commodity, much better managed by suppliers.

What the IT Department should be doing is 'ACT' - Applied competitive technology. Yes there's still a technology element, but it's only the management of the suppliers of your technology. The real focus should be on the 'applied' part - how well is your organisation using the technology at their disposal. And of course the 'Competitive' part is about where the technology will add significant differentiation to your organisation's products, markets and channels.

What pleased me though, was the indirect support that many of the Ovum analysts gave to this new view of IT's role. The basic message was that many CIOs are coming to the realisation that there are three layers of technology in the organisation, and that their involvement in each layer is different.

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Let's talk about the most contentious: End-user computing. There's growing understanding that there are too many end-user devices out there, and that users are making their own choices of devices, personal apps, and personal data. IT can't control this, and nor should they try. They can influence users decisions through social collaboration platforms. Let the users decide.

The next layer is the cloud. Broadly speaking this is where the organisation gets its 'business as usual' computing from service providers - Software, platforms and infrastructure is all offered as a service. So why should IT do it? They do have to orchestrate usage, and integrate cloud services data with the core in-house apps.

Which brings us to the core in-house environment, which the IT department should fiercely consolidate, and standardise, because they need to ensure that this core is as safe and protected as possible.

Where does security come in, you might ask? Well the new security thinking is that you provide a 'container' per user and you wrap that container in what Cisco calls 'dynamic context'. So when a user signs in you want to know who they are, what they have access to, where they are, and what time it is, amongst others. So if your CFO signs in from Nigeria at 3 in the morning, it's probably not your CFO, unless she has made specific arrangements to do so.

Integration also happens in the container

So the summary role for the new IT department is to allow users to BYOT (bring your own technology) but influence decisions here. To orchestrate

access to the cloud services available, and to tightly manage a bare minimum core environment. And then get on with the 'applied' and 'competitive' parts of ACT.

As one CIO said at the congress: 'There's millions of apps out there. So my IT guys find stuff rather than build stuff. They have really gotten into this 'do as little as possible' mind-set, because they are more concerned about how the company uses the 'stuff' and less about what the 'stuff' is.

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