Cloud // Software as a Service
Commentary
2/5/2014
09:06 AM
Mark Thiele
Mark Thiele
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
Google+
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Sync IT And Business Like A School Of Fish

It's time to embrace the "composable enterprise" model. IT and the business need to be in constant sync, with either one able to take a leadership role in real time.

Keeping IT and business in sync is not a new goal -- it's been discussed for years. Finding a way to do it is the hard part. Even when the business removes political and functional barriers, there are serious limitations in how quickly and effectively IT can respond.

The limitations of legacy IT relate to the difficulty of effecting change. Adding geographic diversity, integrating new partners, increasing capacity, and bringing new capabilities online are all incredibly time-consuming tasks. A modern "composable" IT strategy, however, enables you to buy software-as-a-service or cloud resources in five different countries. You can build your infrastructure in a combination of environments, like co-location, hosting, and cloud datacenters, and you can partner for IT human resources when necessary.

These "modern IT" options -- using outside services -- position your company to respond at a moment's notice to changing business demands. Any of these options can be acquired in bite-sized chunks and utilized as needed. In legacy IT, the time needed to acquire new software or datacenter capacity has historically been measured in months or years, and that pace is now simply too slow.

Author Jonathan Murray calls this new agile business the "composable enterprise." The fact is, businesses have historically always acted faster than IT, and new digitally driven business models will only widen the chasm. Simple improvements in how IT is delivered won't fix this problem. Comparing a traditional business to a composable enterprise is like comparing a herd of reasonably well-managed cats to a school of fish, in which every part of the business can lead or follow while remaining consistently in sync. IT will need much more than cool technology to become part of the "school."

People versus technology
It's easy to accept the idea of the composable enterprise. It's more difficult to internalize the impact that designing and running a composable enterprise will have on staff and technology adoption. Li & Fung Trading, a clothing distributor, provides an excellent example of taking this composable business model to the extreme. For a given clothing order, Li & Fung might get yarn from Korea, buttons from China, weaving in Taiwan, and assembly in Pakistan. For the next order, it might use a completely different set of suppliers. Joe Weinman covers this topic in detail in his book, Cloudonomics (Wiley, 2012).

[Want to learn more about reorienting and building your IT staff? Read 3 IT Lessons From Entrepreneurs.]

When you consider the need to move teams, apply short-term contract support, replace suppliers up and down the chain, move money, and adopt new applications -- all in real time -- you can begin to see the issues traditional businesses face. I've led IT infrastructure teams that struggled to implement virtualization because the finance department couldn't decide the best way to bill individual departments. Moving to a composable enterprise is magnitudes more complex than figuring out chargeback billing.

With change comes a plethora of problems involving responsibility, budget, quality control, schedules, and fear of change, to name only a few. Now imagine trying to tackle any one of these problems with a traditional fixed IT infrastructure and legacy applications. You may not realize it yet, but the need to become a composable enterprise simply to stay competitive might justify retiring legacy applications ahead of their standard upgrade/retirement schedule.

Rethinking IT leadership
Assuming change is constant, the best way to help employees embrace it is through effective hiring, training, and rewards. Most reward and recognition strategies used by IT groups tend to focus on the "hero" -- someone with deep skills in a specific area. This can cause what's known as "server hugger's disease," a term that refers to the notion of "owning" stuff and being the best at a specific technology rather than at bringing about improvements. To discourage this mindset, it's essential to prepare staff in advance and provide training, recognition, and rewards aimed at solving problems.

IT leaders must be incented differently, too. Instead of being rewarded for having a large team or for building a big data center, for example, leaders should be evaluated by how well they've developed a business-focused team or how efficiently they can deliver complex critical resources. Rapid change and increased integration with the business also means that IT leaders will need to focus on sharing resources, and become more strategic about hiring and staff development.

The composable enterprise -- based on services outside the enterprise datacenter -- is where business is going. If you're not headed there it's because your business has already failed. Unfortunately, there's no "before and after" picture that shows the benefits of a business adopting a CE model -- but resisting the move is like refusing to have a website. It will prove self-destructive and ultimately fatal.

I don't believe there's room for debate on this matter. Mobility, cloud, SaaS, wearable tech, the Internet of Things, and other technologies are influencing all aspects of our work, our businesses, and our lives. The ability to turn on a dime and deliver new requirements overnight while maintaining quality and margins is only going to become more imperative.

A school of fish
IT in a composable enterprise functions with a "get out of the way of the business" mindset. They respond with "where and how many" instead of "that will take twelve months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars." Companies can no longer afford to adapt their business strategies around the inherent inadequacies of legacy IT. We must begin acting in and thinking of business as if all its functions are fish within a larger school. Only after we've implemented processes, people, and tools that allow each group to take the lead or follow the leader in real time will we know our business has transformed.

Cloud Connect Summit, March 31 – April 1 2014, offers a two-day program colocated at Interop Las Vegas developed around "10 critical cloud decisions." Cloud Connect Summit zeroes in on the most pressing cloud technology, policy and organizational decisions & debates for the cloud-enabled enterprise. Cloud Connect Summit is geared towards a cross-section of disciplines with a stake in the cloud-enabled enterprise. Register for Cloud Connect Summit today.

Mark Thiele evaluates new data center technologies, develops partners, and provides thought leadership at Switch, developer of the SuperNAP chain of modern data centers, where he also writes the SwitchSCRIBE blog. Prior to joining Switch, Mark was VP of data center strategy ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
TerryB
50%
50%
TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
2/7/2014 | 1:18:22 PM
Re: Not buying it
That's not a common thing at a SMB to have a person that does just that. I had one poor Win admin guy who supported all the infrastructure for 40-45 office users (80 total workstations), the Win Servers, the VMWare environment to virtualize these servers, Win Terminal Server and the thin client deployment on shop floor using it. Then also throw in the mgmt of the basic network infrastructure needed to connect our 3 plants together. Then throw in the network printer support. And lastly he did most of Lotus Notes admin, including pushmail server/support.

Made my job supporting i5 server, ERP system and developing inhouse applications seem easy by comparison. Company also asks me to manage our cell service. I kid them that is what they pay me for, I write software for free. That's how much I love deailing with that nightmare.

Having our datacenter outsourced would solve very little of his workload. And much of this work can not be done remotely, although we implemented as many remote tools as possible due to the 3 plants (within 7 mile radius).

Your other main problem is your model depends on WAN network links being up and fast. You would need some carrier redundancy. None of that is anything close to cheap, that cost would eat up any savings outsourcing a SMALL datacenter. At a certain scale, your model begins to look more and more attractive though. Take care, enjoyed the dialog.
mthiele570
50%
50%
mthiele570,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/7/2014 | 10:24:18 AM
Re: Not buying it
TerryB, I sympathize with your concern. The fact is many jobs in IT will change, but if done right they should change in ways that allow for IT to be much more tightly integrated with business process, goal setting, and strategic initiatives. I'm not suggesting that all the traditional roles will disappear, just that finding ways to get more value and strategic advantage out of IT is more important than being trained to install software on servers or rack them in the data center. 
TerryB
50%
50%
TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
2/6/2014 | 2:48:06 PM
Re: Not buying it
Thanks for reply, Mark. I see where you are coming from. Many people are making the model you describe work, no question. My objection was strictly to the premise that is only way to go.

If you understand that I've spent my most of my career on the IBM i5 (formally AS400) midrange server, you may appreciate my position better. The nature of that machine is that it requires very little infrastructure overhead, the application guys like me that install/support ERP and write programs to fill gaps also support the o/s itself. Mainly because very little to support, you can go year(s) without rebooting if you want to. For $2500 a year, if you have a hardware problem, IBM tech shows up same day and fixes. And that's happened maybe 2-3 times in my 25 years of working on the platform.

It's strength is responding to change. I can modify programs and get them into production (either old school green screen or browser based GUI) in minutes. I can write major enhancements or new systems in days, like when photovoltaic came along. I am the type of person who can best support the business, not an outside party. Is your point people like me should no longer work directly for a business anymore? Or just that people like me don't exist in this new modern age? I must admit it certainly appears that way anymore. You are more likely to find a developer writing free apps for mobile phones than supporting a business anymore. I suspect I'm the last of dinosaurs. :-)

If this was outside, as you describe, and I (the developer) was not, the company would still need someone inhouse to coordinate all this activity with outside party. Would they be any easier to find, hire and pay? I'm qualified to do that also, just doesn't sound like much fun. :-(
mthiele10
50%
50%
mthiele10,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/6/2014 | 2:17:00 PM
Re: Not buying it
TerryB, Good comments, but some assumptions you're making are problematic. First and foremost there are and will continue to be businesses that will benefit more  or less from having better or faster IT. In a traditional manufacturing company where there are just a few products and limited global distribution, legacy IT will continue to serve just fine with basic improvements around virtualization, a little cloud/SaaS and maybe some automation.

As for internal vs. external there are many situational questions that need to be answered before a decision can be made, but in general terms the following is likely true:

Few large manufacturing firms still own the majority of their manufacturing and there are many reasons for that (Scale, risk, investment, distribution, labor, taxes, etc). In many cases IT can and does mirror manufacturing. Yes, if you have a fairly standard "unchanging" environment in most cases a well managed private environment will be best. However, once you venture beyond "unchanging" and inlude risk, global distribution, capex, speed to market, scale, etc. You're much better off putting appropriate environments in the hands of folks who manage that stuff for a living. 
TerryB
50%
50%
TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
2/6/2014 | 1:47:14 PM
Not buying it
The only argument that makes any sense for this is unpredictable scale. How many business really have that problem, especially in manufacturing.

If you have a choice of running your shop floor from the internet and running it over a LAN, and the LAN costs less, which really makes the most sense? If you can't sell the scale card, what do you have to offer to get me to rent instead of own? And rent over very expensive redundant network connections.

And none of what you say makes any sense on the software side of things. You really going to buy one SaaS service for G/L, another Purchasing, another for MES, another for Sales Order Processing, another for CRM, another for Lab (need I go on?) and just magically they'll work together as one integrated system?

Lets have a contest, whether the company I work and develop for on a local LAN and servers fails before your datacenter company does. This company has been in business since 1940's and last year was most profitable yet. So we have a little bit of a head start on your business model.

I even have a problem with the statement that "business is faster than IT". We recently started making photovoltaic wire alongside the other wire products we offer. You really think they could lease the building, install the machines, train the operators how to use, establish the vendors and acquire the first steady customers faster than I could (singlehandily) enhance our software to support this business? You really saying I could have just bought a SaaS "component" for making photovoltaic wire, much less just seemlessly plugging it into our existing system?

Come on, lets get real here. For some companies, your model may work just fine. But to say you have already "failed" because you don't, that's ridiculous.
cbabcock
50%
50%
cbabcock,
User Rank: Strategist
2/5/2014 | 5:46:54 PM
Worth a twopence and a tweet
Andi Mann tweets Mark Thiele's column, "Sync IT And Business Like A School Of Fish,"with comment, "Great Piece."
mthiele10
50%
50%
mthiele10,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/5/2014 | 5:25:33 PM
Re: Control issues
Hi Laurianne, Thank you.  I hope you get some feedback on what the IT Hero of tomorrow looks like. 
Laurianne
50%
50%
Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
2/5/2014 | 2:10:42 PM
Control issues
Mark, good food for thought. Readers, how do you think the definition of an IT hero will change in the next few years at your companies?
mthiele10
50%
50%
mthiele10,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/5/2014 | 1:28:49 PM
Re: 'Composable enterprise' a lot like a composite application
Charles, that's a great comment. I see the complexity of being able to have the entire business be "plug & play" all the way down to the applications is critical. I almost wonder if there's a disruption opportunity in the "core applciation" space for the "New" ERP. Effectively a solution set that functions as the grease and knowledge for ensuring successful immediate response and reaction across all parts of the business. 
cbabcock
50%
50%
cbabcock,
User Rank: Strategist
2/5/2014 | 1:07:39 PM
'Composable enterprise' a lot like a composite application
IT at the "composable enterprise" is a lot like a composite application. An applicatoin is a composite when parts of it are running in several data centers and it frequently goes out onto to the Web or to partner sites to obtain needed services. In the future, parts of IT will come from staff and resources close at hand and other parts will come from outside the company's walls from SaaS, cloud IaaS and other external providers. So how soon is this a future reality?
8 Steps to Modern Service Management
8 Steps to Modern Service Management
ITSM as we know it is dead. SaaS helped kill it, and CIOs should be thankful. Hereís what comes next.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest Septermber 14, 2014
It doesn't matter whether your e-commerce D-Day is Black Friday, tax day, or some random Thursday when a post goes viral. Your websites need to be ready.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.