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4/12/2012
12:28 PM
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IT Spending: Innovation Talk Vs. Survival Walk

Today's IT spending figures reveal much maintenance work. Has innovation stalled because IT is playing catch up after a long winter of spending freezes and cuts?

"Our six year old servers are so out of date that you even can't run hypervisors on them. Now you want me to spin up private cloud?" As I was going over the latest InformationWeek Reports research on IT spending, I was amazed to find that the top categories for project spending are largely for what you'd think of as the yesteryears of IT basics: storage, network, and server updates. Yes, the long winter of spending freezes and cuts seems to be over (see our forthcoming report for the details), yet, the spending priorities for IT aren't matching the bluster that I'm hearing elsewhere about new, innovative IT projects. What gives?

I shared my thoughts with Art Wittmann, director of InformationWeek Reports, and he replied, "I wonder to what degree this reflects that many IT teams are simply overtasked and underfunded?" It's a good point. Many IT operations have been so starved for cash that they've had to do the moral equivalent of eating seed corn so that their maintenance and operations didn't starve to death. Now that budgets have thawed somewhat, it's time to replenish that seed corn. It makes sense at some level.

We all know of operations that are still running on a four-year capital replacement lifecycle. But we also all know of operations that are still running on six- or even eight-year-old servers, load balancers, switches, firewalls, you name it. And these aren't necessarily secondary or backup systems, these are the primary systems that an organization is relying on for business-critical functions. I don't care what type of cool innovation you're running, goes the thinking, if I'm on an end-of-life platform and something bad happens, the business is screwed and I'm going to be held responsible.

[ Creating an IT strategy "aligned" with business goals just makes things worse. Forget Alignment: How To Co-Create A Business Strategy. ]

From a human capital standpoint, most IT project and task queues are still longer than customers would like for them to be. At my organization, for example, the work order queue backlog is about a month of total ticket volume. At another organization that I know of, the IT project queue is at least 24 months long. As with any responsible IT organization, these projects and work orders are triaged and prioritized so that urgent and time-sensitive matters percolate to the top, but we all know that there are items that are merely "important" that aren't getting done.

Want external validation that IT is struggling for human capital? ISACA's Governance of Enterprise IT (GEIT) 2012 Survey shows that among almost 4,000 IT professionals, more than half cited "not enough IT staff" as something that caused the enterprise a problem in the last year. Point is, with work backlogs with queues like this, you will definitely get to the items that you know are critical, but you don't know what you don't know: There might be items in the queue that seem like they're mundane, but in reality, once you start down the path, will be transformative or at least highly important.

If you'll forgive the turn of phrase, putting "pie in the sky" projects like cloud computing on project dockets that are this big seems frivolous at best, and even irresponsible at worst.

I can't say that I don't relate, because I do, but IT's role isn't just about survival. Persian poet Moslih Saadi wrote, "If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft, and from thy slender store two loaves alone to thee are left, sell one, and with the dole, buy hyacinths to feed thy soul."

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In the enterprise IT context, we need to remember that while security and reliability (otherwise known as operational "safety") are important, the larger reason why we even HAVE this storage, network, and server infrastructure is because the organization uses it as a platform for innovation.

There's got to be middle ground between a bunker mentality, where it's all about maintenance and operational upgrades, and a willy-nilly "spend everything on innovation" mentality. I tend to think that a high-functioning IT organization should be thinking very carefully about how to direct that infrastructure-update money in a way that satisfies BOTH maintenance and operations--as well as innovation.

To wit, I think if you're not thinking cloud for your infrastructure, you may regret it a few years down the line, much like some who invested in on-premises CRM may have regretted it when they saw their competitors using Salesforce.com's software-as-a-service. I'm not saying replace ALL of your infrastructure with cloud, but I think it's a mistake not to put a pretty high priority on, at least, sticking a toe in the water and identifying SOME systems to put on cloud infrastructure. If your staff balks at the DIY nature of open source clouds, your old standby vendors will come through for you with what Wittmann calls "cloud for the rest of us." But, for Pete's sake, do SOMETHING modern when it comes to infrastructure!

Am I wrong? It's all very well to say "find a balance," but how do you find it? I'm interested in knowing where YOUR organization has landed, and why. Let me know your story, and I may feature you in our upcoming report. Does your shop focus on survival, or is there something more?

Jonathan Feldman is a contributing editor for InformationWeek and director of IT services for a rapidly growing city in North Carolina. Write to him at jf@feldman.org or at @_jfeldman.

Our State Of Storage 2012 report highlights promising new technologies that aren't yet on most respondents' radar and offers advice as you plan your 2012 storage strategy. (Free registration required.)

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Jason Sharp
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Jason Sharp,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/18/2012 | 7:37:14 PM
re: IT Spending: Innovation Talk Vs. Survival Walk
Wow, Jonathan, heavy stuff here. I don't find them that surprising, sadly. And the same applies to the earlier comments of this article.

I know I'm talking more about the human capital side vs. hardware and systems here, but I think I've seen so much cutbacks in the last 5 years or so, varsity staff laid off to keep the more affordable jr. varsity, overall headcount reductions and huge outsourcing of both development and lights on support. In effect, the brain drain has already happened in many shops, as has the shrinking of the burstable bandwidth to master new skills, take on new responsibilities, and carry the load of extra initiatives. I even blogged about it previously: The IT Generalist and the Tribal Maven

I think as a result, businesses and governments need a better partner model. Effectively, they have been forced to specialize their scarce IT resources along critical responsibilities--and at the very core are sustaining the connectivity infrastructure (desktop/device support, etc.), maintaining the business systems/databases themselves, and organizing/serving enterprise data.

To address the business needs for new functionality and efficiency, and to help abstract dependencies on those aging, locked-in systems, partners who bring expertise (bridging both business and technology), bandwidth and modern SaaS tools are the only solution in the short or midterm. I fear this approach entails business as directing the innovation, savvy partners implement it, and IT focuses primarily as the custodians. In this partnership, the partners are beholden to IT's aim to simplify any future state--so they are not only assisting the biz side but the IT as well.

We couldn't see any other effective path forward or way to sidestep the dire situations facing midsize and large orgs. Consequently, we became just such a partner, effectively adapting to this challenging reality and providing a viable option to our customers.
jfeldman
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jfeldman,
User Rank: Strategist
4/17/2012 | 10:48:08 PM
re: IT Spending: Innovation Talk Vs. Survival Walk
Given that all technology adoption tends to be flawed, I think that citing "processes and/or systems being flawed" as a reason not to adopt is, well, flawed. Of course executives are going to continue to promise more than they can deliver. Of course executives are going to jump on anything that promises less of a human capital investment. Of course project sponsors are guilty of unique invulnerability syndrome (that is, "nothing bad will happen to ME when I push my staff to adopt this technology). But does that mean that we allow others to innovate while we do nothing except for complain? I admit that it's a hard problem. But it's an error to oversimplify it into "management vs network engineers".
MyW0r1d
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MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Strategist
4/15/2012 | 11:24:01 PM
re: IT Spending: Innovation Talk Vs. Survival Walk
It sounds strangely familiar to the calls to rush to virtualization (and let's face it, it is an extension to include all devices and software). Then, I heard more than one CIO or their respective equivalents citing cost reductions which included personnel in addition to the hardware and heating and cooling aspects. I do not dispute the later two benefits. A VM still requires management for performance and precursors to failure. Failures still need to be investigated and root causes determined. Physical machines still need to be correctly sized for the VM load they will carry. I do not buy the rhetoric that the increase of virtual machines can be managed more cost effectively than a significantly lower number of physical devices (many have replaced cohosted physical environments with dedicated VMs doubling or tripling the actual count producing a VM spread condition). I am referring specifically to the personnel aspect. It has lead to is the condition cited in the article "lack of personnel" as these CIOs must put their budgets where their "pie in the sky" rhetoric told senior management it would take them.

Cloud computing and self provisioning will be more and more of a necessity and may even allow some conservation of personnel resources as efficiency increases. Many however are now realizing it is not a one size fits all, best option. CIOs may have been their own worst enemy failing to realize savings in one area might mean greater expense in others (whether infrastructure or programmers) to realize the projects and integration. Not understanding the reasoning behind the capital replacement cycle is only further indication of why MBAs should have technical undergraduate foundations.
SouthRoad
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SouthRoad,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/14/2012 | 1:30:23 AM
re: IT Spending: Innovation Talk Vs. Survival Walk
I completely agree, going forward the bulk of IT dollars are going to be needed to keep systems from completely failing. From a programmer and consultant point of view, I don't even understand why most systems haven't failed already. We are heading for a perfect storm and it is called "I quit". I can tell you first hand that there are so many programmers floating resumes right now that the musical chairs that's about to happen could collapse the industry.

Everybody is talking about the baby boomers retiring and the brain drain that it will cause, but what about the brain drain of having 20% of your most talented people walking out the door over the next 24 months? This about to happen folks. It is also about to happen at a point in time when the IT industry has been running on 2 spark plugs. Did I forget to mention IT shops running on 2 plugs AND loyalty being ZERO! Come on, what do you think will happen? ---and THEN the baby boomers will retire! It sure doesn't look good from where I am standing.

I see it first hand every day that the companies that outsourced the most are at the most risk. Do you think an Indian programmer in India is any more loyal to an American company than the Americans who watched their friends get fired? Turnover is already a big problem in India right now--so much for loyalty over there!

The projects that were outsourced have now become the boat anchors to the business and are already are at end-of-life whether management chooses to realize it or not. Just try to advance one of those outsourced projects. I'm not seeing it happening anywhere. They are all stuck in mud. I see delays and failures happening every day and did I forget to mention that you no longer have any control?

The smart companies have already started bringing their projects back and are doing so very quietly so that they can hire up the few remaining highly skilled American programmers before the rest of the industry gets wind as to what is really going on. Why do you think the demand for programmers keeps inching up? It's a quiet movement because they know that by the time the rush starts all the chairs will be taken! Do you really believe that India, Inc. is going to hand all those projects back? Good luck!

I can't believe how disconnected magazines like this are to the movement and how all this is still happening under the radar, yet it seems like its an open secret amongst many programmers who are watching all this play out. Wake up! Corporate IT is about to fail, and the leaders (readers of magazines like this) are enjoying the good music on the deck of the Titanic,

....You have no idea what is coming over the horizon! If you haven't figured it out by now then you may as well just relax and enjoy the show. If you haven't already started bringing your projects back home by now then it's probably too late! You already missed that boat. There just aren't enough good programmers left over here because most of them have all been kick out to make room for the freshers with fake resumes coming from offshore. Why do you think there's a skills shortage? Duh!

The title of this article nails it on the head "Survival Walk" but I really don't believe you know just how right you are.

EVVJSK
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EVVJSK,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/13/2012 | 12:01:39 PM
re: IT Spending: Innovation Talk Vs. Survival Walk
Everyone is so iPad/iPhone/Tablet etc.. crazy, that little work is being done other than trying to figure out how to revamp Development environments to support them (and in most cases, we are still going to need Windows in the form of Desktops, Laptops, or at least VDI). This whole BYOD to work thing is likely overblown to some degree. I am not against some sort of movement, but it seems to me that it could be somewhat of a distraction (ala the Thin Client fad of 10 years ago).
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