The Hybrid Enterprise Demands An IT Shift

As disruptive technologies change our enterprises, we must also rethink our approach to IT investments.

During the early days of the Internet boom, an investor friend posited that while the Web might make a car manufacturer's business marginally more efficient, it was still just about the car. In that regard, he asserted that the Internet was just a new phone, and that the carmaker's core business was not going to change. It seemed reasonable at the time.

Today we have all kinds of examples that demonstrate my friend was wrong. Disruptive technologies are upsetting the applecart all the time in ways we cannot predict. Today, every business is a digital business. If your organization cannot adapt, it can perish very quickly.

As technology has advanced, the enterprise itself has changed. Let’s call it Enterprise with a big E.

The new Enterprise now depends on all types of integrated partners, from suppliers, to intermediaries, to colleagues, to customers, to citizens, directly and indirectly participating in combining data that turns into some kind of information or activity. This integration now happens within systems that are increasingly made up of composite services inside and outside the old business IT boundary and that are increasingly shared across agencies.

Digital strategies depend on social networks enabling collaboration in ways we could not have imagined. With untold variations of public and private clouds, mobile access, the Internet of things, and big data analytics, the agency of old is now truly something more diverse and more complex: a continuously evolving multi-dimensional hybrid Enterprise that is organic and alive.

Just as my friend could not see the changes coming with the Internet, neither can anyone accurately predict where the new hybrid Enterprise will take us in the years to come. What opportunities and threats will arise from this continuous integration?

Insightful government agencies will embrace a strategy to enable the new hybrid Enterprise, not by predicting the future or fixating on the cloud as the solution, but by making sure the pragmatic day-to-day IT investments are tuned to provide flexibility and to reduce complexity for the business. Success is now dependent on a more holistic management approach to infrastructure, applications and end user/customer/partner enablement. The world of hybrid Enterprise still places a premium on compliance and security, an imperative that has only become more urgent.

[What can agencies learn from IT investments that fail? Read: Lessons For Recovering When Your IT Project Crashes.]

Federal agencies such as the General Services Administration, the IRS, and the Department of the Interior are making dramatic changes to mission-critical IT services in order to enable their vision of hybrid Enterprise. GSA's decision to move to cloud email and collaboration more than two years ago now seems so logical. Costs were reduced, and collaboration was greatly enhanced. But prior to that proof point, security concerns had pretty much closed the door on software-as-a-service.

The IRS's recent move to private cloud storage has not gotten as much attention, but it is a radical departure in the business model. Think of the nation's tax records stored in contractor-owned infrastructure located in IRS data centers, but with per-gigabyte, consumption-based pricing.

The recent move by the Department of the Interior to move its agency ERP system into a private cloud environment is equally groundbreaking. Talk about mission-critical! These agencies are taking advantage of real cloud trends to become more agile, focused, and efficient.

We can't know what your hybrid Enterprise will look like in the years to come but we do know it will keep evolving. We need to think differently about how our IT investments can best help achieve our missions. One of my personal heroes, Albert Einstein, wrote about how the process of our thinking can change the future of our world, cause or prevent wars, and create new models of cooperation.

Our challenge in IT, while less dramatic, may be no less important in defining our future. Innovative IT is promoting the integration and co-opetition that are expanding the scope of the Enterprise. Einstein declared that the world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.

Here’s to the future!

Peter Gallagher is Group Vice President and Managing Partner for Horizontal Solutions across the federal government for Unisys. He has more than 20 years’ experience in IT services in the federal sector, specializing in IT re-use strategies, applications, security, end-user support, and datacenter transformation.

Moving email to the cloud has lowered IT costs and improved efficiency. Find out what federal agencies can learn from early adopters in "The Great Email Migration" report. (Free registration required.)