converged-infrastructure
Infrastructure Management

The Strategic CIO in A Converged World

Nigel Moulton, CTO EMEA at VCE, argues that the same convergence that gives the CIO opportunities to escape the 80/20 rule creates opportunities for innovation and revenue growth

The challenge of agility

The proliferation of technology has created a world where everything is mobile, connected, interactive, immediate, and fluid. The new wave of customers, partners, and employees have little patience for businesses that can’t respond to their needs—instantly. As a result, businesses across the world are looking to rapidly develop and deploy a new generation of customer facing applications and services that help them stay ahead, or match their competitors.

Whether it’s a major website failing to cope with customer demands during peak cycles, misuse of customer data from entertainment providers or beyond, we’ve seen countless examples of organisations large and small that have suffered from a lack of investment in technology and hindered their ability to respond to customer or market dynamics. And indeed responding to shortcomings seems to take too long – anything more than hours can cripple a business, in both revenue and reputation.

Against this backdrop the CIO faces a heightened challenge. If they are expected to take on a more customer facing role, how do they escape the 80/20 rule, the Pareto principle, where 80% of their budget has been spent on maintenance with just 20% spent on innovation. It’s dominated IT discussions for years and continues to do so even now.

It all starts by freeing assets trapped in operations, in part, at least, by using an IT department that is focused on delivering services rather than managing ‘the plumbing’. This will better align IT with the wide variety of fluctuating business demands, and consolidate expertise and resources around fewer, simpler, automated resources.

The opportunity for convergence

The CIO is becoming a service broker and therefore has one of the most important roles in the organisation. In this role, the CIO must build and maintain a service delivery channel that delivers tangible value to the business by controlling cost, meeting customer satisfaction, and therefore driving incremental revenue and profitability.

Unfortunately, in many organisations, the effects of IT sprawl—rigid and costly IT silos that are inflexible and overly complex—are stifling the CIOs ability to meet the increased pace of business demand. Consider the case of Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company known for its pioneering research. Prior to working with VCE, Purdue had a computing environment that was so complex its small IT team was finding it difficult to keep up with the growing business demands. They turned to VCE, a company formed by Cisco and EMC (with investments from Intel and VMware) to move the company’s applications into an efficient virtualised, converged environment. As a result, Purdue’s IT infrastructure can be managed from anywhere, so resources can be spread and used wherever convenient. 

To overcome sprawl and deliver the innovation required by businesses, CIOs are looking to rationalise and simplify their infrastructure, and as such many are turning to infrastructure convergence. Converged infrastructure simply rolls compute, storage and networking into a self-provisioning pool of shared resources that can be pre-configured to drop into your data centre. That way, it's up and running in hours or days, not weeks or months. At its core, it eliminates the busywork of provisioning servers, storage area networks, local area networks and applications, which takes multiple teams of people, and replaces it with plug-and-play options that come ready to go (more or less) out of the box.

The role of BYOD and the enterprise app store

Just as the role of the CIO is changing, so too is the context of which IT is delivered. It’s here where converged infrastructure is arriving not a minute too soon for CIOs pressured by a variety of different commercial and regulatory pressures, not least among them the trend of BYOD. For years, it’s been an issue CIOs have had to wrestle with as the idea of allowing employees to operate personal devices to access secure documents or applications could compromise serious risk policies. For example internet services like Evernote and Google Drive often end up holding a great deal of confidential business information that could put the organisation at risk of regulatory reprisal.

In turn this has created another dilemma for the CIO. The BYOD phenomenon has led many users to expect their work devices and software to deliver the same usability and experience that they have outside of the office. For example, anyone familiar with the Apple App Store expects the ease in which they can purchase and run applications to be matched by the corporate function.

Creating an in-house app store filled with approved apps that employees can easily acquire and corporate IT departments can more effectively administer is a perfect response to this trend. A well-architected app store can replace the antiquated service catalogues of the past. It could not only provision the best apps available, but also monitor their usage, manage license fees, generate and track departmental spend to support internal (and external) cross-charging and help CIOs predict further app requirements.

The commercial opportunities for the CIO

Having created an in-house app store, there is a primary opportunity to change the way IT is funded and cross-charged internally that supports the enterprise and the people consuming the apps. For example, after delivering the app to the finance team, the costs for continued use of the app should fall on their department, rather than IT having to foot the bill because of its position as a technology cost. In doing so, organisations can spend less “keeping the lights on” and move away from the 80/20 rule to allow more resources to be put behind programs that generate strategic value from the CIO around research and development, data insight, application development and innovation.

Furthermore businesses that have the insight and ability to transform customer data into knowledge are better positioned to uncover new sales and business-development opportunities. Take the work the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) has been doing with Pivotal as an example of what can be achieved when you start to free the appropriate resources. The NYSE has been able to build a solution that helps its analysts quickly access data they need from the wide variety of data sources available to them. Working with Pivotal, they were able to achieve such high standards of managing their data assets that they were able to productise their technology and launch a whole new product.

Outside of the internal needs the organisation places on IT, CIOs are becoming more central to the commercial opportunities that arise from customers increasing awareness and acceptance of using technology to conduct the majority of their transactions through online or via mobile technology. Increasingly, the means of production (IT) is becoming the most visible, scalable asset for a company. IT is the ‘factory’ of modern business and the information its most valuable competitive advantage. The ‘factories’ of information business is their information infrastructure. If you have IP or apps that others may pay for, converged infrastructure combined with a service catalogue makes it relatively straightforward to deliver similar or related services to customers directly.

Converged infrastructure delivers the simplicity that will free resources for the CIO to consider how they can deliver to the commercial gain of the business and turn a cost centre into a profit centre. As a first step you need to look at how you escape the 80/20 rule to have the time to do this.

First steps

Converged infrastructure is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Many organisations prove the concept and its value by starting with small operations development platforms. Others begin with a major application (such as SAP) that already runs on dedicated servers and storage, and that can immediately benefit from improved scalability and resource optimisation. It’s possible to run a heterogeneous environment with converged and non-converged infrastructure, although you don’t get the full benefits of convergence.

It’s also not a question of a single enormous investment. Selling models from vendors for these converged systems are changing; vendor financing is available, much more affordable service wraps (after all, it’s with one vendor, not three or four), and investment models that scale in line with natural infrastructure refresh cycles.

Conclusion

Today’s business constraints have less to do with technology and everything to do with imagination. How CIOs align the expectation of responsiveness the business has whilst dealing with the day to day maintenance of the organisation depends on whether CIOs can find a way of freeing assets trapped in operations and using an infrastructure that establishes a services-oriented IT organisation.

CIOs and IT organisations can maximise their value by enabling their businesses to turn this corner.  Converged infrastructure can meet pragmatic objectives around cost, performance, risk, and agility. It can also shape how your enterprise operates and innovates in a world with fewer technological constraints. This is all part of the role of the Strategic CIO.

 

Nigel Moulton is CTO EMEA at VCE

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