“The Changing IT Environment: How IT Can Help Drive Innovation”

By Chris Crosby, CEO of Compass Datacenters

Chris Crosby photo

In many organizations the historical role of IT has been tactical in nature. While they may have been involved in strategic decisions it was typically later in the project process with their input being mainly about the “how” rather than “should we” and “why.” This late comer status was not a reflection of the competency of the IT organization itself, but was more derived from a parochial view on the part of other departments as to their role within the company. As a result of the emergence of a number of technologies and applications in the past 3-5 years, the IT department is rapidly transcending its perceived corporate role as the “guys who keep the network up” to that of a key participant in the development of the company’s strategic vision.

Due to the increasing convergence of applications like: IoT, Big Data, etc., with the expanding range of hosting and cloud-based solutions, IT organizations are moving into a more strategic organizational role. This makes sense when you consider that the array of cloud and hosting solutions available today are essentially the equivalent of a product “stack” comprised of:

  • Application as a Service (AaaS)- AaaS is the provision of a remotely hosted application, SalesForce.com for example, by a third party source.
  • Shared cloud (public, private or hybrid)- Capacity on a server is partitioned to support multiple customers, each of which are competing for processor access. This arrangement is predicated on the premise that no single user on the server will have a processing need so large that it will negatively impact on its fellow server residents.
  • Dedicated/Bare Metal Cloud (public, private or hybrid)
  • Colocation
  • Dedicated Facilities

Each of these alternatives has particular strengths and limitations that must be evaluated for each application based on the interrelationship between four specific variables:

  1. regulation and risk
  2. scale
  3. control and
  4. internal and external expertise.

In this new role, IT must take the lead in determining the optimum platform for the company’s applications to ensure the proper cost and performance balance amongst all available alternatives. In many instances, these decisions will be ongoing as the relationship between the variable elements evolves over time. For instance, the scale of an application may reach a point that it outgrows the ability for it to be supported in a colo environment and require that it be migrated to the organization’s dedicated facility or facilities. In short, IT needs to assume the responsibility for maximizing the performance of the company’s applications based on not just their platforms but on the varying nature of their strategic importance as well.

The world of data centers and IT has historically been one of gradual evolution, but events and capabilities that have emerged over the past 3-5 years present both a challenge, and opportunity to the IT organization. The diversity of requirements within a single business is rapidly making the reactive mode of operation that has heretofore characterized IT organizations not only obsolete but can serve as a governor on corporate innovation as well. A shift in this mentality and method of operation is obviously required, but the “repurposing” of familiar technologies to support “new” computing environments offers IT the opportunity to capitalize on its inherent capabilities. The shift to a consultative/service provider mode of operation is a natural transition, as opposed to a radical change, for CIO’s to define and implement. Organizations that embrace this opportunity will find their IT departments to be a key element of corporate innovation as opposed to a provider of last resort.