2012: Time for a rethink?

Ian Cook offers his thoughts on the technology year ahead, looking in particular at how the emerging technology trends – from BYOD to Big Data – will change the way we think about IT departments.

2012: Time for a rethink for IT Departments?

A convergence of emerging and developing technologies has big implications for IT departments.

At this time of year, it seems that publishing a ‘Top Ten’ view of the big technology trends for the year ahead is practically compulsory.  There’s nothing wrong with offering an informed view of the big growth areas in enterprise technology of course and, if you look behind the hyperbole, some of those lists offer genuine food for thought for CXOs.

Where they fall down, in my opinion, is in looking at developments like ‘Bring Your Own Device’ and ‘Big Data’ as isolated developments.  In doing so, they significantly underplay the combined impact of these developments and many more on the broader enterprise technology landscape – an impact that will bring real challenges for corporates, and the technology sector that serves them.  More importantly, in many cases the industry has barely begun to think about how these emerging and developing technologies will affect wider enterprise infrastructure, and the management of corporate technologies.

The point many of these new year lists miss, I believe, is that sooner or later (probably sooner) there is going to have to be a complete rethink as to how IT departments operate.

At the risk of putting together my own list, I think that point is best illustrated with a brief look at a couple of the challenges that IT departments will have to adapt to:

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

When equipped with dual-core processors, smart phones and tablets have all the processing power of a desktop computer. Meanwhile, personal clouds, both public and private, diminish the requirement for a large, localised hard drive to accommodate data and applications. These factors are undoubtedly driving the trend towards a BYOD model, which allows users to use their own devices in the workplace – it’s no surprise to see IDC predicting that mobile devices will out-ship PCs by two to one this year.

It is interesting to note, however, that adoption of the BYOD model is largely an SME phenomenon at present (according to recent research from Mimecast) – large enterprises are understandably reticent.  That is, whilst allowing employees to bring their own devices to work represents a potential hardware saving, the security implications and the management complexity speak for themselves.

The challenge for CXOs is to work out how their existing infrastructure and IT departments can adapt to these challenges and reap the potential benefits of BYOD without compromising in areas such as security and corporate compliance.  Even though solutions such as Virtual Desktop Integration and ‘sandbox mode’ are beginning to crystallise, that is no small challenge.  What’s more, given the pace of hardware development and the rate of mobile device churn, it is a challenge that will continue to evolve.

At the other end of the security spectrum, a lot of progress has been made in SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) which will track user trends and flag anything out of the ordinary in real time (this is a good application of ‘Big Data’ usage) but the burning issue is how to go to the next level of identity management. How can a security system spot the fake user when everything seems normal?

‘Big Data’

This is another of the issues featuring heavily on ‘Top Ten trends for 2012’ articles, and with very good reason. Organisations are already gathering and storing huge amounts of unstructured data – quantities that exceed the capacity of traditional data management technologies – and this already presents a number of well-documented challenges.  But the trend seems likely to accelerate, since many of the technologies predicted to make an impact in 2012 generate huge volumes of data in their own right:

  • Social Networking’ tools in the workplace offer an obvious example.  Many enterprises are adopting social media based communication platforms, such as Cisco Quad.  It’s a development that makes sense, since ‘social’ is a form of communication familiar to a whole generation of employees and which have the potential to enable the instant exchange of knowledge, information and ideas between like-minded employees, or amongst geographically dispersed teams.
  • Video-to-Desktop is a less obvious example, but has the potential to add to the ‘data mountain’ in its own right.  I believe that more and more enterprises will adopt desktop video conferencing technologies this year, because the necessary fidelity over even low bandwidth is now in place.  Meanwhile, the ability to connect a global project team for an entire year for less than the price of a business class return ticket from London to New York, has to be a compelling reason why this technology will come of age in 2012.

The point is that these new communication methods in the workplace will put ever more pressure on data storage and management (not to mention managing the technologies themselves) - stored conversations, IM interactions, wall posts and video-conferences are the very definition of unstructured data.

The challenge is two fold. What do you do with all this data and how to do you make it useful?  That is, the volumes of data are so huge that CXOs will require entirely new data strategies.

First of all there are the questions around infrastructure.  Where is this data stored and by whom?  How do you keep it secure and how do you manage compliance?  What about eDiscovery and legal hold (the processes and stipulations through which electronic data relating to legal action involving an organisation is sought, located, secured and preserved)?

Secondly, how do you ensure that, once stored securely, this data becomes an organisational asset?  The tools required to interrogate unstructured data are beginning to emerge and demand is huge – according to IBM’s Tech Trends Report, Business Analytics is “the most adopted technology in the survey, showing the least adoption resistance as businesses struggle to automate processes and make sense of ever-increasing amounts of data.”

But the choice of analytics tools has to be allied in the context of an overall data strategy, and then the organisation itself has to acquire the intelligence required to apply them effectively. That does not simply mean using tools to look at what has already happened.  The scale of the data is sufficient to enable its use in looking ahead – using information already in our possession to make predictions about the future.  That is an incredibly powerful development – but, again, realising that potential will be impossible without that fundamental rethink as to how organisations view technology, how they manage it and how their IT departments support it.

I am certain that these and other issues will fuel much debate and discussion about the evolving role of the IT department this year.  At Logicalis, we are already helping organisations worldwide to develop coherent strategies and solutions in precisely these areas, so I am certain you will see us add to the debate, via this blog and elsewhere, in the weeks and months to come.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the big technology challenges that lie ahead in 2012, so please do use the comment feature below.  In the next few weeks, we’ll be hearing from a range of experts, from Logicalis and beyond, on everything from BYOD to Data Protection.

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