As human beings we have a proclivity to believe that whatever it is we as an individual or as a society experience, we are the first to go through an event like it. By way of example, corporate IT is undergoing a transformation as enterprises change IT to better align it with the broader business. Ironically, this IT reformation takes place on the 500th anniversary of a more well-known reformation that occurred in 1517.
This past weekend I attended a conference that celebrated the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed a copy of his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church. This event is generally recognized as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. However, it was the many other events that preceded and surrounded Martin Luther’s actions that are perhaps more fascinating and thought-provoking. Consider:
- The printing press was invented facilitating the creation and mass distribution of literature.
- The Renaissance was well underway sparking a rekindling of architecture and philosophy.
- Immorality was rampant in the Roman Catholic Church.
These three events, along with many others occurring during that time, led to this seminal moment in church history. Yet in looking at this past event, I observe many parallels to what occurred then and what is currently taking place in organizations that help to explain why IT is experiencing its own reformation. In the case of IT, existing challenges as well as new technologies are prompting a fundamental change in how organizations want to conduct business going forward. These include:
- The rise and availability of public cloud providers
- The struggles of IT to provide an agile, reliable, uninterruptible IT infrastructure
- The struggles associated with moving, migrating, and recovering data in a timely manner
- The costs and complexity associated with data and IT infrastructure management
- The inability to classify data and know exactly where it is, what it is, or its value
I am not trying to suggest that the technologies currently available have perfectly solved all these challenges. However, IT providers, whether they are manufacturers or cloud providers, are much closer to providing comprehensive, sustainable, long term answers to these challenges than in the past.
Previously, it seemed the best that any provider could do was offer point products that solved a specific challenge. They then left it up to the IT staff to piece together a comprehensive IT solution for the organizations for which they worked. This strategy may have sounded plausible on the surface. However, the rapid rate of change within IT coupled with the unpredictable nature of businesses has made it impossible for most if not all organizations to execute upon this plan.
What has become very clear in the last few years, and what perhaps has even been evident for decades, is that most organizations do not want to be in the IT business. They do not necessarily want their employees to learn about application program interfaces (APIs), employ individuals who are security or storage gurus, or who can work miracles on command to recover an application or data.
They certainly want their IT infrastructure to support and accelerate their overall business objectives. However, they want their IT staff to accomplish these objectives without devoting all their time to do so or requiring that their IT staff become deep IT specialists to accomplish it.
This is the transformation or, perhaps more accurately, the reformation that is taking place within IT in many organizations. They are looking for and buying solutions that automate and simplify many of the tasks associated with IT. Further, what makes this transformation plausible is that the technology solutions coming to market care less about the technical details of your environment. These application-centric solutions virtualize the entire IT stack that free organizations to move applications around almost at will, be it locally or in the cloud, while giving them the ability to access and mine the data in these applications.
Are all the technical pieces in place for this to happen at the click of a button? Clearly, the answer is, No. IT specialists are still needed by those adopting this technology now. But the foundation is being laid for enterprises to build out this new, more agile IT infrastructure that enables them to take their business in directions and accomplish objectives that were previously only on their wish list.
Much like what happened more than 500 years ago in the years leading up to the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, similar forces are at work in the IT industry today. The last 20 years of cloud computing, distributed computing, storage area networks, personal computers, mobile devices, converged infrastructures, search, and many more technology innovations are coalescing to create a new, more dynamic IT infrastructure.
This new IT infrastructure will continue to deliver many of the benefits that individual products offered. However, they will now be part of an integrated solution that organizations can collectively more easily deploy and manage in anticipation of reaping its benefits without requiring individuals to become hard-core IT specialists in the process.