In Wizard of Oz style it’s time for us to pull back the curtain and face reality. Much of the IT we use in our daily work and leisure routines is no longer bleeding edge or even special. Far from it. Instead, it has become a low-cost utility. We switch on a device and expect instant access to a universal set of IT services wherever we may be.
Office application suites, email, instant messaging, online meetings, collaboration and many other utility offerings are available from a competing marketplace of vendors, either at very low cost or even free. We can sign up to, and start using, such services in minutes, nearly as easily as turning on a tap for water.
We’ve already seen a variety of organisations take advantage of this new reality. Many universities for example have migrated their student email services from costly in-house infrastructure to freely-provided utility services from the likes of Microsoft and Google. And businesses such as Land Rover Jaguar and the Telegraph Group now rely on utility office services in the cloud.
Yet some organisations appear to be in denial, using bureaucratic procurement processes to specify bespoke and often expensive, brand-oriented infrastructure even where utility alternatives already exist. CIOs need to become much better at helping organisations separate utility from unique requirements.
After all, matching IT capabilities to user need can prove a highly cost-effective process, as the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead discovered. After reviewing its users’ needs it identified that around 80% of its workforce could use much lower cost utility services instead of expensive proprietary solutions.
Traditional utilities such as water and electricity provide a level of consistency around interoperability and reliability, unlike today’s generation of IT utility vendors. CIOs should play a key role in shaping minimum levels of consistency across security, privacy, interoperability and reliability to enable users and organisations to move smoothly from one IT utility provider to another.
This transition to IT as a utility will bring other changes too. Jonathan Murray, a Founding Partner at Innovia Ventures, believes that as IT increasingly looks like a traditional utility the more governments will start to regulate it like a utility.
He says: “As the economy becomes increasingly dependent on utility IT services, so will the expectation of much higher levels of performance. Where the market fails, government will undoubtedly regulate to ensure these expectations are met by the vendor community.”
As the primary consumers of these new utilities, CIOs bring a valuable perspective to help shape a well-informed government policy on these issues.
In the meantime, CIOs will continue to adopt utility services such as email and collaboration. In doing so perhaps they may finally fulfil that near-impossible dream: of not only keeping their users happy but also their CFO. IT as a utility may be less glamorous than pretending all IT is special or bleeding edge – but if it can deliver better for less, that’s a reality most CIOs should be happy to face.