The strategic CIO and the next wave of convergence

The demands on IT are more intense than ever. As market forces pressure corporates into being more agile and responsive, C-suite leaders are making demands that IT can struggle to fulfil – whether that’s enabling new product or service lines, evolving and automating the supply chain to drive efficiency, enabling modern working practices or transforming the customer service or go-to-market model for the business.

These pressures come with short deadlines, built around the quarterly burdens publicly-listed companies feel when they are up against the cycle of earnings and the inevitable stock market reaction. IT is expected to flex with these requirements, delivering the required services and turning expanding stores of corporate data into assets that can support and grow the business. This was a familiar challenge that we faced at Jaguar Land Rover as we looked to transform application delivery into an on-demand service available to any user, anywhere, on any device, from the multi-week, resource intensive process it had been in the past.

The last two ‘platforms’ of computing – mainframe, and traditional client-server computing – cannot flex to this. Organisations trapped in those will struggle to deliver the agility and responsiveness CEOs demand as CIOs and CTOs struggle to battle the apparently immutable ratios of maintenance-to-innovation spend in IT – an 80/20 ratio in favour of maintenance.

As we move to the third platform of IT – one characterised by mobility, cloud services, social networks and the use of Big Data to drive millions of highly consumable applications in the enterprise and beyond – the tech leaders within the business need to show the way through the current paradigm and re-imagine IT as a source of innovation – the ultimate aim for any strategically-thinking technology leader. After all – the goal is to lead the market, not be led by it, and the more a business has to play catch-up with its competitors, the less likely it is to survive and thrive.

A rising trend in tackling the dual challenge of simplifying and streamlining the operational maintenance of IT and delivering the agility demanded by the leadership of the business is what is being called ‘converged infrastructure.’ CIOs and CTOs will be familiar with convergence: it’s long been a trend in computing, most recently in the early 2000s as voice, video and data came together over Internet Protocol (IP) networks.

Today, convergence tackles a new set of silos in enterprise IT – those of separate computing, storage and networking resources and teams. In this archetype, it can take between three weeks and six months to prepare the groundwork for a new application or resource, perhaps one that was vital to remaining competitive in the market. At Jaguar Land Rover, we’re not in the business of IT – we want our concerns to be about our customers and what they’re thinking, rather than how efficiently our IT operations are running or how agile they are. Working with VCE, a company formed by Cisco and EMC (with investments from Intel and VMware), has allowed us to develop a converged infrastructure that greatly accelerates our development of products into the market.

The reason we’re able to shift our focus from the maintenance of our IT operations is that modern converged IT infrastructure combines these silos of enterprise IT into a single, pooled resource with automated self-provisioning and orchestration. To use an industry-appropriate metaphor: rather than buying all of the parts separately from different suppliers and building the car yourself, more and more are buying shiny, new cars direct from the manufacturer, custom-built to your specifications and delivered on time.

What this means in practical terms: smaller, more responsive technical teams able to instantly deliver the resources needed by business leadership. Reduced maintenance costs. A greater ability to scale. A smaller physical technology footprint that comes with concomitant savings in power and cooling. Simplified support contracts and maintenance arrangements with suppliers. And ultimately, an IT resource able to put its insights and brainpower to the broader challenges of the business – to get on the front foot and deliver innovation rather than simply required services. With technology underpinning broader IT transformation efforts, there’s a huge opportunity for IT if we can escape the 80/20 rule.

For Jaguar Land Rover, this is already happening. We are planning to run in excess of 100 business-critical applications on our converged infrastructure to support ‘product creation and design’ and ‘plant floor manufacturing’ business needs. Historically, resource provisioning took weeks and months, but now with the move towards a service catalogue based model we’re using converged infrastructure to achieve significant reductions in time, as well as increasing service levels and quality. This kind of agility is key to maintaining our competitive advantage.

But our journey of convergence doesn’t stop there. Savvy technology leaders that want to get ahead of the game and understand the opportunity a converged infrastructure could bring to the organisation are already engaging in the next wave of convergence – we call this vision ‘Empowered User Computing’, which describes the intersection of virtualisation technologies, the IT management platform, and the demands of client computing. With a converged infrastructure in place we can dramatically improve productivity and collaboration for our global workforce.

A strategic IT leader cannot be a glorified technician or support function. We have to escape the treadmill of maintenance and find a way to deliver services that are more flexible and efficient so we have the time and bandwidth to become a source of dynamic strategic insight and innovation to drive our businesses through to their next phase of evolution. CIOs and CTOs that are still dreaming about the day IT creates business value are far removed from those organisations that are already making it a reality. And just look at what we’re achieving.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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