This article has been contributed by Chris Lee – currently working with Six Degrees Group who provide integrated managed data services linking people, places and clouds.
“Going forward, and with enough synergy, we can push the envelope on this project. We know it has social currency; we know it’s on brand. Let’s ship it by COP Friday.”
We all know someone who talks like this. Whether it’s your colleague, your boss, or even you! Nobody’s safe from the scourge of jargon and, what we like to call, “jargonistas” – the people who like nothing better than to throw some jargon into their sentences to both infuriate and isolate people out-of-the-know.
Of course, a world without jargon would be a peaceful, wonderful world, but it would also be a world where it would take much longer to explain concepts and tasks, and the office would be awash with people explaining things. Of course jargon isn’t tied to a specific industry, so who uses it the most?
A survey conducted by Six Degrees found that people perceive IT professionals as using more jargon than bankers, lawyers and politicians combined. This finding complimented by the fact that the meaning of the jargon is often unknown: 22% believed Platform as a Service (PaaS) was a new philosophy in railway management, while 16% thought Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) was a new road project.
The Internet is arguably the centre of the jargonista’s universe – for whatever reason, people online seem to use jargon whenever and wherever they can. We’ve had a look and found the following description of an every-day program that millions of people use daily, which was obviously written by a jargonista. Can you identify this service from the jargon-filled description?
[Service] is a cloud storage service that enables users to store files on remote cloud servers and the ability to share files within a synchronized format. [Service] provides an online storage solution powered by cloud computing service model of infrastructure as a service (IaaS). [Service] works by installing an application on client system, which immediately uploads the data to their own cloud storage servers. The uploaded data can be accessed from the installed application or through an online control panel. [Service] file sharing works in cohesion with file synchronization which keeps the file routinely updated across all shared nodes even if it’s shared among many people, therefore every single recipient will always receive the latest version of the file. [Service] is an example of a storage-as-a-service business model.
Got the answer? No? You may know it as as ‘Dropbox’ (definition source).
Jargon is hardly a new phenomenon, though it is a self-perpetuating one: an article from a 1987 issue of the Journal of Business and Technical Communication says “jargon persists because people think that business letters should use jargon and because using jargon enables authors to write or dictate quickly” (source).
Using the Six Degrees jargon buster we looked at which terms have the most use, and have given jargon-free definitions of the terms below. These illustrate how seemingly simple statements can be turned into tremendously tumultuous titles.
SaaS: 60,500 searches per month
“In a SaaS model, the cloud service provider is responsible for all technical elements from infrastructure, through platform, to the application itself. The customer will typically pay on a “per user, per month” model, e.g. if they wish to rent Microsoft Exchange mailboxes, this is delivery by the provider from their multi-tenant platform”
Example of this service: Gmail
PaaS: 3,600 searches per month
“A PaaS offering provides a suite of tools designed to provide the necessary database, management, development and deployment tools for the creation and delivery of business applications, mobile apps, social apps, microsites, websites, and other software-driven solution”
Example of this service: Google App Engine
IaaS: 1,900 searches per month
“The first few layers of the hosting value chain (see The Hosting Stack for more details) whereby cloud-based infrastructure (e.g. compute and storage) is provided as a Service for a time-based rental model (per minute, hour, day, week, month, etc)”
Example of this service: Amazon Web Services
Obviously jargon has its place (technical descriptions or emails where you’re trying to sound clever in front of your colleagues being the only two we can think of), however using it in your day-to-day speech isn’t always necessary.
Understanding which situations require language like the above, and then which terms to choose, is the hallmark of a successful communicator, whilst using terms like the above to communicate to anyone you meet is the hallmark of a jargonista. Feel free to deploy jargon in a situation where all involved will understand. Just be aware of the risk coming from when you use it to communicate with someone who isn’t clued-up on the terminology. Your colleague might understand what you’re referring to, but your mates at the pub? Probably not.
Chris Lee has 6 years’ experience in the online marketing and SEO space and has an interest in technology and cloud related projects. He is currently working with the Six Degrees Group to promote such projects in an interesting and accessible way.
I recently chatted to the new CEO of itSMF UK, Mike Owen, about his perspective of ITSM and challenges the industry faces.
In this interview Mike shares a great vision of where to take the forum and changes being discussed to the itSMF’s founding chapter.
Q. ITSM Review: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Mike Owen: My background is primarily in marketing and then general management. The first 15 years of my career were spent working in various companies including Time Warner, BT, Lloyds Bank, Barclays Bank and Grant Thornton – mostly in sales and marketing roles. After I did my MBA, I then worked for a national NHS authority as head of strategic planning. For the last 10 years I’ve worked across the commercial, non-for-profit and public sectors in various operational director, interim CEO and consultancy roles, specializing particularly in business-to-business sectors and membership organizations. I’ve worked with professional membership bodies such as The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, trade associations, and general business groups like Birmingham Chamber of Commerce.
What interested me about the role at ITSMF UK was the opportunity to join an established membership body operating in a vibrant, exciting sector that IT clearly is – but where there was a fresh management challenge and an opportunity to further develop the organization, build its profile and help shape a new wave of growth. I’ve previously been MD/CEO of three small member-based enterprises – including one in the field of facilities IT – and I have always liked the shared ethos of membership bodies, but where there is still a commercial imperative to make things happen and develop for the future.
What are you making of the world of IT service management (ITSM) so far?
I’m finding it very interesting so far! I’m learning quickly and meeting lots of new people. Although I’m new to ITSM, I actually see that as quite a good thing as it means I’m inclined to ask questions that perhaps some more technical people might not. It also makes me more interested in looking for the context of how ITSM fits in with the rest of IT and wider business management.
A few things that have particularly struck me so far are:
ITSM is quite process and operations focused. Certainly, it is very valuable for people working in ITSM to have good models and frameworks to indicate effective practice and how to carry out tasks, but I wonder if there is a need to increase focus on wider and more strategic areas affecting IT and service delivery – like business strategy, IT architecture planning, operational process design, business structure and culture, staff skills/job design, relationship management with partners/suppliers, client satisfaction measurement, risk management, service quality management and so on.
ITSM currently appears to revolve substantially around ITIL. Although this is, of course, a well established and proven approach, I don’t think one framework can fully suit every organization out there; in my opinion the field needs to be seen more as an overall suite of different tools and methods to suit different contexts and a constantly changing IT environment. Other models already exist, of course, for example ISO 20000, COBIT, SIAM, Lean IT, and DevOps, but I think more needs to be done to present – and develop – ITSM as a discipline with a larger, richer, more flexible set of concepts, tools and methods.
There is a lot of potential to take ITSM beyond the IT department and relate it to wider business functions. I definitely get the sense that more and more people working in ITSM consider that the field needs to be seen in a broader and more holistic light than has been the case historically. As IT is nowadays such a key driver and enabler of business strategy, operational processes and customer-facing products/services, I think perhaps ITSM needs to relate to that wider frame of relevance more, not just serve as a template for running and delivering internally-focused IT operations more effectively.
Do you think ITSM is in danger of becoming irrelevant?
Not totally, but it seems to me that ITSM does need to broaden its outlook. ITSM needs to adapt to manage today’s more complex environment and wider developments – for instance, issues like cloud computing, social media, BYOD, big data and the huge growth of mobile. If it doesn’t, ITSM may possibly run the risk of withering into an outdated set of processes. IT often places too much emphasis on technical or operational processes. How many people in IT currently stop to think “how does this process link to our customers?” It’s pivotal that IT understands that it needs to have an outward, not just inward looking view of how to define the services that they are managing.
So in your opinion the future of ITSM lies outside of IT?
ITSM’s heritage is in the IT department, but I would say, yes, its future lies more outside of IT than in it. I believe that the future of ITSM is more to help organizations manage and deliver their overall customer/market-facing services and operations where they have a high dependency on sound and effective IT. Today, ITSM is more often than not about running internally focused IT operational services. Tomorrow has the potential for ITSM to evolve to be more about running IT-enabled, externally centred business/customer services. As such, ITSM professionals will need to work more closely with marketing and service operations colleagues and complement their deep technical/IT knowledge with wider business knowledge. In time, perhaps the sector will lose the “IT” from “ITSM”, but we need to careful we don’t stretch ourselves into being too generic!
So with regards to ITSMF UK, what do you see as the biggest challenge you have to face in the next 12 months?
Well, we need to continue operating a good day-to-day service for our members, of course, but there’s also a need to refresh the organization and put it in a strong position for the longer-term. This year, priorities for us include improving the efficiency and effectiveness of how we do things; improving our engagement with members; starting to develop and enhance our services and benefits to members; and building our marketing, profile and connections within the ITSM sector. ITSMF UK has a very valuable role to play in the sector – as the leading membership body for organizations, managers and staff involved in ITSM. Like any organization, we just need to keep moving and adapting to suit the world around us.
How do you intend to provide better value to your members?
Overall, itSMF is about providing value in several ways: particularly: boosting professional knowledge and learning to help organizations and their staff get better results from ITSM; networking and sharing between ITSM professionals; providing news, information and objective guidance about ITSM matters; helping to develop and promote ITSM as an overall discipline; and bringing together and representing the different parts of the ITSM sector. We’ll be looking to steadily build value on all these fronts and we’ll be seeking to do this in some cases by working in partnership with other professional bodies and groups in the sector.
Furthermore, we’re moving away from a “one size fits all” membership approach to presenting a more tailored offer and service approach to the different parts of the community. For example, we’ll be doing more to provide value to and support senior ITSM managers and leaders in our member organizations. We’ll also be doing a lot more online.
What can we expect to see from ITSMF UK over the next 6 months?
We’ll be moving forward on all the development areas I referred to earlier, but the areas of marketing and member communications will see some of the earliest changes. For instance, we have already introduced a much better Forum website whose functionality we will be developing steadily over the coming months – including expansion of our online reference resources. We’re refreshing the look and feel of our communication materials and tools and we’re revamping the editorial approach to our main publication, ServiceTalk to integrate it better with online media and cover ITSM issues, news and topics in greater depth.
The other major thing happening in the next six months, of course, is our 2014 Annual Conference and Exhibition. We’re also continuing to run our wide range of regional meetings, specialist topic seminars, and advanced masterclass events.
We’ve also started successfully to expand our membership base – that’s both our number of member organizations and the number of individuals registered to use our Forum’s facilities.
In the past resource has been an issue for ITSMF UK, how do you intend to achieve all these planned changes and updates?
By running a tight ship and moving forward in a careful but steady manner. We’ll prioritize what we do, always staying close to what members want, and we’ll work with our members and external partners as effectively as possible. I should stress that you don’t need to have lots of people to do more things. It’s about better utilizing the talent you have and involving members and appropriate external partners where necessary.
We also want to do more to facilitate and encourage more ‘peer-to-peer’ member activity and more support between members themselves. A membership body like ITSMF UK shouldn’t just be about a central office doing things for members ‘out there’: a Forum is equally about members networking and sharing with each other directly. That’s the beauty of a body like ours and something we want to expand further, making more use of our website and social media.
What’s happening with the Big4 agenda? Will you be planning a Big4 for 2015?
The Big4 agenda has been about trying to stimulate discussion, support and information around a particular set of ITSM topics that members told us last year they were particularly concerned about: back to basics, skills, managing complexity, and ITSM and agile. The initiative has been very useful, with activity ranging from dedicated seminars, online discussions, and articles in ServiceTalk and, of course, shaping many of the sessions at our upcoming 2014 Conference.
Of course, though, there are always many, more topics and issues on the minds of ITSM professionals at any one time and the Forum always needs to relate to those wider topics too.
In terms of thoughts about 2015, it’s a bit early to tell how we’ll approach the initiative next year, but certainly we’ll be minded to keep it as a useful way to help engage with members and assist in focusing our activities.
You mentioned the ITSMF UK Annual Conference and Exhibition, what can we expect from the event this year?
Well, we’re very confident it’s going to be another great event – the premier exhibition, conference and awards event for the UK ITSM sector! Still three months ahead of the event, we’re already delighted with the level of bookings – from delegates, sponsors and exhibitors. We’ve got a wide range of major and leading organizations who will providing speakers this year, including: Aviva, EE, Barclays Bank, BSkyB, Telefonica, Axelos, Capgemini, Deloitte, Tata Consultancy, and the NIHR Clincial Research Network. The conference will have over 30 separate presentations and workshops and the ITSM Exhibition will have over 40 exhibitors from major product and service providers across the ITSM sector. I’m really looking forward to the event.
What can we expect from ITSMF UK in the future, above and beyond just the next 12 months?
What I can say at this stage is that we will continue the journey I outlined earlier of steadily building the Forum and adding more and more value to both members and the wider ITSM sector. We need to be realistic, it’s going to take 18 months to two years to do everything we want to best fulfill the role of being the leading membership body for organisations, managers and staff involved in ITSM. Everything will come in steady steps, but the overall goal is to better support our members, to help people adapt and succeed in this new age of ITSM, to represent the ITSM community, and help promote the overall value of ITSM.
It’s an exciting mission for ITSMF UK. Everyone at the Forum is motivated by it and we view the future, with all our members, with a great deal of confidence.
The ITSM Review team welcomes Mike to his new role and looks forward to collaborating with itSMF in the future.
IT leaders and engineers certainly have their hands full with ever more sophisticated internal customers who are more empowered and easily disappointed than ever. They are placing greater demands to “get it right” and deliver immediate access to information, products and services.
End users want to know not just that a service or product will meet their expectations, but that IT will deliver first-class, instant customer service.
At the enterprise level, Service License Agreements (SLAs) have long acted as these guarantees of service among businesses – between IT departments and their internal customers or between IT departments and the technology service providers with whom they contract. Conceptually, SLAs focus on accountability and liability, and over time communication about issues and outages has become the norm. As issues in IT or service providers become more immediate and directly impact end users, timely communication and transparency is as critical as the service license itself.
It’s a different environment out there now, one where always-on and always-connected businesses depend on cloud-based services. This environment also translates to internal customers in the IT organisation, where such expectations are at an all time high. Imagine your corporate Internet connection went down. Employees would be without email, the web and all the services they rely on, including CRM, marketing automation, financial tracking and much more.
One-third of Service Provider Customers report that just a five-minute outage would cause a large percentage of employees to be unproductive, according to a Cloud VPS Hosting report.
The scramble to remain productive during an outage would certainly lead to an avalanche of questions, notifications and complaints from employees – exactly the sort of activity that prevents IT from taking action more than helps it. A more proactive approach that sent notifications from IT to employees would both give IT more time to devote to resolving issues and create better relations between IT and the company at large.
You can’t send after-the-fact communications about down or unavailable services anymore because employees experience these outages immediately and in every area of their work. They want immediate answers; and if you don’t send them, you’ll get the avalanche.
Upping the Communications Ante
If your employees are hyper-connected now, just wait for the future. Virtually everyone has a smart phone and most have tablets, but by 2020, networks will host more than 30 billion wirelessly connected devices, according to ABI Research. But a smart phone is one person’s lifeline and another person’s albatross. It’s not enough to just communicate. You have to communicate to the devices your audience checks.
With more devices linked to the cloud, employee expectations for superior customer service and SLA-level speed of issue resolution will sky rocket. IT will have to answer to this demand. It is telling that 82%of consumers count rapid response as the number one attribute of great customer service, according to a study by LivePerson. For clients of the IT organization, time to resolution is even more important because that’s when they can be productive again.
Rapid Communication to the Rescue
Immediate, targeted notification and communication is the key to speedy resolution of IT service issues. The first step is to establish the infrastructure for automated interactions. If companies put this approach in place before any problems occur, then they can activate them instantaneously and communicate in real time during crucial moments.
The real trick to effective communication, even in a crisis, however, is to tailor the messages to specific audiences. It’s important to send the right information to the right people via the right channels. Businesses can and should follow suit, taking the initiative to target customers in the ways that suit them best and then keep them regularly informed throughout the resolution process, even if only to say the solution is a work in progress.
The targeting should be much more specific than just preferred devices. Depending on the situation, maybe not everyone needs to be notified. So it is a good practice to targeted recipients as well. Targeting recipients will also reduce the number of responses IT is likely to receive. According to the 2014 Zendesk Global Benchmark, IT departments receive an average of 33 alerts per day – on top of routine notifications. Sending too many irrelevant alerts can make people inside and outside IT stop paying attention, a phenomenon called alert fatigue.
So if IT gets notified to fix an issue at one employee’s workstation, it makes more sense to alert the affected employee than it does to notify the entire company. As IT adopts a more strategic role in helping companies achieve strategic goals and meeting financial targets, they need to be cognizant of being more than just a fix-it shop or just keeping the lights on.
To make such SLA-type communications possible, businesses can employ communication platforms to help automate messages and distribute them thoughtfully, through multiple channels, all while monitoring continuously for network and equipment malfunctions. Having all of these functions in one place ensures companies can resolve issues quickly and uphold their promises to keep customers informed.
Executives should be asking themselves – how are my customers’ service expectations evolving in today’s uber-connected world? Is my company prepared to deliver “SLA-quality” service? How can rapid communication help me meet their productivity goals? If one or all of these answers involves the adoption of a rapid communication platform, then they are one step closer to ultimate end user satisfaction.
Big ‘ole corporates don’t stick around like they used to. To survive companies must innovate or die. A key part of the innovative process is to be inspired by, mash-up, and build upon previous work.
The Penny Drops
I attended the ServiceNow London forum last year when Frank Slootman urged us to “Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way”. For a company whose market valuation and pitch to investors is based on expanding outside IT, the company demonstrated precious little leadership on how a company might actually get there. It was clearly the customers doing the leading.
In the short time since those forums the penny seems to have dropped. Knowledge included a number of initiatives to empower customers and encourage them to borrow (steal) the best ideas from each other and build solutions outside the IT department:
In terms of new features announced at Knowledge14, my personal highlights were the Kanban visual tasks boards and new features to assist Demand Management.
I can see the Demand Management features being a great toolbox and playbook for Business Engagement Managers or those tasked with direct interaction and responsiveness to business requirements. In theory – you could collect all suggestions and develop them right through to delivered services. But also include the reality check of business impact, risk and resource constraints.
Fruition Partners were showcasing the launch of their App Factory with some specialist solutions for the Healthcare market. The ‘Healthcare Management Suite’ is a set of apps built on the ServiceNow platform with Healthcare standards and compliance in mind. More info here.
KPMG stated that they had historically worked with alternative service management software providers but were now a 100% ServiceNow business. To support their growing function the firm announced a ServiceNow centre of excellence in Denver, Colorado.
As an analyst, it’s all too easy to become cynical of events, marketing hype and stock price hysteria in the technology space. With your nose pressed close to the industry effluent pipe, an observer can become jaded from the sheer volume of bilge.
Whilst Knowledge14 had it’s fair share of chest beating and hyperbole, I found the energy and enthusiasm from the event infectious. Cranky Frank the CEO gave us the company perspective and spoon-fed cute lines to journalists, the main man Fred Luddy entertained us and painted a vision of the future – but for me the main event was the attendees.
There was a genuine energy about the place as IT departments were beginning to realize they could perhaps become an enabler again and take a seat at the table of the business. The realization that ITIL and other frameworks are important, but they should be the wiring under the board – not what the customer experiences.
“We have a seat at the table, we are helping the business innovate” ~ Nicole Tate, Metro PCS #Know14
Don’t get me wrong, the streets of San Francisco were not paved with ITSM gold, organizations attending were still facing the same old incident-problem-change daily grind and curve balls as the rest of us – but there is a light at the end of tunnel.
Was it worth it? Yes. I thoroughly enjoyed it and thanks for the ServiceNow team for looking after us at a very well organized event.
“ServiceNow offers a subscription license based on IT process users. We charge $100 / IT process user / month with volume discounts available. We also offer end user pricing in certain scenarios.”
“A single, organically developed ITSM platform built in the cloud with nothing acquired or OEMed that leverages knowledge management, collaboration, graphical workflow engine, ITSM stack, service catalogue and request, runbook automation, CMDB, ITAM, software license management, etc. all included in the subscription license.
An approachable, social and modern Web UI built to improve the end user experience with IT through an emphasis on usability and self service.
A configurable platform includes a content management system that allows IT to provide a user experience that is identical to existing customer Web properties and that matches existing user experience and IT workflow.”
ServiceNow has emerged in recent years as a leading innovator in the SaaS and Cloud provision of ITSM products – this is backed up with an active and innovative community of users and partners that use the platform to develop new applications and approaches with the toolset.
The Service Catalogue product is part of an extensive and function-rich ITSM toolset that is aimed at competing and ultimately leading the enterprise area of the market – the company has achieved impressive growth and market share, replacing major legacy ITSM systems, leading with speed, agility and a disruptive commercial model.
The Catalogue product has full functionality and meets all the stated requirements. In particular the demand management, dashboard and reporting capabilities are impressive and delivered to support useful views of consumption vs. forecast etc. The system supports multi-tenancy operations and provides good integration with asset and discovery modules to create service bundles.
The product offers a potential hybrid and options for ‘bottom up’ and ‘top down’ approach. The vendor offers a variety and depth of implementation and development services and as well as support to clients through workshops and training – supported by a growing partner network of integrators and consultancies.
The standard Out of the Box interface looks busy and complicated – there are many good tailored implementations which are built for clients, however these may take consultancy and configuration time.
This is a good option for enterprise clients who need to customise their system, look and feel, as well as needing to develop some specific functionality. Product tailoring and configuration would suit large enterprise organisations with expansive requirements. Small, medium-sized, and some enterprise organisations – with standard requirements, looking for ‘vanilla’ implementations – might struggle with the complexity and User Interface of the Out of the Box version.
ITSM track record over last 6/7 years of significant growth and ‘rip-out’ replacement implementations – major ‘disruptive’ player introducing new commercial model and fast implementation approach
Comprehensive functionality available – competing with enterprise ITSM tools
Meets all stated requirements
Out of the box User Interface and overall functionality looks busy and complex
Catalogue functionality integrates with ITSM processes
Strong capability in Demand Management
Vendor has developed strong, open user community and partner base for sharing knowledge and innovation with the product
Consultancy and tailoring required for a simple, intuitive implementation
Extensive functionality available for hardware and software request and lifecycle management
Effective portal and user request functionality
Seamless integration with discovery and asset modules to build service bundles and ‘discover’ services
Vendor has experience and skilled resources for technical integration of request management/portal processes
Expanding and impressive portfolio of enterprise client implementations
Partner network provides input to innovation and development of leading edge product best practice
Real time dashboards and reports look impressive
Excellent breadth of (delivered) Demand Management functionality
User and partner community a great resource and source of innovation and good practice
Vendor has growing resources and financial backing as part of growth strategy
System highly tailorable and therefore suitable for large bespoke implementations and requirements
Out of the Box interface looks busy and over-engineered for many basic functions
Basic functionality will require tailoring for a simple clean interface and functionality – may not suit organisations looking for clarity and simplicity in solution
Strength of flexibility may also be weakness in complexity
Standard implementations of Service Catalogue around 10 days – re-design for simple clean look and feel requires more time and cost
“ServiceNow Service Catalogue and Request Management offers all your defined business and technical services via flexible storefront interface. Using configurable ServiceNow workflow, you can provide a friendly, personalized user experience to capture data, collect approvals, automate fulfilment, and leverage the benefits of operating in one platform to deliver value to the business.
Empower your business and technical users to interact and order the services they need to do their job, provide transparency into the approval process, and allow users to track the progress of their own requests. Through the service catalogue, your organization can deliver standardized services, capture data for an array of department services, coordinate transfer pricing between departments, and improve internal controls with full audit capabilities.
Drag-and-drop your way to a powerful, world-class experience and improve communication, transparency, and the perception of IT by the rest of the business. All the workflow orchestration, notifications, request fulfilment, interface design and connections to underlying processes are built into the ServiceNow platform.”
Kylie Fowler is a regular columnist for The ITSM Review, see previous articles from Kylie here.
It’s not often that most people get to experience a true paradigm shift, even in IT where change is endemic and part of the lifeblood of the industry. However there is no doubt that cloud computing and the commoditization of processor power and storage represent a true metamorphosis in the way we think about and structure IT services.
Cloud computing is actually the next step in a long series of IT developments which have promoted the decentralization of computing in businesses. The gradual decentralization of corporate IT can be tracked from highly centralized mainframes with their bespoke software, through the development of client server computing, the commoditization of software and finally, with cloud computing, the commoditization of processor power. This shift will have dramatic implications for how and where IT professionals will carry out their roles in future,
Right back at the beginning of corporate IT (in the dark ages known as the 1970s) computing power was served up from giant mainframes to users sitting at dumb terminals who carried out business functions using highly centralized in-house applications. Believe it or not, some of these old systems, developed on punch cards by engineers are still in use today, generally because they are too expensive to redevelop on a more modern platform, or the risks of doing so are too high.
The first steps towards the decentralization of IT came in the next era of computing, the one most of us are familiar with – the era of client-server computing. Significantly lower processor costs mean that processor power can be co-located with users (although largely separated from storage to ensure data security), while large clusters of servers provide basic services such as network access and email. For most businesses, day to day IT operations are still architected, managed and controlled within the organisation, albeit on highly commoditised hardware. In contrast, software has been largely commoditised, with powerful software publishers selling software for use under license. Complex applications are still modified in-house to meet corporate needs, but the underlying intellectual property is owned by the software vendor. This is the era of Microsoft, Oracle and SAP.
However we’re gradually moving into a new era, where the configuration and day to day management of hardware, software and the actual processing of bits and bytes are moving out of the corporation altogether. More and more organisations are asking themselves whether it is really cost effective to host basic services like email or word processing or spreadsheet analysis in-house when high quality services are available on-line for minimal cost.
Don’t get me wrong, there will always be servers and desktops and laptops, just as there are still mainframes, while large organisations may decide to develop private clouds to take advantage of economies of scale while reducing the risks inherent in trusting data to a third party, but the paradigm shift, the change in the computing world view that we are experiencing at the moment, is every bit as profound as the shift from mainframes to client-server computing was 20 years ago.
So what will the impact of this paradigm shift be for real people like you and me? Here are some of my predictions.
Service Operations will migrate out of the business
The essence of cloud computing is that what we have traditionally thought of as ‘IT’ has become a commodity. Most companies will no longer find they have a requirement for staff who can build a PC or a server as this requirement will have either been outsourced, virtualized or hosted on the cloud. But as is the case for mainframes, there will always be the odd niche where techies will thrive, so don’t despair!
Despite the growing importance of the actual connection to the cloud, network operation skills will also be outsourced, despite the fact that a secure, robust network to access cloud services will be even more critical than it is now.
Service Strategy and Service Design will become the core competence of IT Departments
The main business of IT is providing services that meet the needs of the business, but the new world of the cloud means most of those services will actually be provided by external companies. Logically, then, the core function of an IT department will be to decide HOW to provide the services to the business. Questions for Service Strategists and Designers will include: Which services do we put on the cloud, and which do we keep in house? How will we ensure there is a seamless blend between the two? Which services should be provided as a unit, and which can be provided be different suppliers? How do we manage our suppliers to ensure they work together to ensure effective provision of all the services we need?
Service Transition will be vital for keeping suppliers on their toes
One of the biggest risks inherent in cloud computing is the danger of being locked into poorly performing, costly services which are either too risky or too expensive to escape. Service transition skills will be critical in keeping suppliers on their toes by giving management the confidence that it is possible to walk away if the service isn’t up to scratch while ensuring that new services are up and running as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Peripheral skills will move to the core
Areas which are currently considered peripheral to the operation of an IT organisation will become more prominent. The ability of Strategic Procurement to negotiate contracts that create value and minimise costs and risks will determine whether IT brings competitive advantage to the business, or, at the opposite extreme, becomes a costly white elephant that reduces productivity. IT Vendor and Asset Management will focus on ensuring the business achieves the value it expects from its Service Providers and will manage the fall-out when things go wrong, while Information Security will become more akin to Business Risk Management, assessing information risks and ensuring safeguards are in place to protect the organisation’s reputation.
How to survive the coming change?
The move to cloud computing resembles the slow grind of tectonic plates rather than a sudden tsunami devouring everything in its path. As with the movement of the continents, the shift to cloud computing will be slow but both inevitable and unstoppable. There will be the odd earthquake, of course, devastating for those on the fault line, but many people will find it has no major effect on their careers, and in some instances, may even enhance them.
IT folk are inured to change, but it has to be said that many of us lack flexibility. Be willing to shift sideways, or into a different industry (or onto the cloud itself) and be open to alternative ways of using your existing skills – perhaps move into consultancy or (shudder) sales. Broaden your skills base and see continuous professional development as a fundamental part of your working life – on a par with your morning commute or annual review.
Develop your soft skills, particularly communication. It’s hard to be a consultant, for instance, helping organisations change, unless you can communicate effectively and work with a wide range of people on many different levels.
Make it your business to understand the business. IT exists only because it offers businesses competitive advantage. The higher the competitive advantage provided by IT, the higher the rate of investment – you just need to compare the level of investment between the Finance and Construction industries to see clear evidence of that! Understand how IT offers your business competitive advantage and make sure your work supports this. If the business asks you to change because you are no longer helping it succeed, then change!
Find a niche. There are still jobs out there supporting mainframes, and there will always be jobs maintaining server based in-house applications. The jobs will be limited, but if you find a niche or have an obscure skill that a particular company can’t survive without, then the rest of your career could be very comfortable indeed. But don’t forget to be flexible! If your bosses out-source 90% of the niche jobs to India, it will be your ability to manage the outsourcer effectively that means you keep your job!
It’s an exciting time to be working in IT, and although some people will suffer from the shift to the cloud, I am optimistic that the old Chinese proverb ‘may you live in interesting times’ will turn out to be a blessing rather than a curse for most IT professionals.
Note: if you are interested in reading more about the impact of the shift to the cloud, the Silicon.com website has an extensive special feature on the impact of the cloud which can be accessed at the link below.