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The counterintuitive CIO

CIO blogTen years ago, an IT journalist asked Paul Coby, then CIO of British Airways and about to embark on a massive overhaul of the airline’s core IT systems, what his plans were. Coby’s response was brief: “Understand the process and simplify it. Complexity will kill you.”

The work he undertook did not just generate operational IT savings of 40 percent and improve technology functionality, quality and integration across the business. It transformed ba.com and, in doing so, changed the way we travel by air.

It can be easy for CIOs, increasingly part of the core leadership team, to get drawn into commercial priorities that include business growth, competition and the disruptive impact of changing customer behaviour. With their focus on the role of technology as an enabler of customer experience, mobility and collaboration, growing numbers say they would prefer to delegate operational IT.

This is the paradox at the heart of IT. On the one hand CIOs want and need to spend more time adding strategic value and less time managing the IT infrastructure; on the other hand a well-managed IT infrastructure is vital for current and future business success.

The world is changing, and the next few years will see it change further and faster. Boundaries are blurring: between sectors and between economies; between the real and the virtual; between different digital channels and devices; and even between ‘things’. The world is a computer now and everyone and everything moves around within it, generating clouds of data that can be captured, processed, analysed and stored.

Whether you’re in the business of rubber bands or robotics, these changes will impact the way you innovate, manufacture, sell, engage with customers and compete. They also have far-reaching implications for your IT infrastructure.

Many firms have over time ended up with complex and disconnected IT systems, where more than half (57 per cent) of the IT budget is spent just keeping the lights on. But such complexity slows down innovation, reduces productivity, uses up valuable IT expertise and leaves an organisation poorly prepared for the kind of responsive, agile, integrated and creative IT they need to succeed.

One way of addressing this could be to replace siloed IT systems with a streamlined converged infrastructure. An integrated offering that brings together the company’s disparate compute, storage and network technologies to take charge of the IT infrastructure in a way that makes best use of the available resources and capacity.

The business imperative for such integrated IT systems is not hard to find. One example is the need to better connect with customers.

In its technology predictions to 2020, industry analyst Forrester highlights the spectrum of customer-focused activities that are now dependent on integrated IT. This includes innovative, customer-centric, contextual services, underpinned by connectivity solutions that can reach customers in ever more ways across ever more devices. These services and solutions demand advanced analytics as well as software acceleration platforms and tools that ideally allow for a ‘let’s try this’ approach to development and support the rapid deployment of new services and applications.

All of this will stand or fall on the quality of the enabling infrastructure. Forrester predicts that for a growing numbers of firms this will be an agile, powerful and converged IT infrastructure. The best of these will use advanced capabilities such as virtualisation, software-defined technologies and the cloud for maximum operational efficiency and flexibility.

According to a sponsored IDC paper on leveraging convergence for business agility, such converged IT systems are already delivering proven benefits. These include a four-fold increase in speed to market for new products and services, around a five-fold increase in the number of applications that can be developed and delivered to the business, IT costs saving of a third and a 41 per cent reduction in maintenance and service time – freeing up IT expertise for value-added strategic initiatives and innovation.

In the light of all this it is hardly surprising that the adoption of converged systems is growing. IDC estimates that in 2015 around one in every $10 spent on IT infrastructure will be invested in integrated systems, rising to one in every $6 by 2018. For many firms, when it comes to their IT infrastructure, the future is already here.
The fact is that the world is changing and IT needs to change with it, because what got us here won’t get us there. A place to start is with the cocoon of operational complexity IT departments have built up around themselves. It is time to shed the weight and reclaim simplicity, the world is complicated enough as it is.

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