Douglas Balog is Vice President and Business Line Executive, IBM Storage Systems, responsible for the overall IBM storage business, including business strategy and product plans for the company’s complete family of workload optimized storage systems.
The personal computer, the Internet and World Wide Web, wireless and mobile computing, and now social media have all served to form and reform the way in which we in business think about, manage and exploit computing power. The incessant waves of innovation have led to incalculable levels of information sharing and leveraging and created entire industries as well as business disciplines.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the data center. Over the course of the last 25 years of technical disruption, those responsible for managing all of this innovation started becoming saddled with more responsibility. For example, the constant influx of new technologies resulted in larger IT staffs. As innovation lead to greater prosperity, employee ranks swelled as well, and the gatekeepers found themselves now setting access and usage policy.
Increasingly, they became responsible for procurement – a lot of procurement. Before long, technical people were entrusted with architecting and outfitting a very large swath of the new economy. CIOs, then CTOs, and then specialty C-level officers, like CSOs, were now sitting at the board table, making board-level decisions about how to budget and spend budgets. Big budgets.
Before long, business groups found themselves beholden to IT for new systems, new software, new innovation and new ways of doing business. IT, meanwhile, was beholden to their budgets and the soup of the day was made with three basic ingredients: processing power, applications and storage.
Specialized application sets, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, for things like human resources, finance and procurement, helped business organize those functions. However, the customization and installation of the software was historically lengthy. Epic, even. And often, after an 18-month installation, the business had changed slightly, which led to more customization and retrofitting.
Growth at the Speed of Technology
Of course, this is a gross oversimplification of the brief history of computing in business. But when looking back, it becomes fairly clear that much of the new economy has grown at the speed of, and at the privilege of technology, and not the other way around.
Consider the argument from an industry perspective. Software aside, is the transaction-based system at the major bank all that different from the transaction-based system at the major car manufacturer? Does the retailer procure systems for its accounting department that are all that different from what a services firm buys for its accounting department? The truth is, a bank cannot turn to a specific system today that is built for banking. A medical center with 750 beds cannot turn to a system that’s designed with built-in healthcare expertise that’s ready to go out of the box.
In contrast, consider the agriculture industry. Farmers around the globe turn to machines from companies like Case IH that offer a wide range of functionality, and at an industrial level, from harrowing and cultivating to planting and strip tilling, and much more. These massive yet elegant machines are built for ease of use and easy maintenance, as much as they are for reliability, functionality and performance.
Think this analogy is way off? Consider this passage from the Case IH website promoting the Case IH Steiger tractor:
“You don’t have to sacrifice productivity to meet new emissions regulations or settle for less fuel efficiency to get more power. . .That’s because these tractors have been engineered with knowledge gained by talking to producers in the field.”
Productivity. Efficiency. Power. Knowledge. It sounds familiar.
We in information technology have been trapped in a 1980s mentality of following technology instead of bringing technology along. We’ve followed processing advances, ever enamored. We dream about the next cool app and super fast system. And sometimes we even stand..in..line for it.
But once systems are delivered and unboxed, we load them up with the same old stuff: databases, office apps, etc. Delivery models have changed, but the systems themselves have not adapted to business.
It’s time to put the business ahead of technology again. It’s time for systems that are built with industry expertise, ready for the cloud and designed for data. These types of systems will usher in a new era of computing that not only assist and augment current business, but will require far less management and as a result far less cost to maintain – forever flipping the IT conundrum of needing innovation but having only enough budget to maintain the status quo.
In other words, it’s time to put technology to work.
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