IT 2020: How to start preparing now

Between now and 2020, organizations will undergo major changes in how IT is used.  As more people become comfortable with technology, new strains will be placed on the IT group, which will have to adapt to meet evolving business demands.  Here, I discuss four inevitable trends and offer ways that the CIO of today can prepare for the IT department of tomorrow.

Constant connectivity from any device

Here in 2012, we’re looking at the very first wave of what will become a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) tsunami.  By 2020, only the most security sensitive governmental operations will not have BYOD support plans in place.  Most other organizations will have long supported this growing service trend.

By 2020, users will rightfully expect to be able to shift seamlessly between a myriad of devices and enjoy a similar experience with regard to work.  As the line between the workplace and elsewhere continues to erode, this erosion will be mirrored in the kinds of support that organizations provide to their employees.

However, along the way, most companies will recognize that a support free-for-all is an undesirable state.  Between the inability to react to the fast release of new devices and operating systems and concerns regarding security, organizations will look at three solutions to rein in the madness:

  • Virtual desktops.  As a way to provide employees with a common work experience while still supporting every device under the sun, organizations will embrace virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) as a solution.  It’s important to note that VDI will not be implemented to save money; rather, it will be implemented as a new service to normalize the IT support
  • Apps.  Today, the world of the app is upon us. By 2020, it will be immersive.  Company web sites and resources will still be available on the web, but will also become app-ified.  With just two or three primary platforms on which to build, companies will have a relatively easy time creating employee apps that work on any device.
  • Centralized management.  Of course, some companies will be loathe to allow just any device on their networks.  Centralized management tools will become the norm as more VDI initiatives are undertaken.  Organizations will craft strong device policies that give the company the right to delete non-personal data from employee devices.

As a long-term trend, the time is now to start preparing for this inevitability.  If you’re not doing BYOD right now, talk to your internal and external peers to explore how such initiatives can improve the business and what challenges others might be seeing with it.   Begin also exploring centralized mobile device management tools that are platform-agnostic.  This will allow you to support the widest possible variety of mobile platforms.

IT will be a service broker

We all know that the word “cloud” has become almost non-sensical.  It’s just a word that marketing people like to use to advertise their wares.  While some products may, in fact, be cloud services, many see the word “cloud” as just a synonym for hosting or outsourcing.

By 2020, more and more services will be hosted outside the traditional IT infrastructure.  This will not mean that these services are less integrated than or inferior to internal services.  In fact, many of these services will be considered mission-critical.  IT’s role will shift from that as a service-developer to that of a service broker, helping individual business units select solutions that meet their business needs while still adhering to organizational policies regarding authentication and integration.

Preparing for this shift in responsibility will mean hiring fewer developers and those that are hired will have to have different skills.  Newly hired people must have deep skills with regard to integrating disparate services.

Organizationally, companies need to be willing to invest in the creation of an enterprise service bus (ESB) based upon a service-oriented architecture (SOA).  Into this ESB, developers will “plug” new services in a consistent way.  These newly plugged services will then become a seamless part of the greater whole that makes up the organizations technology services environment.

There is one service that should never be moved to the cloud: Authentication.  Even in 2020, authentication will be handled in a standard way as a part of the ESB.  This may mean that all third-party services will make heavy use of LDAP or it may mean that more and more service providers embrace shared authentication mechanisms such as InCommon.

Less focus on the traditional core

“Keeping the lights on” has long been a core focus for many an IT group.  By 2020, IT groups that have this basic service as their core function will cease to exist.  That’s not to say that maintaining a core infrastructure will not continue to be important.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  However, by 2020, IT groups must strive to make the routine things routine.  The focus of the IT group will be laser-focused on adding value to the business with fewer personnel resources targeted at the core infrastructure.

There are some areas that are ripe for improvement that should be implemented before 2020 in order to realize maximum success:

  • Identity management.  Identity management answers two critical questions: Who can access organizational resources and what can they do with their access?  Too many IT departments either do this manually or only go halfway.  The answer is simple: Implement an identity management solution—such as Microsoft ForeFront Identity Management—that can automatically provision and deprovision user accounts based on information that’s entered into the human resources database.  This should be a process automatically triggered on data elements that are provided as people details are added to and updated in the human resources database.
  • Outsourced print management.  Printers are a bear and supporting and managing them is expensive.  Don’t do it.  Throw the entire mess to a company that specializes in managed printing services.  You will probably save a lot of money and will reduce the hassle.  And, your users will probably be happier.  After all, printing is not the IT department’s core competency, but it’s the entire business for the provider.
  • Robust monitoring and automation tools.  Even though infrastructure won’t be a core focus, it will still be important.  Between now and 2020, invest in robust tools that can monitor the environment and even take simple automated corrective actions, such as restarting failed services.  More importantly. The better that the environment is monitored, the less major corrective attention it will need and the more resources that can be diverted to business-facing goals.

The CIO will have a business first, technology second mindset

Although this is happening now in many organizations, by 2020, all CIOs will have a business first mentality with the technology taking a second tier, support role.  This will be further bolstered by the rise of cloud-based services that will force IT departments to assume a broker role.  CIOs will necessarily have deep knowledge of the business in order to make appropriate recommendations. Architecture experts in the IT department will assist the CIO in ensuring that selected services can be plugged into the enterprise service bus and will then take the steps necessary to integrate these services.

The reality: There may be CIOs in 2020 that focus on the core infrastructure, but they will be CIOs in name only.  Someone in the organization will be making the decisions about which services to purchase and how to integrate them.  To avoid being relegated to an “in name only CIO”, CIOs today must learn how the business makes money and gain a deep understanding of the cost structure and work toward solutions to making both more efficient.