The seismic impact of social and mobile on IT

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This blog post is the fourth in a series of articles on reimagining enterprise IT in the age of social and mobile with open cloud. My aim is to explore the open cloud inspired approaches such as OpenStack and deployment automation that can enable the IT department to remain relevant to business developers and to the users of the IT services that it delivers.

EarthquakezoneIn my previous blog post, I looked at some of the historical practices that are holding IT departments back from delivering on developer and user expectations. In this post, I look at what has altered in the application landscape that has caused this fault line to appear.

One of the changes that I find fascinating is how the explosive growth of the Internet and social media over the last 10 years has altered the IT landscape forever. Ten years ago, Facebook barely existed, but the IT and application development approaches that it and others, like Netflix, have introduced—of fast-changing, scalable applications running on a low-cost, commodity infrastructure—are now the predominant model for social and mobile applications.

But how do these applications differ from the enterprise IT that we, who might have been in the industry longer than we like to mention, are more acquainted with? I find the following distinction helpful in this regard:

• Systems of record are the types of enterprise resource planning systems that we rely on to run our business: financials, manufacturing, customer relationship management and human resources. The data that these systems maintain has to be correct, accessible and available. For many, these systems are typified by IBM mainframes and IBM Power Systems and the applications they host.

• Systems of engagement are systems that are more decentralized. They incorporate technologies that encourage communication and interactions with users and consumers. They leverage social and mobile cloud technologies to provide the capabilities that can enable these interactions. This concept was introduced by Geoffrey Moore in his paper, “Systems of Engagement and the Future of Enterprise IT.”

Cloud computing has accelerated this shift in application perspective to systems of engagement by lowering the cost barrier around the creation of this new style of application and engaging the consumers and users. The new mantra is fail fast, learn from the experience and try again.

Stress is building up

The majority of the IT clients that I work with are challenged by the development and operation of this new style of social and mobile application. Their IT infrastructure, organization, development and operational processes are designed for the slower-moving systems of record, where compliance, security and stability are key. Their IT service delivery is optimized for quality of service and availability—not for agility.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, this mismatch of objectives between developers and operations is causing stress to build up in many of these organizations. Similar to what happens because of plate tectonics in geology—where you also have fast and slow-moving zones—tremors and earthquakes occur. The impact of social and mobile applications on the IT landscape has been seismic.

Where IT users have the freedom to, they are turning to public cloud to meet their application and development requirements for infrastructure and increasingly platform-as-a-service (PaaS) solutions. As I quoted in my first blog post, it is estimated that nearly 40 percent of IT spending is on shadow IT.

In many of the larger organizations I work with, especially in the financial sector, developers do not have the freedom to access public cloud services due to concerns about security and governance. In these organizations, the pressure is on IT delivery to adopt private cloud infrastructures and processes to support agile development and application delivery. Additionally, all IT organizations are challenged by the need for integration and for enterprise systems to evolve at a pace that can accommodate the demands of these new systems of engagement.

The development challenge

Enterprise IT development organizations do not have as much flexibility as they might want when adapting to the world of social and mobile applications. The majority of the clients I work with have application development models that are mainly based on Java frameworks and application servers like IBM WebSphere Application Server. Though these models are highly suited to the development of systems of record, the clients need to accelerate their existing development and deployment processes for a world that includes both engagement and records. This is alongside the adoption of new programming languages and development frameworks such as Ruby, Python and JavaScript, which are more suited to social and mobile apps.

I see this acceleration being facilitated by the adoption of some of the tenets of agile and DevOps-style integration between development and operations. The cultural change required in these organizations is significant and will take time, but I am already observing the following capabilities being adopted across organizations to make the transition to delivering systems of engagement:

• Application release management to coordinate the rollout of updates to systems of engagement and their supporting systems of record

• Application deployment automation to automate the correct delivery of test and production environments

• Reusable application patterns as robust and security-compliant middleware building blocks for full-stack builds

• Software definitions of application and infrastructure environments

• Cloud infrastructure automation frameworks and application programming interfaces (APIs)

In my next blog post, I will take a deeper look at some of these capabilities and at the solutions that I believe are required for enterprise IT to deliver effectively on the promise of systems of engagement while continuing to maintain their systems of record.

Do you see these stresses in your organizations? How are you handling the change to systems of engagement? I would be interested to hear so leave a comment below, or connect with me on Twitter @SteveStrutt.

More from Steve Strutt: 

Four IT innovations to deliver mobile and social

Why the contract between IT & the business needs resetting for cloud

More reasons why the IT/business contract needs resetting for cloud

Reimagining enterprise IT in the social, mobile age with open cloud

Will improved efficiency lead to increased consumption of OpenStack products?

Dispatch from IBM Pulse: Standing room only at OpenStack Summit


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