Charting the course for digital IT

Is it just me or has IT technology suddenly become much more complicated, and possibly riskier, than it was even 10 years ago?

This blog is just my own opinion, of course, but I’d love to hear your take on it — either from the provider’s perspective or the customer’s perspective.

We can all agree that IT has and still is going through a major transformation — as is demonstrated by the change from products to services, and the emergence of the “fourth industrial revolution” (Davos 2016).  The gorilla of cloud computing, Amazon Web Services, is now a decade old and is still one of the major success stories of the past decade.

There have been significant innovations in almost all areas of IT, from the top to the bottom of the technology stack.  The four basic levels of enabling technology are: digital business, technology frameworks, functional subsystems, and technical components.

Digital business

Digital has become a rallying cry for modern businesses, for open e-governments, and even for society in general. There are many examples of how digital is changing the operating model for both companies and whole industries. Uber (taxis), Airbnb (rental rooms), Amazon (retail sales), Netflix (movies) and iMusic (music streaming) are examples.

Many enterprises are now taking a hard look at their traditional lines of business and are working out ways to innovate disruptively. A new book by Geoffrey Moore, Zone to Win, offers a roadmap for managing this new imperative.

The re-invention of business operating models is neither easy nor quick. Many leaders have never had to tackle this challenge before, especially in uncertain economic times.

Technology frameworks

Popular buzzwords such as cloud computing, Internet of Things, and mobility are most often called technologies, but they are really combinations of several technologies.

Cloud computing, for example, is not a single packaged product that you can easily order. Instead, it represents a range of solution patterns that are composed from:

  • The global Internet, usually with high-speed acces
  • Wireless network access (LTE or WiFi)
  • Large scale shared data centres for software execution and data storage
  • Various types of endpoint devices including both desktop PCs and smartphone
  • Software for operations management, business administration, software development, security control, data analysis, and multi-customer applications

The Internet of Things (IoT) is another framework technology. IoT expands cloud computing to support a wider range of “things” — anything from a door lock to heating controls to cars and traffic lights.

A mobility framework is an ecosystem that includes wireless communications, device support, app stores, geo-location services, etc. — all of which provide what we think of as “just a smartphone.”

There is as yet no formal compliance specifications for these technology frameworks. For cloud computing, there is however a set of general characteristics that have been agreed to by most stakeholders.

Functional subsystems

The frameworks are composed of functional subsystems. As noted above, a variety of subsystems are necessary for a framework, and each is based on technologies that are also evolving rapidly.

One of the key subsystems is the Internet. Today’s Internet, for most of us, has been a means to achieve person-to-person (P2P) connectivity and person-to-application (P2A) transactions. The Internet is now being extended for cloud computing and IoT. Internet developments include new protocols, changes to existing protocols (e.g., more use of IPv6), additional security and management, and more.

Cloud data centres can also be viewed as a digital subsystem.  A data centre provides large scale, on demand, dynamic IT resources for processing, storage, networking and software execution. Virtualization, containerization and software defined management are being deployed to automate most operational tasks.

Big data/analytics could also be viewed as a subsystem, although perhaps it might also be argued that they are another framework.

Technical components

The lowest technology level includes a myriad of components that are used in data centres, in networks, and at the device endpoints. Hardware such as servers, disks, routers, switches, firewalls, appliances and so on would fit into this category.

Operations, management and platform software can also be treated as components. Examples include service management, resource provisioning, operations monitoring and control, virtualization and containerization management, and many others. Software-based technologies (such as Docker for containerization) are appearing and gaining favour almost overnight — in some cases too quickly to even follow a maturity curve.

There are too many components to make a list. Suffice it to say, there are many innovations occurring at this technical level as well, ranging from higher capacity and density servers to new multi-tenant architectures and designs. The Application Programming Interface (APIs) that serves as standardized interfaces to components is one important area to watch.

Things to consider

There are a lot of changes, a lot of new solutions, and a lot of uncertainty as to what technologies (and which providers) will succeed in the marketplace.

Is the time right to chart a course for developing your digital IT environment and systems? There is no easy answer or prescription, but here’s some things to consider:

  1. Nothing can (or should) happen overnight or be a “big bang” transformation.
  2. Technology should not be the primary driver; business innovation should justify the changes.
  3. Reducing the cost of the “plumbing” should not be the primary goal.
  4. The digital transformation is a business change management program, not just a technology upgrade.
  5. Don’t fall into the customization trap — learn to use standard tools, techniques and processes.
  6. Security and privacy should be planned from the start, and governed accordingly.
  7. Learn to work with service providers as partners, not just as parts vendors.

This is what I’m thinking; does any of this seem reasonable to you?

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Don Sheppard
Don Sheppard
I'm a IT management consultant. I began my career in railways and banks after which I took up the consulting challenge! I try to keep in touch with a lot of different I&IT topics but I'm usually working in areas that involve service management and procurement. I'm into developing ISO standards, current in the area of cloud computing (ISO JTC1/SC38). I'm also starting to get more interested in networking history, so I guess I'm starting to look backwards as well as forwards! My homepage is but I am found more here.

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