Constant change is the "new norm" in IT - Embrace it

On 8 April, Microsoft finally 
ended support for its thirteen year old, landmark OS: Windows XP. While many UK businesses are yet to migrate to a newer OS, (23 per cent have not even started the process), those that have are beginning to recognise a trend that has many of them concerned.

Due to the increased pace of technological change, soon the landmark transfer from one OS to another will no longer be considered a once-a-decade experience. Instead, as the rate of change increases, the timespan between “major” IT upgrades will soon become alarmingly brief.

According to a recent report by Camwood, the final days of XP represented not only the end of an OS, but also the end of an era. As the last long-standing operating system, Windows XP was one of the few mainstream products from a period when information technology could be considered a long-term investment. Now, in the post-XP world, constant change is likely to be considered the ‘new norm’ within IT.

The report’s findings – collected from 250 key IT decision makers – highlight that in the future business landscape, the biggest single consideration will be a universal pace of near constant change within the IT department. While the majority of IT decision makers are acutely aware of this shift, the question remains as to whether they are truly prepared for the potential challenges that lie ahead.

When asked what they saw their IT function looking like in three years time, some respondents saw new models of work on the horizon, others saw a future of constant change. A few hopeful individuals anticipated a lack of change entirely. The most popular opinion voiced was that IT would quickly find itself adopting a ‘centralised shared services approach’.

In the months and years to come, IT professionals widely agree that new versions of major OSs will come hard-and-fast. By 2015 it seems likely that Windows 7 will have already been retired, or be nearing retirement, and Windows 9 will have been launched. And if this is the case, then Windows 7 will have seen a mere 6 years of active service, compared to Windows XP’s 13. Beyond this point, it seems possible that Windows 9 will be in the market for even less time before it too is ‘retired’.

How to cope?

As a result of this overall accelerating pace of innovation, it seems unlikely that traditional IT departments will be able to cope with the rate of change requests set to come in over the next few years; at least not while following their previous model of change implementation.

While this increased pace of change may cause concern for some ‘traditional’ IT departments, for many it could be perceived as a potential opportunity. Through constant overlapping change, stagnant IT systems will be forced to evolve – if only through necessity.

In order to survive within this brave new world, IT departments must be quick to adapt. In the modern landscape, the biggest single factor
to determine success will be agility. Businesses must look to implement measures that will allow their IT departments to constantly adapt to the ever-accelerating pace of change. Those who fail will rapidly fall by the wayside.

IT Decision-Makers agree with this prognosis. Most respondees supported the notion that IT would soon become ‘an agile environment that is constantly changing’. 93 per cent agree that creating an agile IT function is crucial to keeping pace with change. A further 88% agree that ‘An adaptable IT function is closely connected to wider business adaptability and success’.

Agility through constant rationalisation

Throughout the XP migration, too many organisations waited until the very last minute to update their systems and remediate their apps. As a result, they suffered slow and expensive transitions that helped to highlight just how difficult IT departments find it to adapt to change.

As such, instead of looking for an OS that could last for another 13 years, IT departments must grow increasing agile, managing their systems and application portfolios on a daily – rather than yearly – basis. Instead of waiting until another ‘End of XP’ event, businesses should be auditing their apps as part of an on-going process, actively monitoring and rationalising their application licenses and IT estates.

This process should involve a general audit of a company’s applications, including where they are, how they are used, and how they will react to change. When faced with increasingly common system changes - including frequent OS migrations – a rationalised estate can significantly reduce the amount of time, and ultimately money, that a business is required to spend in order to affect that change.

Despite the IT department’s growing concerns surrounding accelerated change, 91 per cent of ITDMs have started to recognise the necessity of application rationalisation and on-going management within IT. This recognition goes to suggest a genuine change in the way businesses perceive IT. The end of XP has helped to demonstrate that another ‘big switchover’ will not provide a viable solution. Instead, the functions of IT must gradually yet continuously adapt to the new environment.

This is the true lesson learnt from the end of XP; that in order to cope with the next big migration, businesses must forget the IT revolution, and focus instead on constant IT evolution.

Adrian Foxall is CEO at Camwood.

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