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Future proofing your IT strategy

Smart companies are increasingly trying to innovate and differentiate themselves to gain a competitive edge in the market. The way they do business – and the way that their IT departments serve their needs – is changing rapidly. And the pace of change will only continue to speed up.

Market disrupters, such as Uber and Airbnb, have shown that agile, cloud-ready business models can severely upset the status quo of established players. Today, companies are increasingly looking for agile computing environments, where they can scale up or down according to their own needs and without incurring significant additional costs. This is achieved through a combination of private and public clouds that support their own IT infrastructure – otherwise known as hybrid IT.

Companies will no longer be able to rely on legacy computing with a simple fixed infrastructure. In the future – and by that I mean 2016 – they will need to be more agile, responsive, automated, and cloud-based in order to add real value to their current roles.

Computers are taking over many of the manual, menial tasks that we love to hate – moving us towards greater automation and making us more productive as a result. The cloud helps us achieve that goal. Access to computational power, ‘virtual’ servers and off-site IT provisioning enables managers to achieve their potential of up-scaling their IT provision without driving up costs. Cloud is also the catalyst for significant shifts in IT staff talent opportunities and data centre locations, bringing advanced computational analytics to even the most modest of IT operations.

Hybrid IT allows IT managers to make the best choice of on-premise, public and private cloud network, ensuring organisations have the best possible solutions to meet their needs.

Hybrid cloud

The question for most companies remains: how do they go about achieving the hybrid migration? In many ways, it is out with the old and in with the new – the traditional IT manager can no longer rely on legacy and closed-loop operating systems if he wants to keep his job.

By 2018, 65 per cent of companies’ IT assets are expected to be located offsite in co-location, hosting and cloud data centres, according to analyst-firm IDC. One-third of “staff” are expected to be employees of third-party service providers.

Companies of all sizes also have to cope with the explosion of data, much of which is unstructured consumer-generated content. But organisations are waking up to the fact that data has a monetary value. Exploiting that takes computing power that most won’t have access to unless they have resources they can draw upon. Hybrid IT gives companies the power to exploit ‘data science’ and ‘add value’ to the process. Predictive analytics is one route, for instance, where data can give us actionable insight into the future.

Nearly three-quarters of CEOs we speak to want to innovate so they can penetrate new markets. There is an Uber in us all. But legacy approaches are holding many back. In the past, about three quarters of a company’s IT budget has been taken up with running basic services – keeping the lights on, so to speak. But if CIOs want to do something new, this has to change drastically; 50 per cent or more of the budget has to be given over to innovation.

Digital transformation enables companies to change the way they serve their customers and hybrid IT gives companies the best of both worlds – the ability to keep secure data on site, but also the flexibility to scale up and down computing resources when needed.

Technology as a business driver

There will inevitably be operational challenges and friction as companies strive to make the changes from traditional non-cloud systems to modern cloud infrastructure and cloud-native applications. To keep pace, IT managers will have to invest much more in application and workload-aware management and analytics tools. Those who get ahead will be highly responsive, agile and proactive with their data.

The fast-growing trend towards the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearables will undoubtedly create a huge shift in skill sets – but where there is change, there is opportunity. The IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Cloud 2016 predictions shows that 43 per cent of organisations expect to deliver the majority of their IT capability through public cloud services within the next five years. Over the next three years, they will access 78 per cent of IT resources through some form of cloud – private, public or hybrid.

For many companies, choosing the right strategic partner to make this shift is vital. How many people remember Netscape? Once an industry giant, the ISP is now a mere footnote in history. We all have to make sure that we work with a partner who can weather tough markets.

New disruptors and novel approaches will help shape how technology drives innovation tomorrow. Sometimes small players will prevail, in classic David versus Goliath mode. But some established players will also learn to adapt to fight off those challenges by embracing new technologies and approaches. While disruptors have their appeal, traditional supplier values – such as trust, familiarity, price, or being easy to do business with – will always be important. You still need to know that your essential suppliers are still going to be around in five years.

The path to success here is by no means clear or easy. Many companies have embraced the cloud – using a combination of data centres, colocation or managed services. But that’s mere table stakes. What most businesses will employ for some time is a mixed approach that relies on traditional in-house, on-premise IT, often including data centres but married to servers at colocation facilities. At the same time, they will increasingly tap public, private or hybrid cloud services to build out their IT services.

It is definitely a brave new world, but those who embrace data analytics and build an agile hybrid cloud infrastructure are future-proofing their IT strategy – for now and many years to come.

Jonathan Barrett, VP Sales, EMEA, CenturyLink

Image source: Shutterstock/solarseven