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The new IT: Driving business innovation with tech

For years, IT professionals have been exhorted by their leaders, their colleagues, and assorted industry pundits to better connect IT to business goals. It's a core strategy many have neglected because they're locked away in data centres.

However, in the course of my business, I am starting to see an increase in the number of IT leaders using specific strategies to focus on deriving real business outcomes from the technology they use every day. The approaches they're trying include modernising infrastructure, exploring ecommerce, and looking for opportunities with connected devices, mobile, wearables, and the sharing economy.

Traditionally, IT executives have focused on buying various components, such as servers, storage, and software from different vendors, assembling the pieces like a puzzle into their own systems, and hiring specialised staff to maintain the systems. With this model, the IT organisation ends up spending more money than it should, and dedicating too much time, on an endless cycle of integration, configuration, tuning, and testing.

As digital work environments become commonplace, forward-looking IT leaders are not content to sit back while a chief digital officer gets to own the company's modernisation budget. Gartner forecasts worldwide IT spending will total $3.49 trillion at the end of 2016, a decline of 0.5 per cent from 2015 spending of $3.5 trillion.

Instead, IT and non-IT leaders alike are choosing to spend on nontraditional digital and business technology solutions. Business technology buyers are actively finding ways to free up capital, invest in new technologies, and deploy new capabilities for new business opportunities. They're shifting investment toward modern, agile capabilities, such as cloud computing, sharing services, and bring your own device.

I'm seeing many traditional industries -- such as banking, insurance, and government -- adopting what I call "new IT" approaches to reduce capital expenditure, modernise systems, and free up budget for new business-relevant initiatives.

What's Holding Us Back?

From where I sit, the "new IT" transition has not been easy. Poor visibility is perhaps the biggest challenge I see holding IT teams back from digital innovation. I'm talking about poor visibility into business goals, application delivery, technology operations, delivery costs, and how the customer is affected.

Visibility is further limited by new force-multipliers, such as the proliferation of user-driven applications, an increase in the number of connected systems, new automation tools, and adoption of serverless techniques like "X"-as-a-service and APIs.

Instead of trying in vain, like King Canute, to turn back this digital tide, "new IT" leaders are starting to accept this complexity and focus on improving visibility into their many disparate systems.

For example, one of our customers in online retail has deployed a new reporting capability to establish a direct line-of-sight into all the stages of digital service delivery - from planning to development, through quality assurance and staging, and into ongoing operations. This view enables the company to efficiently allocate resources, stay on top of the unexpected, and spend less time on troubleshooting. Even better, the company is able to drive digital innovation in product development, market engagement, customer loyalty, and business value.

Streamlining DevOps

DevOps is another approach I am seeing "new IT" leaders use to enable business innovation. The fifth annual RightScale State of the Cloud Survey polled more than 1,000 IT professionals.

According to the survey, respondents who said they their enterprises had adopted DevOps increased from 66 per cent in 2015 to 74 per cent in 2016. More than 80 per cent of respondents said they are now using DevOps principles for application delivery.

I work with one large SaaS business that commits new feature code daily, and provides product teams with feedback on exactly how customers are using its service. Working closely with both Dev and Ops teams, business leaders can try out new capabilities, iterate quickly, and measure real business results.

They can then rapidly double down on successful innovation, while quickly pivoting when things don't go quite as planned. With the right systems and technologies in place to deliver insight, DevOps connects application delivery with business goals and customer experiences, and helps business leaders work directly with IT on iterative, innovative approaches.

Driving Insightful Business Decisions

Every company is becoming an analytics company as new types of data pour in from new digital devices, systems, and applications. This data has incredibly valuable information on customers, product, partners, and operations, but even the most analytically oriented company is challenged by the amount and diversity of data received.

"New IT" leaders meeting this challenge most successfully appear to be those who connect these many data sources together to establish a common data fabric. This is accessible and meaningful, not only for IT to solve development and performance problems, but also for business leaders to gain actionable business insights.

For example, one gaming business I am working with has started tracking and analysing website metrics every day, not only measuring application speeds and feeds, but also uncovering customer activity such as wagers made, new users signing up, money paid out, and cancelled subscriptions.

Connecting IT delivery directly with business goals is enabling the company to make data-driven technology decisions, creating measurably better business outcomes. To stay competitive, organisations need to drive innovation, not only with their products and services, but also in business approaches and finding new strategies to exceed business goals.

By modernising infrastructure, ensuring visibility, exploring new technologies such as cloud computing, and adopting techniques such as streamlined DevOps and common data fabrics, IT can sit at the centre of business development and take an organisation to new heights.

Aligning IT with business goals from the get-go gives companies a competitive edge and sets the standard for success.

Andi Mann, chief technology advocate, Splunk

Image source: Shutterstock/Sergey Nivens