From IT to ET: Cloud, consumerization, and the next wave of IT transformation

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But if "technology" is now more than "information technology" -- the same way that IT is more than just MIS -- where does that leave IT professionals? Are they, as Carr suggested, destined to maintenance or support roles?

On the contrary. If Carr's thesis had been entirely correct, the past decade would have seen a dramatic rise in the perception of IT as a "utility" function. Instead, the percentage of organizations that view IT as "strategic" has held relatively constant at nearly 40% over the past few years -- and in 2011, increased to nearly 54%.

What are these strategic IT organizations doing? Increasingly, they're being brought in to address technology issues that affect the entire company. Senior-level executives, including the board and the CEO, are increasingly recognizing the expertise that IT brings to the table. These technologies seldom stand alone, and IT organizations that are strategic need to be able to transparently integrate and support standalone technologies.

In a nutshell, that expertise lies in the ability to operationalize innovation in a replicable way.

To "operationalize innovation" means, in essence, to take new ideas and technologies out of the labs (or from vendors, or employees, wherever they arise) and deploy them effectively across an organization. That process requires several sub-processes, including:

  • Uncovering new technologies (ideally ahead of the competition)
  • Testing and prototyping them
  • Deciding which technologies merit further investment
  • Developing the selected technologies
  • Integrating disparate technologies into a cohesive business solution
  • Putting in place all the appropriate operational infrastructure that enables organizational deployment (training, revisions in business processes, reorganization, etc.)

Finally, technologists need to do this in a replicable manner -- which means not just lucking out once or twice, but having a methodology that is able to consistently ensure, year-in-year-out, that the company is integrating innovation.

What the shift from IT to ET really means for IT professionals, in other words, is that they need to become adept at this process. They need to become the go-to guys and gals who can take a good idea and make it happen. And that means rethinking everything from sourcing strategies and vendor relationship to governance, organization, and training/recruiting.

Railroad companies, for example, are under enormous pressure to conform to Federal Positive Train Control (PTC) regulations, which require PTC system implementation by 2015. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, "PTC systems are comprised of digital data link communications networks, continuous and accurate positioning systems such as NDGPS, on-board computers with digitized maps on locomotives and maintenance-of-way equipment, in-cab displays, throttle-brake interfaces on locomotives, wayside interface units at switches and wayside detectors, and control center computers and displays." In other words, these systems require many of the ET examples discussed earlier (displays, sensors, wireless/mobile networks). And railroad companies are increasingly tapping their IT departments to work hand-in-hand with railroad operations staffers to deliver these systems.

In another example, hospitals are increasingly pulling together SWAT teams consisting of medical informatics (the big data specialists); clinical technologists (the group responsible for selecting, deploying, and managing medical equipment); information technology; and information security to meet increasing demands for secure, effective, online data-management.

This isn't all easy, of course. IT professionals are often more comfortable working behind the scenes, rather than being called on to take responsibility for an organization's mission-critical initiatives. But as the clichA(c) has it, the Chinese symbol for "crisis" is comprised of the combination of the symbols for "danger" and "opportunity."

So yes, IT as we know it is over. But ET is just beginning.

About the author: Johna Till Johnson is President & Founder of Nemertes Research, a research-advisory and strategic-consulting company that conducts primary research on the impact of emerging technologies. All statistics cited here (unless otherwise noted) are from Nemertes' primary benchmarking research. She, and Nemertes, have no financial interest in any companies mentioned here.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

This story, "From IT to ET: Cloud, consumerization, and the next wave of IT transformation" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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