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Thinking bigger is better: Why your hybrid IT strategy needs to shoot for the stars

Thinking bigger is better: Why your hybrid IT strategy needs to shoot for the stars

Taking ‘baby steps’ is the wrong strategy, says David Hanrahan

In 2017, I analysed the challenges CIOs are faced with as a result of an overwhelming influx of cloud services and the rise of shadow IT, the need to review cloud deployment architectures given the risk of hyperscale cloud failures. I also discussed the issue of multi-cloud implementation being mistaken for an effective hybrid IT strategy.

As we begin 2018, hybrid IT shows no signs of losing its spot at the top of the IT infrastructure strategy business priorities list: Gartner predicts that by 2020, 90 per cent of organisations will adopt hybrid infrastructure.

In speaking with CIOs across the country, I’ve come to realise that the best strategy includes a clear vision of the future – but the problem is that many organisations struggle to understand what hybrid IT is in the first place and are taking baby steps. Well, that’s the wrong strategy.

So what is hybrid IT?

Hybrid IT is not something new, nor is it something you ‘buy’ or even the next exciting ‘thing’ to move to. Rather, it’s the new reality of the digitally-enabled world we live in today. Much like the move from old mobile phones and T9 texting to today’s smartphones with touchscreens, QWERTY keyboards and voice-enabled assistants, we aren’t going back to the way it was because hybrid IT is simply a better way to do things.

You’ll know hybrid IT as the use of a combination of in-house and cloud services to make up a company’s full IT resources pool. But that’s the basic, layman’s definition of hybrid IT. From a CIO perspective, the term describes the envisioning, building, managing and supporting of IT services that need to cope with the bi-modal world of new “transformational” (i.e. high speed/high visibility) business initiatives, while continuing with effective delivery and evolution of what is often disparagingly called legacy IT. These are often critical services that remain the lifeblood of every technology-dependent organisation.

An effective hybrid IT strategy cannot simply address the incorporation and balance of new versus legacy technology. It must also address issues such as how to cope with the new world of rapid Agile service delivery that must now co-exist, map to, or even totally transform, technologies and processes built around strong service management frameworks like Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL).

Such a strategy will allow organisations to take advantage of emerging technologies to unlock operational and cost benefits while continuing to adapt and scale existing data centres to help accelerate digital business outcomes.

This will enable effective delivery of IT services to an on-demand digital business, but it’s here that we come to the core principle of an effective strategy.

You must think big.

Most IT organisations today change their old ways of operating incrementally, only updating technologies and processes as the need arises and rarely identifying what the end result will look like. In short, they think small, only worrying about the needs of now.

While this may seem like the safest route, without a bold and clear vision of the future, it becomes difficult to develop and sustain the momentum required to overtake legacy processes and habits and it potentially limits the peripheral benefits that a long-term vision could realise.

One company that thinks big and has a vision of its future is Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The company’s goal to colonise Mars may seem far-fetched to many, but it’s a goal that encompasses both practical and visionary qualities.

Musk’s goal is to “make life multiplanetary while we can” before an extinction event occurs. But in addition to the end vision, the journey to see that vision realised (according to Musk) would “greatly advance science discoveries and technological capabilities, and it would help inspire and excite people from all walks of life and from all around the globe”.

The journey, in effect, was part of the vision and has sparked numerous innovations that have changed the space game: the challenge of landing rockets in Mars’ low gravity drove the need to develop re-landable rockets, an innovation which now provides a critical cost and speed advantage over Space X’s competitors for other arms of the company such as a forthcoming satellite-based broadband business.

While most businesses will not see hybrid IT in the same way Musk sees Mars, the need for a vision is just as important. Just like the commercial space operations moving rapidly into a world traditionally managed by a few nation states, successful execution of an effective hybrid IT strategy means we must be prepared for the rollout of new processes and ecosystems that break down the traditional planning and management silos that exist across the organisation. And we should be excited by this transition.

Approaches such as Agile development, DevOps and ‘software-defined everything’, along with technologies such as cloud, containers and micro-services, can all contribute to lower costs and more effective and rapid innovation. But a hybrid IT strategy must plan for the culture shift required for successful implementation of these approaches.

Merely taking small, incremental steps here and there, rather than being bold and thinking big, can see these initiatives get lost amongst legacy processes and old ways of thinking – resulting in even more complex silos to manage than were there in the first place.

The role of IT in business today is more critical than ever. CIOs have an opportunity to think big and boldly embrace innovative technologies while working with line-of-business leaders to align their transformation strategies with changing business requirements – all while achieving sustainable growth. Only then can a business claim to be delivering on the promise of effective hybrid IT.

David Hanrahan is general manager for Dimension Data’s Cloud Services.

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