Virtualisation colossus VMware's vForum at Wembley Stadium this year aimed to up the game not just of customers, but their IT suppliers. Players should aim to "amplify the possibilities" of the big trends of the past few years – mobile, cloud and virtualisation.
Joe Baguley, EMEA chief technology officer at VMware, emphasised that IT can and should become more of a driver of business, instead of simply being a function or supporting act seen in a similar light to the doors, the windows and the desks.
"IT people should be part of the future, not just part of the furniture," he urged.
This meant taking opportunities around the software-defined datacentre (SDDC) and software-defined networking, network function virtualisation, virtual storage and the like and looking three to five years ahead.
Even though the pace of change is now "phenomenal", it behoves IT not only to try to foretell IT business needs, but proactively work with customers to develop new ideas and innovation that fulfils those business needs better.
"Abraham Lincoln said: ‘The best way to predict your future is to create it'," Baguley said.
Unsurprisingly, VMware is promoting its management stack among a multitude of virtualisation developments as pretty much the perfect way to approach these demands.
The vendor does have a point, however: we're through the recession but IT budgets are still about doing more for less, even though cost is now not the most important driver, as it was a year or so ago.
The vendor is pushing an increased focus on applications and automation technologies as well to free up customer organisations – for which a cloud platform is needed.
"Applications are what IT is about," Baguley says. "What they [customers] all really want is this self-service infrastructure that can deliver to the IT requirements."
He says VMware sees its role as accelerating the "innovation cycle" of applications generating data, which can be stored and analysed, and used by other applications, which themselves generate data, and so on. Moving through those stages more quickly should help businesses become more agile and responsive to changing conditions.
"I see our job at VMware as to enable organisations to go around that cycle faster than ever before, and use that cycle to drive business in ways you had never expected."
Online bookmaker Betfair was trotted out as an exemplar of a firm that has achieved some of those benefits.
Faster time to market
Michael Bischoff, chief information officer at Betfair, said that in its high-transaction, web-based, massive-activity billing system, the implementation of software-defined datacentre (SDDC) concepts enables faster time to market.
"It enables us to get out of the way and let the development team get on with it," he said.
Going software-defined in part has allowed new apps and innovations to be delivered to customers much more quickly. A side effect is that moving into the SDDC space has been great for the internal team as well because it helps them expand their skills.
"It gives them more exciting stuff to play with," Bischoff said.
David Parry-Jones, UK and Ireland regional director at VMware, said many businesses right now can feel as if they are stuck in second gear when they should be in the fast lane. There is a misalignment between what a business wants and IT's general ability to fulfil those requirements.
A survey by VMware, performed by Vanson Bourne, suggests the average time lag between business communicating its requirements and IT fulfilling them is about five months. The poll took in perspectives from 1,800 IT decision makers and 3,600 office workers at businesses across EMEA.
This time lag is fostering growth in shadow IT as it blackens the reputation of the IT team among business stakeholders and end users alike.
"Eighty per cent of the decision makers in our research saw a significant gap between business wants and what IT can deliver, and it was higher in the UK. Perhaps we would expect an app to be delivered in five months – but it can take five months to get a response," noted Parry-Jones.
This obviously reduces competitiveness and growth potential.
"Most organisations of all sizes need an IT infrastructure that can scale up and down, so IT is facing pressure from that. IT directors are under pressure from their CEOs to close that gap.
"Many are under pressure to modernise their IT in the next 12 months. And I'm guessing that most CEOs don't really know that means. So the challenge is to deliver that back to the CEO in a way that is meaningful to him or her," said Parry-Jones.
Innovation has moved higher up the priority list of businesses, edging cost reduction out of the top spot it has held through the recent recession. All this obviously suggests opportunity for the channel – opportunity that might actually deliver margins.
Parry-Jones told ChannelWeb in a separate interview that this also means the channel must not only move beyond simply speaking to IT to engage with all parts of a business, but help IT departments themselves to become more proactive and business-focused.
"If there's one thing I would want the channel to take away, it is that the IT departments they all traditionally talk to are in fear for their life," he said.
This may be even more of a challenge when many channel partners themselves remain in transition somewhere between hardware reseller and fully fledged services provider and business facilitator, he agreed.
One profitable channel direction could include a focus on layering services around vSphere, Parry-Jones suggested.
Paul Casey, cloud, virtualisation and automation practice leader at Computacenter, said in a vForum roundtable that while all this is true, the pressure put on IT within Computacenter customer organisations is increased even further by cloud migration and the ramping up of regulatory compliance requirements.
"It almost puts another angle of pressure on IT to address these issues, and speed up their responses [to business requests]," Casey said.
"At one customer, who called this morning, they have found they have got 600 different instances of public cloud being used by 3,000 different users within the organisation that IT didn't know about."
The issue must, he noted, therefore be addressed at least from a security, policy and control perspective – never mind actually trying to drive business innovation.
Becoming business innovators
Glen Larkin, lead technical architect at Kent County Council, confirmed much of what VMware's Baguley and Parry-Jones said about IT professionals and IT departments upping their game in terms of understanding business needs and interpreting requests – becoming innovators that assist the customer organisation as a whole.
"IT needs to be able to create with the business a bit better. They'll say ‘I want these services' or ‘I want this capability built' rather than ‘I need an app' or ‘I need a piece of IT'," Larkin said.
"And there is a certain amount of second-guessing of what is actually needed. They often give you something very broad to work with."
Some might ask why the IT department has to do the legwork of adapting here. Why can't business managers and the like learn more about IT?
The answer of course is that it is the IT professionals who have the specialist knowledge to interpret business needs; if management knew as much about IT, they would neither wish nor need to hire technology specialists. This is the value that can and must be added – the trouble is that many organisations believe that it is not.
SMART's UK managing director joins Lenovo to boost SMB business
Telco also announced series of initiatives to drive digital growth in the UK
Nana Baffour opens up on Getronics' mammoth acquisition of Pomeroy
Analyst predicts SaaS will remain the dominant segment in the market as it grows 17 per cent in 2019