Is IT finally having its moment?

CEOs are realizing IT is capable of so much more, and they’re also raising their expectations accordingly. At Cisco Connect 2016 in Toronto, Joe Onisick laid out Cisco’s roadmap — which touches on the new approach toward IT as an enabler rather than just a fixer.

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My friend, who’s a CIO, was intrigued by something he heard at a recent industry event.

“This may be the first time ever that IT is about top-line revenue growth instead of just cost cutting,” someone suggested to him at the conference. It struck my friend as such a TSN Turning Point kind of proclamation that he’s been pondering it ever since.

Joe Onisick expressed a similar sentiment during his presentation at Cisco Connect 2016 in Toronto last week.

“When I talked to C-suite executives in the past, their No. 1 thing was always TCO (total cost of ownership), how much am I going to save on capex and opex? Any idea what the top two concerns are today? Agility and security,” said Onisick, director of marketing for Cisco’s Insieme Business Unit in San Francisco.

The gist is that IT is no longer considered just a set of technical tools to eke out cost savings for the enterprise. IT is finally having a moment: We generate revenue! We make business more agile! We do more than keep the lights on!

Now that CEOs are realizing IT is capable of so much more, they’re also raising their expectations for IT accordingly. When Deloitte conducted its global survey of 1,200 CIOs late last year, it asked them to name their priorities for 2016. Instead of being their primary focus, cost containment came in second behind top-ranked business performance.

As Deloitte noted in its accompanying report, “CIOs have moved from leading a supporting function to managing a business function — they reported that business leaders expect them [those are my Italics] to not only contribute to the bottom-line business priorities but also to enable and even drive top-line initiatives.”

How, exactly, is IT going to meet these new, heightened expectations?

Onisick laid out Cisco’s roadmap for that in his Toronto presentation. It’s Cisco-centric and geared around the company’s products, of course. Yet it still touches on some of the major tenets of the new approach toward IT as an enabler rather than just a fixer.

(By the way, Onisick knows lots about going into battle for IT budgets and other things; before switching over to the marketing side of IT, he was an engineer and a U.S. marine.)

The first step, Onisick said, is to banish siloed IT architecture. In his view, networks, computing, storage and security are too often treated as individual organisms.

“We have to stop talking about networks as separate entities or separate boxes,” he said. This old, siloed infrastructure must be modernized, which means making it open and programmable (hello APIs).

The next step Onisick described is automation. By automating the data centre, for example, there’s less room for error but also increased efficiency. Then he returned to the idea that IT (in this particular case, automation) provides benefits beyond cost cutting.

“When we look at automation, it’s not all about staff reduction. Look at Google. They build in automation so they can scale and cater to increased demand — without increasing costs.”

In other words, automation can improve performance for enterprise organizations and their customers … while also saving those enterprises a few bucks.

Self-service is another cornerstone of Cisco’s ‘new’ enterprise IT ecosystem. By using infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), Onisick said, companies can build self-service portals to enable DIY deployments of things that have always been way too complex and far too time consuming. For instance, automation and self-service portals make provisioning a phone for a new worker as easy as pushing one button.

It’s a scenario that sees automation and cloud-based self-service portals free up IT managers for more strategic, revenue-generating business projects. As Onisick acknowledged, however, the holistic, interconnected architecture does add greater requirements for analyzing and managing all the resulting data, not to mention keeping the whole thing secure.

Any way you look at it, though, it’s a far cry from keeping the lights on.

Image courtesy of Free Digital Photos

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