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The New DNA for IT

Pat Grady

Originally posted in the WSJ.

CIOs are under assault. Cloud services born in the consumer world are sneaking their way into the enterprise at ever-increasing rates. Blocking those services squashes productivity and morale. Allowing them creates complexity and risk. CIOs need to embrace a new approach that blends the flexibility and delight of the consumer world with the rigor and security of the enterprise. At Sequoia we call this the new DNA for IT. Like human DNA, it consists of four bases: awareness, identity, integration and insight.

Before we unwind the new DNA, consider IT’s historic approach. It focused on stability, security, and scalability – characteristics of the systems themselves. And while this strategy delivered all of the expected benefits (compliance, consistency, risk mitigation), it often left the end user feeling like a slave to rigid, antiquated workflows. With long, complicated, expensive deployment processes required to adopt new technology, IT was in control – and hence the tech-centric enterprise of the last 20 years.

Meanwhile, consumer applications have focused on adoption, engagement, and delivering delightful experiences – characteristics not of the systems themselves, but of the human response to the system. And while these consumer-styled applications have delivered massively better end user experiences, they have done so at the expense of enterprise-grade stability, security, and scalability. With app stores and online distribution models having mostly displaced traditional deployments, end users are now in control – and hence the human-centric enterprise of the next 20 years.

Traditional enterprise apps are too unwieldy for a generation raised on Facebook and iOS devices. Modern, consumer-flavored apps are not robust enough for an enterprise environment. Some enterprises have attempted to bridge this gap by hiring armies of developers and building custom application platforms to deliver the best of both worlds. And while we salute those efforts, most enterprises have neither the budget nor the recruiting capability required to out-develop the application economy.

Uber, Airbnb, and Twitter. What do these companies have in common? Each has revolutionized an industry without actually delivering that industry’s product. None of these companies provides transportation, lodging, or news – they simply manage a platform that enables anyone else to do so.

Similarly, the key to the next 20 years of enterprise IT is not to provide more and more technology, but to manage a platform that enables any application to exist in your environment.

That brings us to the new DNA for IT. Let’s consider each base in turn.

Base One: Awareness.

Exactly how many consumer apps have snuck into your enterprise? The vast majority of CIOs have no idea. Those brave enough to guess, on average, believe the answer is 42. Those bold enough to find out discover that the answer is 831, nearly 20 times that amount. Companies like Skyhigh Networks (whose customers produced this data) provide perfect visibility into exactly what is running in your enterprise.

Most CIOs will hear this and immediately think about playing defense: using that visibility to exert control. But some CIOs will spot the opportunity to use that visibility to understand and build support for the services end users need to get their jobs done.

Base Two: Identity.

In the tech-centric enterprise, the starting point for security was establishing a perimeter. In a human-centric enterprise, identity is the new perimeter. With so many devices, applications, and platforms flowing in and out of your enterprise on a daily basis, a system-centric approach to security is destined to fail. Identity is the centerpiece of your next generation control plane.

Identity solution providers can serve both CIOs and employees. CIOs get a control plane for security and management. Employees get a single point of access to their entire digital world.

Base Three: Integration.

In isolation, applications are useful. In combination, applications are powerful. With nearly half a trillion dollars spent on application integration every year, this is not a new concept. What’s new is the way to think about it. Historically, integration meant human beings bolting things onto systems of record. Today, the world moves too quickly to keep up. Going forward, integration will mean product: a scalable backbone that can withstand the constant change of the human-centric enterprise.

Base Four: Insight.

In the information economy, success is a function of the speed and accuracy with which decisions are made. Given the amount of “big data” available to inform those decisions – and the $25 billion dollar industry dedicated to ingesting, analyzing, and presenting that data – we should be entering a golden age for productivity. However, with this embarrassment of riches we run the risk of making the same mistake that was made in the tech-centric enterprise. We risk being so impressed by the power of the technology that we simply stop there. We go to great lengths to harness and manipulate the data, but we fail to go the last mile of turning information into insight. Data is great for machines, but our human end users thrive on insight.

The tech-centric approach of traditional enterprise IT is a losing strategy in the human-centric enterprise of the future. Embracing The New DNA for IT will allow you to enable the flexibility your employees demand without abandoning the control you require.

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