IT must be more than a service broker

TI chap blog.pngI was at a conference of Service Providers the other day. One of the speakers said that the IT department of the future would be a service broker, finding the right services for the business and running the relationship with all the providers of digital services.

 

The argument put forward was that cloud would provide the services that the business needed, but that someone needed to ensure that the services the business was using were "enterprise safe".

 

I think that there is a lot of truth in this logic. But, I don't think it's the whole story.

 

There are certainly services that don't differentiate the business, and these probably will be supplied by SaaS providers in the future. 

 

But for those business processes that do differentiate the business, I think there are two massive things where IT must be a lot more than a service broker. They are:

 

  1. creation and modification of the differentiated business process and 
  2. collecting, looking after and providing insight into the business process's data and the associated unstructured data around the business process.

Create and modify Differentiated Business Processes

Let's look firstly at the differentiating business process. There are, I believe, two things IT must do here. 

 

Create and modify business processes quickly

Firstly, they must enable the business to quickly create and, more importantly, quickly modify business processes. The creation may well be done by IT consultants working with the business. I stress the "modify quickly" aspect, because my observation is that the business often knows how to improve a business process but "IT says it's too hard to change the existing process".

 

Create differentiated steps in the business process

Secondly, they must create those steps in the business process that differentiate. In our Dev Center 20/20 vision of application development in 2020, we talk about how a differentiated business process contains a number of steps that are unique to the enterprise and some that are generic.

 

We use the example of a European clothes company that also retails its clothes (it's actually a thinly disguised and probably inaccurate account by me of the Spanish company Zara). There may be two steps in the "put clothes on shelves" process that differentiate the company - the "design" step and the "manufacture to design" step. The other steps, like buying the fabric, shipping and creating promotion materials, are generic. 

 

The point is that this clothes company's IT has created differentiation for the company thru these "design" and "manufacture to design" steps.

 

So, IT creates and quickly modifies the overall business processes, and it creates the differentiating steps in the business process.

 

Collecting, looking after and providing insight into the business process data

 

I believe that collection, looking after and analysis of data is one of the key things that the IT department of 20/20 will be required to do. Let's look at this in more detail.

 

Collect data

As technology allows us to store more data, "big data" as it's sometimes called, we are able to increase the granularity of the data we store in our "system of record".

 

"System of record" is a term coined by IT guru Geoffrey Moore. It refers to the structured data associated with the enterprise's business - what we sell, who bought it, etc.  There is more system of record data out there than we have capacity to process, right now. This is changing and the ability to store and use a lower granularity of structured data allows us to make "micro-decisions".

 

For example, a telco in the US is using "per neighbourhood" usage data for its video streaming services to adjust comms capacity at the micro-level.

 

Another example might be a mega-city like London or New York. Typically, cities arrange themselves into ethnic areas. Using lower granularity data, a retailer could do micro-marketing - changing their product mix and marketing to adjust to each ethnic area's needs.

 

But there is a lot more to data than the "system of record". Once again, Geoffrey Moore has a view!  He says that there is huge value in the unstructured data, the "system of engagement" as he terms it. System of engagement data is typically the social media interactions on FaceBook, Twitter and communities like the Apple Support community or Amazon's "customer comments". When we link the system of record to the system of engagement we gain much more insight into what's going - what's trending, what people think of our competitors, and so on. 

 

So, in the future, IT needs to a/ collect a higher fidelity of data and b/ associate the system of record data with the unstructured, system of engagement data.

 

Look after data

I've been involved in all the chapters of HP's Enterprise 20/20 "crowd sourced" vision project. And if someone came to me and said, "what is the number one thing IT needs to do to prepare for 2020, based on all the interviews and reading you have done?", I would answer "security and privacy". By 2020, there will be 800m more people on the internet, so the number of potential "data attackers" will increase.

 

And the "attack surface" (as security people call it) will go up too - the number of things to attack will go up as we introduce more smart devices and arrays of smart sensors "out there", accessible to the public.

 

And, as we collect higher fidelity information about people, we need to manage the privacy of this data. For example, smart power technology is great, it allows us to use energy more effectively. But, the data sent from homes to the power companies can tell a thief when a home is empty. 

 

So, looking after the security and privacy of the (increased amount of) data we collect will get much harder. 

 

Insight

A recent report by the Economist for Dell Computers found that 75% of business managers felt they weren't getting the maximum value out of the data their company owned. As a "business person" of 30 years, I concur - the business is always on a quest to get more insight out of the data we have so we can "find out what's really happening".

 

The IT department of 2020 needs to fix this problem. And as the amount of structured data we collect increases and business people realise that doing analysis on structure and unstructured data at the time gives huge insight, the "data insight problem" will only get harder.

 

So, collection of data at a higher level of fidelity, collection of unstructured data, management of the security and privacy of that data, and supporting the business in gaining insight from both the structured and unstructured data, will be a massive value add that IT can provide to the business.

 

Summary

While IT's role in the future will change, and it while it most certainly include that of service broker, it will be more than this.  I've been "in the business" the 30 years of my working life. I believe passionately that IT could do a lot more to help differentiate business processes and services. This involves IT doing a lot more than simply "brokering services" - it involves …

 

  • Helping the business create, and more importantly, quickly modify business processes
  • Create the steps in business processes that truly differentiate the business
  • Collect, look after and provide insight into the structured and unstructured data associated with the business processes

The themes of mosaic business processes, big data and its use and IT as a service broker are discussed in detail in HP's "crowd sourced" vision of the future - Enterprise 20/20. Please feel free to go to the Enterprise 20/20 website and tell us what you think. We are taking everyone's comments and using them amend and enhance our initial thoughts.

 

Author : Mike Shaw

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About the Author
Mike has been with HP for 30 years. Half of that time was in R&D, mainly as an architect. The other 15 years has been spent in product manag...
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