Separating tech hype from tech reality

Trends come and go and while they are useful in providing indicators as to where the industry is heading or should be heading, they don’t always reflect the day-to-day realities of IT professionals on the ground.

As an industry we tend to get so caught up in the ‘what’s new and what’s next’ conversation that we don’t often take a step back to assess what is actually happening right now in our own IT organisations.

As an industry veteran with over 20 years of experience, I have seen many ‘trends’ come and go over the years. While these trends are useful in providing indicators as to where the industry is heading or should be heading, they don’t always reflect the day-to-day realities and experiences of IT professionals on the ground.

IBM recently sought to distil the reality from the rhetoric of Australia’s major tech trends in its Truth Behind The Trends whitepaper, which drew on conversations with IT professionals across the country and across a number of industries. The whitepaper shows that the adoption patterns around cloud, mobility, and security are far more complex, and typically more conservative, than the rhetoric would suggest.

Slow and steady sets the pace

First and foremost, IT decision-makers need to avoid hasty decisions to deploy new technologies, even if the prevailing rhetoric is of widespread and rapid adoption.

Take, for example, cloud computing’s predicted versus actual market adoption in Australia. While most organisations (including vendors) would assume that the cloud is already widely embraced by the local market, IBM’s Truth Behind The Trends whitepaper suggests that a significant number of businesses are still at the researching and testing stage of cloud, based on a number of concerns – including data sovereignty, which the vast majority of participants cited as a major challenge. Indeed, one participant from a building society shared with us that being a financial institution, having data stored onshore is crucial; and that it is the number one thing they look for in their IT providers.

In other words, initial challenges to cloud adoption still remain pertinent despite assumptions about the maturity of the market.

Yet at the same time, there appears to be strong interest in next generation cloud models like industry clouds and outcomes-based pricing models, even though most IT leaders did not consider these innovative models as viable for their organisations just yet. Participants reflected that in many instances, drawing on shared wisdom from the cloud could be a good thing. However, participants overwhelmingly agreed that industry clouds would need to be set up in a way that does not compromise the competitive advantage for individual organisations.

One trend that resonated strongly was the hybrid cloud. This was mooted as a trend that has been embraced to some extent by the majority – even if many didn’t call it ‘hybrid cloud’ in their internal discussions. A local council in Melbourne shared that his organisation uses public and private cloud, and has set data classification rules to determine which data should reside in which cloud, based on the perceived level of risk.

Although the cloud is overwhelmingly seen as a necessity for doing business in the future, the form it takes may diverge significantly from what the industry rhetoric would suggest. Taking the time to scrutinise those practical differences is essential for IT leaders to “get it right” the first time, when it comes to not just cloud but any new technology.

Common cause for concern

The same underlying pressures appear to stymie innovation and progress in a whole range of technological areas, most notably a shortage of specialist technical skills in emergent fields like mobility and fast-changing ones like security. The majority of IT leaders who we spoke to said their organisations lacked the skills needed to manage even the basics of enterprise mobility such as BYOD.  As one participant said, “I don’t think anyone’s internally ready for mobility unless it’s their technical niche.”

The impact of scarce resources is often exacerbated by pressures from both executives and employees stemming from a “me too” approach to technology in the workplace. In the case of mobility, executives’ desire to use their consumer-based devices at work is forcing IT leaders to play catch-up with policies and platforms, leaving little time to implement a robust strategy that requires rigorous testing and requirements gathering needed for the most effective solutions. That, in turn, can put organisations at risk: most IT leaders with whom we spoke to agreed that threats against mobile devices would increase exponentially this year but are struggling to rein in user behaviours with adequate policies and technical expertise.

The situation is by no means hopeless. Some organisations are resisting these pressures with small-scale pilots, test implementations, and other experiments – particularly when their value becomes apparent to the C-suite. One Australian steel manufacturer who participated in Truth Behind The Trends has built an internal credit/risk application as a first step to developing a full-blown enterprise app store. The Melbourne-based IT manager of an international car company struggled for more than 10 years to gain budget for cyber-security measures, but found himself given carte blanche after a breach occurred within the organisation.

IT leaders must ensure that their executives are aware that tech predictions and trends rarely reveal the full picture of technological adoption, let alone the unique opportunities and challenges facing their specific organisation. By running small-scale tests with the help of skills from third-party experts, IT decision-makers can more effectively illustrate the practical impact of today’s major technological forces to the organisation’s business leaders. Doing so will encourage more informed and collaborative approaches to enterprise IT that are based on real-world observations and feedback rather than assumptions.

The truth is out there

Trends and predictions remain extremely useful for divining the overall direction of technological progress and adoption. But they need to be considered by business and IT leaders within the contexts of their own organisations, and in light of the fundamental requirements – budget, skills, time, and most importantly – integration, can make or break the success of any major technology adoption.

Seeking out expert assistance to plug knowledge gaps and resource shortages, and to lead the integration of these technologies platforms throughout the IT ecosystem is an important course of action; developing pilot programs or fostering employee-led innovations is also a valuable avenue. By understanding the realities of mobility, security, and the cloud; IT and business decision-makers stand a better chance of harnessing and integrating the transformative power of these technology forces. 

Gregg Jankowski is the General Manager for IBM's ANZ Integrated Technology Services division.