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What is moving CIOs to hybrid IT?

Social, mobile, cloud, analytics, Internet of Things, bimodal IT; digital transformation is reshaping the competitive landscape around us, and CIOs are increasingly being challenged to offer more than ‘just’ infrastructure support. They must keep the lights on and be a catalyst for innovation and growth. What is needed, agreed our 25 roundtable participants – information technology leaders from such diverse worlds as banking, entertainment, manufacturing and utilities – is a new approach. One that blends the best of on and off-premise worlds: the security of owned, the agility of as-a-service. This is hybrid IT. And this is why CIOs are increasingly choosing it…

Omar Palacios, Executive Director and Head of IS/IT with international supply chain solutions company Flextronics, says it best: “We own over 100 factories in 40 countries. In each location, the manufacturing data has to be real time, so it’s going to be hard for us to go into the cloud 100 per cent. But obviously there are areas that are going to be in the cloud – anything related to customer services, sales, and field technicians – because then we have the mobility, the scalability, and the speed to be able to respond to our customers. That’s why for us it’s going to be a hybrid model.”

Glen Whitling, IT Director at Alcon, a Novartis company, is facing similar challenges – balancing security of proprietary information and speed of business. Whitling says: “Vital for success in pharmaceutical is time to market. How fast can we get a product through trials and patent it so we can start recouping that investment?” And he is equally convinced that hybrid is the way forward. “Large amounts of data is required for research. We do a lot of testing in AWS for genomic tests, just because we can span thousands of CPUs to try and crunch data, to get test results. That ability to consume large capacities of resources, which drives the next step of clinical trials, which drives the move to patent, is what pushes us the most.”

Based on our 7.5 hours of conversation, this drive for balance is what’s moving the lion’s share of CIOs to take a hybrid IT approach. Business wants to go quicker, but – by and large – it’s appetite for risk doesn’t extend to full immersion in the cloud (and, to be clear, this is regardless of regulatory pressure). But it is not the only reason. Some are born hybrid, some achieve hybrid, and some have hybrid thrust upon them…

Viven Bhowani is Head of IT Operations for leading South African law firm, Webber Wentzel. He supports a hybrid model because “it allows us the benefits of highly available solutions while providing opportunities for rapid deployment and easy management.” Because the firm is based in Johannesburg “where lots of construction is taking place and, as a result, occasional Internet outages occur,” only non-core applications are considered for cloud, whereas core applications remain on premise: availability is also key to hybrid strategy considerations.

Hybrid IT: challenges and opportunities

Challenges - Does it make business sense?

Moving toward a hybrid IT strategy made good business sense for all 25 of our roundtable attendees. But implementing that strategy right now made sense for 23. For two people the economics weren’t there yet.

“They [the business] call us a cost centre, but I call us a value centre. The same engineer that would look after exchange looks after another 600 applications that we run. So there is no real cost benefit for us to move to the cloud or hybrid now, but we look at it every year.” Adrian Lewis, CIO, Super Group

Challenges - Is it a business strategy?

A hybrid strategy may make sense for your IT teams, but has it been embraced by the business? Getting them onboard is vital for success.

“We are trying to communicate the awareness of cloud, and we’re trying to get the digital thinking entrenched. What we found out from previous transformation efforts is not to rush into these big, new, shiny technologies, but rather to get the awareness and readiness of the organisation in place. That means also the execution teams on the ground. And just be wary of the organisational readiness, the skills required, and some of the technological limitations.” Lester Masher, Head of Enterprise Architecture, WesBank

Challenges - There is no one right way

Security concerns, zealous regulators, data sovereignty concerns, taking a bimodal approach: every business is different. Fortunately, there’s a hybrid IT approach that’s right for almost all of us.

“It is a journey. What we see for sure is that there’s no one style fits all There are different levels of maturity in organisations that we’re engaging, who are trying to understand where to position, where to break into, what would be their legacy environment, as we begin to move that out into various forms of cloud.” Kevin Leahy, Group General Manager for the Data Centre Business, Dimension Data

Opportunities - Identify your low hanging fruit

Building momentum is important for any project, and hybrid IT is no different. Find the easy wins, wherever they are.

“Disaster recovery is an opportunity; I think it’s a low-hanging fruit that we’ve got to look at. And then our test environment, our UAT (user acceptance testing), and our dev environment, I think there’s opportunities there. And then also with the SQL server, the whole concept of the stretch databases, where you can actually start moving your historical data. And that’s something that we’re really looking at.” Mark Brouwer, CIO, RTT

Opportunities - Data is the new oil

Nina Du Thaler was named Utilities CIO of the year at the fourth Annual iT News Benchmark Awards in February 2016. She won for her work integrating data from across Queensland Urban Utilities’ estate, in real time, providing the business with holistic picture of its operations. Hybrid IT plays a vital role in Du Thaler extending this work.

“One of the key challenges for us over the next period of time is how we get data out of what we call our ‘SCADA environment’, essentially our ‘Internet of things’, the sensors, probes and pieces of equipment that measure the water quality, pressure, vibration, all sorts of different things. There’s a rich data set that comes out of this environment, which at this point in time, is only seen within that environment. We expect that we can get much greater value out of this data by combining it with other data and making it available to our planning teams. We’ll get much, much better reads on population growth, and how our networks are performing. That will enable us to invest in maintenance and growth in a far more accurate way and deliver better customer outcomes.” Nina Du Thaler, CIO, Queensland Urban Utilities

Opportunities - Timing and flexibility

Equipment nearing end of life + need for quick and easy scalability? Hybrid IT is for you.

“We are reaching end of life on a lot of our equipment, storage and servers, and networking. So we had to make a big decision: invest a considerable amount of money to upgrade our datacentre and everything that was within it, or let someone else, essentially, worry about that. We decided to take a hybrid IT approach, so that we have the ability to grow out as we need. As our different business units are expanding, as our storage is being consumed more rapidly, it’s not something we have to worry about at this point in time. And then, as things might start to slow down in the next year or two, we can bring that back down to the levels that we need.” Jeremy Bree, CIO, Henley Properties

Three steps to achieving the greatest benefit from hybrid IT in the shortest time: Recognise. Embrace. Accelerate.

So if most, if not all, organisations have hybrid cloud – a key enabler for hybrid IT – in some form, why do so many still struggle to manage and optimise their approach to data and data centres to accelerate their business outcomes?

Don’t believe everything you hear about cloud

Many enterprises don’t recognise the mind shift required for a new approach to sourcing and enabling existing and new IT capabilities.

“One of the less obvious reasons is that people believe ‘urban myths’ about cloud,” he says, “and they’re making decisions based on these myths, which impedes adoption.” For example, there’s an assumption that business-critical workloads in the cloud aren’t secure. However, even highly regulated industries like banking and healthcare are using cloud for these workloads successfully and securely. “They can do this because they’ve invested in the right processes and automation,” he says.

The second bear trap organisations fall into is treating cloud as an isolated event. “While there’s merit in having a ‘try fast, fail fast’ approach, you won’t to be able to scale the projects that do work,” says Gerard Florian, Chief Strategy Officer for Cloud at Dimension Data. “You need to prepare for success.”

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Copyright Dimension Data 2016