Don’t be a Digital Pretender

  • General

We’ve all been there. We’re in the store picking out a delicious piece of fruit, get home and we realize its already gone bad. There are all sorts of tricks grocery stores use to make that piece of fruit enticing, like spraying wax on apples, despite a marked shift in consumer preferences with the rise of organics, buy local, and the increasing popularity of farmers markets. But I’m not here to talk to you about food, I’m here to talk to you about organizations’ digital aspirations.

Remarkably, these two topics have a lot in common. Consider this amazing quote from Johnson Controls CIO Diane Schwarz on her company’s digital transformation in a recent sit-down she did with CIO.com . “Johnson Controls is digital in the marketplace, so we need to be digital in every aspect of how we behave internally,” she says. “If customers see a shiny, red, ripe apple, from the outside, then the inside of the apple has to be just as good, all the way to the core.”

I couldn’t agree more with Diane Schwarz. It’s the perfect example of why autonomous operations are so vital to the digital success organizations are now striving for. Diane is right on the money – we’re committing a huge amount of budget and attention to transformative solutions, but if we do things the way we’ve always done them, we’re not likely to succeed in delivering on those transformation visions. For Johnson Controls, there’s a massive push into IoT and edge. Everything is expected to be smarter and offer more value, even an HVAC system. Customers are expecting these intelligent systems and devices to add more value, be more reliable, maybe even offer new services that were previously impossible – all running on data. To make this occur, IT needs to change just as much as business units and products do.

Let’s look at why this is:

Operating at a scale previously unimagined. Even the most digitally forward of organizations is finding that the scale and complexity of their environments are outstripping their wildest predictions. This shouldn’t be shocking, we don’t have crystal balls to predict the future and as we embrace being data driven and digital we inevitably find new ways to do things we hadn’t counted on. Keeping up, of course, puts a massive strain on IT. Embracing automation can reduce the burden on IT staff.

Moving at the speed of business. Shadow IT was, and still is, a thing. We’ve all been there, when following the prescribed method and process cannot deliver the result in time. But we’re seeing IT now play a more central role in defining cloud and technology strategies because – let’s face it – business units and developers don’t want to take on the IT ops burden (even if outsourcing is involved) and they’re really not the best people to ensure a service is resilient and secure. So IT needs to accelerate service delivery, and that means not putting a human in the loop where it’s not necessary. Self-service and policy-driven outcomes are essential to delivering needed resources on time.

Finding the needle in the haystack. You can’t turn on the news now without hearing about a ransomware attack or other advanced persistent threat. Oftentimes these vulnerabilities hide in plain sight for months, if not years, and are discovered only when it’s too late. The digital landscape for most organizations is sprawling and ill defined, and most organizations don’t even have a good understanding of what their attack surface looks like. This is where access to Artificial Intelligence for IT Operations (AIOps) insights or other security data sources can make a difference. Human beings could never spot some of the signs of malware unassisted, but with access to dashboards of data synthesized from analysis using AI and machine learning, they have a chance.

Defeating “DevOops.” The reality is that DevOps or even traditional IT services delivery models are at the mercy of everyone in the chain getting it right. Missing a crucial step, lack of familiarity with best practices or configuration drift can spell disaster. When we see spectacular failures, it’s often due to a string of small errors that on their own seem innocuous – until everything goes “boom.” The number one cause of cloud vulnerabilities is often attributed to misconfigurations, and that’s a direct result of humans being fallible. Machines can step in here and reduce the number of these mistakes at their outset, as well as monitor for events/behaviors that would indicate an issue has occurred.

For these reasons and many more it is critical that IT organizations take on their own transformational  journey themselves. It’s like building a beautiful house, it’s no good if you place it on a shoddy foundation. Digital transformation continues to be gated by having access to the right people and skills. We’re already seeing IT struggle to keep up with the day-to-day, let alone having time to take on new responsibilities. This is the beauty of autonomous operations and building smarter data centers – they’re self-funding. When you embrace automation, you can shrink the amount of time and budget that is applied to keeping the lights on and roll that into more strategic projects. That means happy customers and, let’s face it, happier employees, because no one likes getting caught up in busy work.

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