COMPUTERWORLD. Mary K. Pratt
IT departments have been playing with virtualization as a way to increase hardware utilization and flexibility and help rein in costs, but that game is just heating up, says Pamela Taylor, a solutions architect at a subsidiary for a Fortune 50 company and vice president of Share, an IBM user group. "Virtualization is only going to continue to expand," she says. There are plenty of opportunities to get on board this trend. "The training for server and storage virtualization is well under way and ongoing," Taylor says.
If you want to further capitalize on the technology, look at expanding virtualization beyond servers and storage. "It's a concrete way to rein in infrastructure costs like electricity and cooling costs, to rein in spending on new servers and to start to do something that really speaks to the concern about the carbon footprint," Taylor says.
As you implement virtualization, you can also start capitalizing on automation. In IT, that means using policy engines that decide when to do various tasks within the infrastructure. Automation can reduce human errors, cut costs, increase availability and add flexibility, says Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata Inc., a Nashua, N.H.-based IT consultancy. Consider, for example, automation platforms designed to reduce your off-hours power drain by moving high demand applications onto a couple of servers and shutting down the rest at night, Eunice says. "Automation gives you a more flexible environment that's not in firefighting mode all the time," he adds, noting IT departments that use automation spend less time on IT grunt work and are therefore able to focus more attention on strategic operations.
And though today's automation tends to involve the server, storage and network aspects of the data center, it will spread to middleware and application infrastructures as virtualization expands into those areas, Eunice says. Get started with automation in one area to understand how it works and the rewards it can deliver, he says.
IT departments have been building islands of applications and data for years, and despite repeated attempts to integrate them, many of those islands persist. But business demands for increased efficiencies despite exponential increases in the quantity of data, along with the development of new integration tools, put this on the front burner for '08, Eunice says. It's time to get serious and build bridges, so users can get all the information they need in one place at one time. "Whether it's in manufacturing or health care or any industry, if you can connect the dots, you can be much more efficient," Eunice says.
If you're a database administrator, an applications author or a business analyst, you're on the hot seat here, since you'll need to understand which disparate sets of data need to be integrated, he says, adding, "It will be a hot topic for the next 10 years."
IT shops have a choice of technology to do the job, but the most important decision is to get started, he says.
4. Real-time collaboration
Like it or not, workers throughout your company are using outside collaboration tools, such as Google Docs. That means sensitive corporate information may be sitting on outsider servers, rather than behind your firewalls. People are drawn to these tools because they're easy to use, says Andrew McAfee, an associate professor of business administration in Harvard Business School's Technology and Operations Management department. IT's job is to help formulate a policy for using these tools or to implement internal alternatives that are equally user-friendly, McAfee says.
5. Web 2.0
Lots of people spend their personal time blogging and using other Web 2.0 technologies. Many expect to use the same tools at work, and some already are, with or without IT's blessing. IT needs to be a leader in championing these tools, McAfee says, by folding them into the existing infrastructure in a way that is convenient for users and works in conjunction with corporate security and privacy requirements. "The smart choice for both the line and IT side is to be positive about this development," McAfee says.
The knowledge economy grows on good ideas, and IT needs to provide the tools to help foster and manage them. The good news is that those kinds of tools are increasingly available. "There are online tools that let people post ideas and work on each other's ideas, and we're seeing more and more organizations put together platforms to push and develop ideas," says Jackie Fenn, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.
But IT groups should do more than implement their chosen idea management software, Fenn says. Considering that most innovations have significant IT components, Fenn says, it behooves IT workers to be leaders in the ideation process. You can help manage the process by working with business leaders to pose and frame the right questions to get useful responses and drive innovative thinking.
7. Consumer-oriented devices
Employees are increasingly bringing their own hardware, software and wireless devices to work, says Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at JupiterResearch LLC in New York. "The gadgets that consumers are buying today are more powerful than the PCs that IT had to manage just a few years ago, and IT has to be able to respond in a positive way and not just say no," he says.
That's not to suggest, however, that IT should bless everything the cat drags in. An IT department must understand what it can integrate and support, and it must know what poses a risk to the organization. "They need to be prepared to integrate some and ban others," says Gartenberg, who is a Computerworld columnist.
8. Unified communications
Unified communications tops many IT radar screens, and Gartner predicts that most companies will implement unified systems over the next three years. But the move to unified communications won't involve just telephony and messaging, says Sam Helmich, vice president of technology at ADM Investor Services Inc. in Chicago. It means tying together traditional telephone features, desktop videoconferencing tools, customer relationship management systems and other applications to create efficiencies in various business processes.
There's a shortage of skilled workers in this area, but Helmich says companies can get the training their workers need by partnering with vendors -- something he did at his company. If that's not an option, you can still get started. "There's enough stuff on the Internet that workers can go out and read how the different systems work," he says.
Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. Contact her at email@example.com.