Enterprise IT has been changing, or evolving if you like. The challenges of IT have grown more complex, spending habits are in flux, and technology adoption patterns are shifting. There are some key forces driving the changes in enterprise IT, but let's take a quick look at the increasing complexity of enterprise IT.
A long time ago (meaning, a few years back), the IT department had only to combat rogue deployments of desktop software in business departments, such as Microsoft Access and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, the latter of which could often have more business logic than most of today's Web 2.0 applications. Now, however, companies have a plethora of insurgent server-based applications that are proliferating both inside the firewall and outside in the "cloud."
Who's deploying and feeding these guerrilla applications (often of dubious engineering quality and even more questionable security)? It's the users in the business departments [gasps of horror] who are installing and driving adoption independent of IT sanction and governance. The business users are taking matters into their own hands in an effort to improve their productivity and remain competitive. They're turning to easy-to-use and flexible tools like wikis, blogs, lightweight content-management systems, social bookmarking tools, and others that are often grouped under the category of Enterprise 2.0.
Server-based software applications are considerably more complex than desktop software. Server software has a great diversity of components that have to be kept up to date and/or create security risks. Moreover, server-based software is designed to be open for other systems and users to connect to remotely. Therefore, server-based applications create a raft of potential issues beyond those associated with desktop software.
An ever growing number of insurgent, server-based applications are popping up all over the enterprise intranet. Not only is security an issue, but, because business users are increasingly circumventing IT, corporate data is seeping out of the company intranet and into unknown data silos. This tendency is being fueled foremost by the business users' needs; however, also affecting the trend is the growing number of free online applications and open-source tools that are relatively easy to install. Finally, virtualization, which makes installing complex server software a snap, is playing an active role in the "insurgency."
The solution for IT used to be to push back, consolidate, and lock down. This option doesn't exist any longer. Now business users are more capable of deploying software or can simply take their technology needs to the cloud with SaaS offerings. The savvy IT department's only real choice is to embrace, standardize, and federate. In doing so, there are some key factors for the IT professional to consider.
- Open systems: Make sure applications you're standardizing on aren't going to create vendor or data lock-in.
- Standards: The apps you standardize on must be storing data in a reusable format. Stay away from anything that's storing in plain-text or non-standard formats (wikitext, etc.).
- Platforms: Make certain all your standard apps have robust APIs. If not, you'll be kicking yourself later as you begin federating these end points and making these disparate systems talk.
The savvy IT professional has more tools available than ever for fulfilling the needs of the business users. Indeed IT, with the right tools, can be a real hero to the business units by selecting the right tools and delivering these in a secure manner. This is especially true if the new tools are delivered in conjunction with data from legacy systems that the business units have never been able to easily get at. There's a wealth of free (or low cost) and open-source software out there for IT to evaluate. In coming posts I'll chat with you about the pros and cons of utilizing some of these tools in the corporate IT environment.
— Aaron Roe Fulkerson, co-founder & CEO, MindTouch
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