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Driving central IT to the hybrid IT model

Making the transition to hybrid IT can be tough. Here's advice from experts on how best to do it.

Central IT is experiencing near-cataclysmic change as it confronts how best to incorporate a host of technologies, including the cloud, mobile, and more. It’s moving as fast as it can to a hybrid IT model, which spans legacy (central) IT, convergence technologies, and public/private clouds.

But it’s one thing to know you need to get there and entirely another to do it. Transforming a complex set of technologies embedded deeply in a business is a delicate, complex task—one that can make or break a company.

To help you get there, we’ve talked to the experts. Here’s their advice on what you need to know for a successful migration to hybrid IT, on everything from basic management and security to creating cutting-edge line-of-business apps and bridging the cultural divide between today’s central IT and tomorrow’s hybrid one.

Confront worries head on

IT decision-makers know they need to make the move to hybrid IT, but they still have significant concerns about doing it. Karyn Price, a Frost & Sullivan Stratecast Cloud Computing analyst, says 72 percent of enterprises surveyed by Frost & Sullivan expect to move to a hybrid cloud strategy that encompasses public cloud and private cloud data center infrastructure. But they are having trouble making the move, with 28 percent struggling to migrate applications to a hybrid infrastructure and 25 percent saying they have problems integrating on-premises and public cloud environments.

Despite those concerns, analysts agree there’s no going back. Zeus Kerravala, ZK Research founder and principal analyst, says, “My research shows that hybrid IT will eventually be used by 90 percent of companies in one form or another.”

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Start off by determining true business value

In making the transition to hybrid IT, CIOs and decision-makers should first focus on where a company’s business value lies. So says Charles Araujo, principal analyst at Intellyx and founder of the Institute for Digital Transformation.

“People get hung up on specific technologies—public cloud, private cloud, on-premises, SaaS, and so on—but they first need to consider business value, not architecture,” he says. “They should start by defining which elements of their technology stack give them competitive value, and which are basic sustaining technologies that are not unique and competitive.”

Once that's done, IT should focus most of its resources on what he calls the “crown jewels”—those technologies that offer the greatest business value—and determine what architecture offers them the most agility and flexibility, Araujo recommends. More often than not, he says, that means cloud technology or a web-scale on-premises architecture.

As for the non-unique technologies, he says they should be moved off legacy systems if they are on them, and into the public cloud or to a SaaS vendor. That will allow companies to expend as little effort as possible on them and free up central IT’s resources for the technologies that offer the greatest business benefits.

Kerravala suggests dividing the IT staff into separate, parallel teams—one to handle existing, well-established applications like Oracle and another to focus on building innovative line-of-business apps, cloud-first apps, and mobile-first apps. But over time, he says, even legacy IT infrastructures and teams will move to more modern technologies.

“It’s like the early days when PCs entered the enterprise, which was dominated by mainframes,” Kerravala says. “You had separate teams then, and eventually most mainframes went away and the entire staff moved to working on the newest technologies.”

Get support from key stakeholders

IT is not an island—it’s only one department in an enterprise, and it needs to gain support inside the larger organization if it wants to transform to a hybrid IT model. That can be difficult. Frost & Sullivan research found that 32 percent of IT leaders have difficulty getting budget increases for “transformational cloud-based projects” and 22 percent struggle to get support from key business leaders in their organizations for those projects. So, before the transformation, IT needs to prove to executives how the move will help the company act quickly on important projects. That way, they can get the resources they need.

Address security issues

No surprise: Analysts agree that handling security is the biggest concern central IT has in moving to the hybrid IT future.

“Security concerns are the No. 1 inhibitor to moving to hybrid IT,” Kerravala says. “IT is worried about how to handle compliance and security in the cloud, as well as how to devise a unified security strategy that spans many different kinds of technologies and infrastructures.”

Araujo adds, “It’s so hard to handle security in a hybrid IT model that many companies put the brakes on it because of that.”

But both agree that with the right planning, security problems can be solved. Kerravala says IT needs to get the legal department heavily involved in the transition, so IT can understand the compliance and data sovereignty issues it needs to address, particularly if the company works in multiple countries with differing laws. As for the technology required, “In complex hybrid IT environments, it’s no longer a game of building big firewalls. You need strong anomaly detection that actively looks for suspicious traffic.”

Araujo agrees: “Artificial intelligence and machine learning need to be applied in order to create models of suspicious behavior.” Beyond that, he says IT needs to recognize that no matter how much time and effort it expends on security, “eventually you’re going to have a security incident. So you need to devise strategies for remediation and rapidly isolating the breach so it doesn’t cross all of your infrastructures.”

Confront staffing and cultural issues

Moving to a hybrid IT model can be difficult for IT employees, many of whom have spent many years working with specific technologies and may be resistant to change.

“Sometimes IT staff can have blinders on,” warns Kerravala. “But they need to know that the department is moving in a new direction and they need to move with it. That message has to come down from the top.”

And the message needs to include actions, not just words. Kerravala says that IT staff must understand that unless they learn new technologies and ways of working, they may no longer have jobs. He’s seen it happen. In one of his early IT jobs, when PCs came into an organization dominated by mainframes, between 50 and 60 employees were working on mainframes. Five years later, the employees with mainframe backgrounds were gone, replaced by people with PC and Windows expertise.

Araujo says, “The key to making a successful transition culturally is to get the IT staff involved from the beginning, get them to take ownership of the process, and give them the right training.”

Price says Frost & Sullivan research shows the depth of the staffing and cultural issues, with 53 percent of IT leaders saying they worry about job losses due to the changing role of IT employees in the move to hybrid IT. Her solution: “Encouraging IT professionals to become certified in a variety of different disciplines and offering opportunities for training and cross-team collaboration.” This is important, she says, because in a hybrid IT model, “IT will hire generalists who can respond to big-picture needs across a range of applications and infrastructure components.”

The hybrid IT future

If everything goes according to plan, what will the hybrid IT future look like? Araujo says IT will look much like other parts of enterprises, which have outsourced repetitive, lower value work, while placing greater emphasis on activities that offer a greater competitive advantage. So basic services like email may no longer be handled by central IT, which will spend more of its time developing innovative applications and technologies. And that, in turn, will help transform the entire enterprise.

“The transition to hybrid IT is critical," Araujo says, "because without taking that step, enterprises don’t stand a chance of reshaping the business the way it needs to be reshaped."

Making the shift to hybrid IT: Lessons for leaders

  • Don't ignore the potential benefits of the oncoming wave of hybrid IT applications and services
  • Get your IT staff on-board with the change
  • Continue to be proactive with enterprise security

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.