For ambitious IT workers (or the disgruntled who manage to stay engaged), there’s nothing like a clear message from the boss to get everyone’s attention.

 

Asked about IT’s fixation on cost reduction, Cisco Systems Chairman and CEO John Chambers compared that mindset to what he’d tell his own CIO. “If that’s what you believe, [then] we are going to treat you like a call center.”

 

No, Chambers is not building a boiler room for his IT department, but the comment did reflect what a lot of people were thinking at Forrester Research’s latest IT Summit in Las Vegas. There’s a new sheriff in town, and he’s rationalizing a whole scope of IT capital expenditures to effect process change, collaboration and whatever else it takes to facilitate innovation. And yes, it reflects on your job in business intelligence, data warehousing and information management equally in what you do and how you work.

 

The manifesto delivered at Forrester’s conference is less about control, more about entitlement, and more than anything about riding the wave of change in computing as we know it.

 

“Market transitions are all about catching them right and if you miss them, it’s almost impossible to recover,” Chambers told a crowd of 1,200. Chambers’ view of IT destiny isn’t about specific infrastructure, it’s about all infrastructure, which is clearly shifting to grid or utility delivery via the Web. It’s about ease of use, power and portability and could become reality even before it's fully understood as a hype cycle. 

 

To hear the CEO of Cisco Systems say that the future is “not about routers, switches [or] data centers; they will blend into common infrastructure,” was striking enough. Chambers says the current market transition is moving away from networks of devices to networks of intelligence, and he’s willing to delegate that change to the point of discarding Cisco’s lockstep efficiency. “I have 65,000 people and when I say, ‘turn right’ we do it pretty well. [But] that’s not what we’re doing now.”

 

Everywhere you turned at Forrester’s Summit, there was talk of cloud computing, the mix of software, infrastructure and services such as storage delivered via the Web. There was talk of the effect of social networking and about a new mix of less on-premise and more hosted infrastructure and software to better manage non-core technology needs.

 

There are different models and perceptions of the cloud. I take these things with a grain of salt but always listen when companies vote with their wallet.

 

Esat Sezer, VP and CIO at Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) described how his $21 billion company decided to outsource its mailbox and other services to Microsoft. “Do we really want to manage email, calendaring [or] instant messaging?” he asked. “Our answer was that those things do not create differentiation or advantage for us.” CCE’s new operating framework of software and services is about IT resource creation at lower cost and higher quality, since Microsoft can scale and manage those services better and quicker than internal resources can. As soon as next month’s email pilot is completed, CCE will start the same process to hand off its portal and collaboration infrastructure to Microsoft.

 

If Sezer is a progressive, IBM VP and CIO Mark Hennessy sounded like a throwback to the brainstorming of the go-go dotcom days. Hennessy described how IBM is building internal social networks to recreate an idea that came from former CEO Sam Palmisano’s days, an internal 72-hour “value jam” to collaboratively readdress company practices. Now, value jams are created on social networks to provide freewheeling sessions with clients.

 

It’s Really Bottom Up

 

This was a Forrester Research conference about corporate realities, not a Comdex show or a Second Life experiment. Rather than just another wishful project to encourage collaboration, Hennessy said ideas like value jams are working because the corporate organizational chart has become less hierarchical and less top down.

 

It’s easy to add that such projects leverage tools that the youngest of managers embrace and understand the best. The flip side of “new” IT management is simple reality, driven by the de facto end-user productivity of Web 2.0, the “cloud,” social networks and whatever else you’d like to add.

 

To this end, analysts Matt Brown and John McCarthy held a session called “Web 2.0: The End of IT?” and alluded comically to the “Hi, I’m PC, this is Mac” TV commercials. (If you are rolling your eyes or if your IT department is obsessed with quashing Web apps or instant messaging, I refer you to the top paragraph of this column.)

 

The serious side of the Web 2.0 phenomenon is what Forrester calls “Technology Populism,” meaning that a technology native workforce will self-provision itself with external collaborative tools with minimal or no ongoing IT support. Brown and McCarthy referred to a personal obsession of mine: the time compression that accelerates change. Here’s a short list of Forrester’s bullet points:

 

  • End users will continue to lead and pilot solutions
  • Ease of use is here to stay and deserves enterprise tools
  • Cloud computing will affect well-established, non-strategic and standards-based categories first and then broaden scope
  • CIOs will control what matters most and rely on policy and governance to do it
  • IT needs to define strategy and governance

  

Will these trends affect your BI and information management infrastructure? We’d say that’s already happening and will continue, though we don’t see your business analysts going anywhere. We’ll take it a step further next time to examine the cloud, what different people say goes into it and a possible wildcard in the onset of virtualization.

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