|Research, training, consultancy and software to reduce IT costs|
From PCs to online services
How should IT management respond to the shift from PC applications to online services?
IT is a very plastic, mouldable entity, with little inherent structure. Different components can be configured and reused in many different ways. To avoid this turning into unmanageable mush, you have to impose some structure on it.
At the risk of gross oversimplification, we tend to impose different management structures on server-based IT and PC-based IT.
For server-based IT, we impose structure by splitting IT into distinct systems or applications. We assign business owners, IT representatives and support teams. We may have common elements, such as enterprise architecture and shared infrastructure, but we map how individual systems or applications fit within them. We adopt standards to help us manage systems and to help them interoperate. The mindset is one a controlled, joined-up capability to support joined-up business processes.
For PC-based IT, we tend to take a different approach. PC systems have often been single user, and PC management has less requirement to support joined-up business processes. Because of the technical challenges of the PC environment, management and support of PC-based applications is often left with a specialist PC support team, who work relatively independently of the architecture and infrastructure used to manage server-based systems. The mindset is one of ensuring all the applications function smoothly on the PC, rather than supporting joined-up business processes.
IT, however, is changing. IT capability is increasingly delivered as online services, whether these are applications delivered using a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, or capabilities built on top of social sites such as Facebook. Increasingly, the PC is just a browser to access online services. There are more and more non-PC mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets. Users' identity and focus is moving to online services, rather than the hard disks of their PCs.
How should you respond to this change?
Because online services are accessed through PCs, and because online services appear to be independent of other IT, there may be a temptation to manage new online services in a similar way to PCs. It may even be convenient to redeploy PC support staff for this, if other aspects of PC support diminish and the PC becomes little more than a "super browser". This approach would focus on ensuring that access to online services works smoothly.
However, the disciplines and approaches typically used for server-based IT are very relevant to online services, even if you are not yourself responsible for running the servers. Online services supporting core business processes need the same level of governance and joined-up thinking that we currently apply to in-house server-based systems. They need owners, representatives and support. They need to fit within the enterprise architecture. They need standards, especially if you need them to interoperate with each other or with your internal systems.
The PC support mindset, with its laudable and necessary focus on smooth running functionality, may not be the right basis to support the move to online services, however obvious and convenient this may be. The traditions and working practices of server-based IT may be a more appropriate starting point.Next: Lighting up dark corners
Minimal IT: research, training, consultancy and software to reduce IT costs.