How Automation, Access and AI Will Reshape Organizations in the Year Ahead

We are in the throes of the single most disruptive event to ever hit IT. Everything is going to the cloud. Large organizations are either already in the cloud or charting their course to get everything out of their data centers in the next 3-5 years. While cost is driving much of the change, there are also highly compelling technical capabilities.

This past year I’ve spent much of my time on the road, meeting with large organizations ranging from global industry leaders and Fortune 100 companies to large nonprofits and university research centers. What these organizations share is an insatiable appetite for more data and more data crunching, and this demand is shaping the way organizations re-build their IT environments in the cloud. Based on my discussions with our clients, I expect that automation, access to data, and AI will dominate the technology agenda in the year to come.

Automate Everything

Automation was the cloud’s original secret weapon and it is quickly making its way to every layer of the technology stack. Automation means software-defined everything. Software-defined compute was an early leader with the wide adoption of hyper-converged platforms. Software-defined networking followed, allowing complex networks to be created with the push of a button. The last member of the infrastructure stack to arrive at this party was software-defined storage. Storage is tricky. Unlike the previous two layers, it accumulates vast amounts of data. Making sure that data is never lost is imperative. But this technology is now mature.

What is more exciting – and just around the corner – is the ability to connect the demands of end users and applications to APIs that control these software-defined environments. This way, the environments can dynamically adapt to meet the needs of an organization.

Access to Everything

Access to data is directly correlated to the value that can be extracted from it. Phase One of the great cloud migration was to move everything to the cloud. That immediately allowed organizations to gain high-performance access to their data from anywhere in the world. This, in turn, enabled all sorts of new workflows. Phase Two is being able to access all of that data from multiple applications and services, across cloud providers.

Organizations want optionality not only when it comes to where their data is stored but where it is being accessed from. They want to be able to use best-in-class services to do things like log analytics, search, classification, etc. The cloud has killed the monolithic software applications with the same vigor that it killed the data center. More and more, I hear IT organizations demanding that their data not be tied to any specific application or cloud provider. Cloud mobility and optionality have become paramount as cloud becomes the center stage strategy. This has opened an opportunity. New software vendors have been gaining ground against incumbents who are stubbornly attempting to keep data hostage inside the re-branded SaaS versions of their applications.

I recently heard from the CIO of a large law firm who was frustrated with the cost and lack of scale and mobility of the SaaS versions of some of their major applications. So the firm chose to keep the application stack the same and host it all themselves in the cloud. Yes, they had to figure out how to move a few billion files to the cloud. But that problem, unlike vendor lock-in, is solvable.

Access to a precious resource like data cannot be limited or locked-in. In 2019 I expect to see more cloud services championing access to data from other best-in-class services.

Artificial Intelligence

The top of the wish list in the conversations I am having with our clients:

How do we gain greater insights into all of our data?

Now that organizations have more powerful chips, more efficient algorithms and, most important, access to more data than ever before, artificial intelligence has finally become a practical tool for business applications. In the consumer world, machines are already able to listen and respond to humans in ways that feels conversational. At the bleeding edge of research, machines have been able to destroy their human counterparts in Go! and other strategic games. Google constantly scans the World Wide Web for images, categorizing them to such an exquisite level of detail that one can find images of dumpsters that, say, happen to be on fire.

Everyone that I speak to in the enterprise is thrilled by AI’s potential to develop business insights from their endless stores of data. This requires a secure connection between the data produced inside organizations and these AI marvels. But this is possible now. I recently spoke to one of our clients in media who is storing data in Azure but feeding it to Google Lens in order to meta-tag his company’s vast image repository. Another client in a large engineering firm wants to be able to find patterns that can help predict critical factors causing projects to overrun their budget. They’re not dreaming. This is real.

Shifting to Strategy

These enlightened IT organizations have already jumped to the cloud. In doing so, they have already solved the typical low-level IT functions. They are no longer concerned with buying hardware, facilities management, provisioning servers, managing backups and DR, etc. Yet even those organizations that are just beginning their cloud journey, or recovering from a failed experiment with a subpar cloud solution, have an easier road ahead. In the past year, cloud services providers have only made it easier and more efficient for organizations to launch and carry out a cloud-first initiative.

That is what makes this such an exciting time. Every organization has a chance to follow these early adopters and become strategic again. Rather than just worrying about how to cut costs, they are finding new and exciting ways to add value to the business. They are transforming data from an expensive problem that needs to be managed into an asset that can be leveraged to benefit the organization in previously unimaginable ways.

This might be the single most disruptive event to hit IT, but it is also a tremendous opportunity. To learn more about how your organization can capitalize on this shift in the IT landscape, contact us today.

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