“I am your worst nightmare,” says author, consultant and business process management CEO Ian Gotts. Dressed in shorts and sunglasses, and with iPod headphones plugged in his ears, he is impersonating a young graduate who has just joined the corporate workforce.
“I am on Facebook, iTunes and Last.fm,” he says. “You can make me put a shirt on, but I will not take off my iPod. With a first in maths I may just be your most valuable employee, so why should I?”
The generation of ‘digital natives’ (as analyst company Gartner describes them), who have grown up taking consumer web services for granted, poses a significant threat to today’s corporate IT departments.
Firstly, those web services have set high expectations for infrastructure performance, Gott explains. “If I’m the kind of guy who spends his time playing computer games against opponents in China while simultaneously downloading movies,” he says, “what am I going to think when you tell me it will take hours or even days to compile a report?”
And meeting the expectations of such individuals is complicated even further by the proliferation of devices they are bringing into the workplace.
“In the era of the mainframe, it was all so simple,” says Gotts. “Then came the PC, which was more complicated to manage but at least there was a standard operating system.”
With PCs, Macs, iPhones, BlackBerrys and others all connected to the corporate network, providing a common, seamless experience is becoming more complex just as it is becoming more expected.
Does the business care?
These heightened expectations not only threaten to make life more difficult for data centre managers, but could also take away their jobs. As employees become increasingly used to using online services in their personal lives, they will be more disposed to sourcing business applications in a similar fashion.
“The business does not care who owns the data centre,” says Gotts. And that fact has been exploited by software-as-a-service providers – to many a corporate IT department’s detriment.
“Vendors are deliberately keeping their applications away from the IT department” by selling directly to the business, Gotts explains. “You might find that 70% of your customer records are being stored on a third-party vendor’s data centre before you’ve even heard of it.”
However, Gotts believes the business users should actually be acutely aware of who owns the data centre because it determines how well they can do their jobs. The systems that are running in the data centre support the business processes that help them achieve their goals. The challenge is to find a way to get the business to realise that, he adds.
End-to-end process mapping
“How do you get an end-to-end business process mapped out in such a way that business users are engaged with it?” he asks.
One way, he suggests, is to ask them to look at a current process and examine the way information technology influences it. A good example, he suggests, is the process of printing business cards for new employees.
“Did you get a business card on the first day of work?” Gotts asks the audience, most of whom had not.
It is not difficult to print a new employee’s business card in advance, and it helps them feel valued and welcome. But the process usually requires the co-ordination of several departments. That co-ordination occurs via email and takes in various applications and data sources; in other words, it relies upon the data centre.
Gotts advises that to avoid being swamped with unrealistic expectations or being replaced altogether by a third party, data centre managers must use examples such as this to convey to the business the pivotal role of data centres.
“The business should care who owns the data centre,” he explains. “But they need to be given a reason to care.”