Responding to the Stress of Change

“What does it mean for me?”

That’s the unspoken question underlying today’s technology conversations. From CIO to line administrator, everybody wants to know where the disruption we’re seeing with the emergence of cloud, big data, and mobile will leave them.

Everybody is feeling unprecedented levels of stress. We’re at the confluence of three massive technology waves, in which each wave’s architecture optimizes for different workloads:

  • Traditional storage-centric services – IT builds the application infrastructure by stitching together best-of-breed storage, servers, network, virtualization, and backup.
  • Converged infrastructure-centric services – IT builds the application infrastructure with increasingly integrated components, so they spend less time and effort connecting pieces.
  • Cloud-centric data services – Either IT or an external vendor provides standard, simple application infrastructure without exposing any traditional components.

We’re also facing new consumption models. For decades, IT infrastructure transactions have focused on buying physical equipment.  At the end, you owned something tangible.  Now, however, there are new options: hybrid cloud, public cloud, and virtualized (as in a software-defined data center).

Companies have to choose both the right architectural and consumption model for their workloads. The result: more stress.

Faced with these changes, IT’s role and responsibilities are changing. I’ve seen two reactions to this new reality. The first is to resist the change. These teams talk about the new models as not providing “true X” (where ‘X’ is whatever service they provide), that they’ll just absorb the new technology into their existing tools, and that they’re just too busy running the business and cannot be distracted. These teams face constant reorganization until they respond to the change or cease to exist. The second approach is to embrace the change and improve their service to the business. This may seem like a simple intelligence test, but human beings complicate the issue.

IT transformations happen when organizations change in response to technology. IT teams change one person at a time – either when an individual redefines his/her role or when management replaces a team member.

I’d like to see IT professionals grow their careers. There are three ways that I’ve seen IT administrators successfully expand their role:

  • Introduce disruption – Disruption eliminates legacy technology and the administrators that manage it. If an administrator wants to remain hands-on in their technology area, they must drive the technology disruption (e.g. introduce all-flash storage to replace traditional storage).
  • Learn new layers of technology – As the lower layers of technology simplify and converge, there are new opportunities at the higher layers of the stack. Technologists must gain proficiency in these new areas (e.g. OpenStack, Hadoop, Cloud Foundry).
  • Connect to the business – IT administrators can expand their careers by connecting technology with the business. There is always a need to translate the needs of the business to the capabilities of technology and vice versa. The business-inclined IT member must help meet business needs (e.g. cloud) or deliver unexpected layers of business value (e.g. big data).

The disruption in IT infrastructure can overwhelm organizations and people. IT organizations must dive into the new world or they risk marginalization. Organizations, however, transform only as their people do.

Successful IT administrators answer “what does change mean for me” with one word: Opportunity.

About the Author: Stephen Manley