Big Data, Cloud and Mobile: The Changing Role of Enterprise IT - EIU - EMC CIO Connect
New technology and new responsibility
The changing role of enterprise IT
A convergence of technology trends will transform the role of enterprise information technology
(IT) between now and 2020. The proliferation of cloud computing, of mobile devices and of new
data sources will make corporate processes and outcomes radically more transparent to employees,
to business partners and to customers, but will also place new demands on IT departments and on
chief information officers (CIOs).
Over the past decade, IT has transformed business. Massive advances in networking and
collaboration technology have enabled key processes and functions to be outsourced around the
globe, while mobile and social tools have dissolved prior boundaries of geography and of time to
create truly global and always-on organisations. Today, cloud computing services allow companies
of any size to access vast quantities of computing power for little cost, levelling the playing field
between Fortune 100 behemoths and college students’ start-ups. These advances have radically
changed the way companies think about IT expenditures and about their in-house technology
Data as agent of change
The exponential growth in data has made increased computing power an urgent business necessity.
Companies are tackling enormous data sets derived from, among other sources, logs of customers’
online activities, of sensor outputs and of sales transactions. The resulting abundance of
information will give significant competitive advantages to those companies able to exploit it.
These firms will have much deeper insight into their customers’ experiences, into their own
operations and into other core aspects of their business—all of which were previously opaque.
Indeed, the amount of data generated and stored is staggering. Research firm IDC estimates that 4
zettabytes of data—the equivalent of 250bn DVDs—will be created, stored and replicated in 2013.
By 2020, that amount is predicted to reach 40 zettabytes.
While much attention has been paid to data that reflect human activity, 40% of these new data will
be generated by an expanding army of networked machines. These devices, sensors and robots—at
work in factories, monitoring remote oil pipelines or simply embedded in traffic lights, in
thermostats and in ubiquitous mobile devices—make up what has been dubbed the “Internet of
Things”. The information they provide is becoming a key resource for enterprises seeking a clearer
view of their operations.
At the same time, new data present new challenges. Companies face the risk of misapprehending
near-instantaneous and overwhelming amounts of data, which are often improperly vetted or
contextualised. “We’re just starting to learn how we manage in abundance,” says Omar El Sawy, a
professor of information and operations management at the University of Southern California’s
Marshall School of Business. “We are not quite used to this flow of data coming at us continuously
and how not to overreact to the noise.”
Security is also a concern. As more and more core corporate functions are stored in the cloud and
information networks extend to include more objects and devices, information leakage and privacy
concerns will become paramount.
Changing roles for corporate IT
As companies grapple with a data flood and major technological shifts over the next several years,
they must focus on remaking their IT departments. According to a 2012 report by the consulting
firm Accenture, more than two-thirds of business executives were unsure of what the CIO role or IT
function at their company will look like in five years.
Some firms are already shrinking their traditional in-house IT departments. These organisations are
adopting cheaper, third-party-administered cloud-based software systems and are jettisoning
traditional software. They are also adopting “bring your own device” (BYOD) policies that
encourage employees to use their own hardware and software rather than relying on technology
provided by the company.
Shifting roles and responsibilities have proved unsettling to IT professionals. “It is disruptive
change with a cadence that we have never seen before,” says Richard Edwards, principal analyst at
research firm Ovum. “And this pace of change is quickening as we roll through the years.”
According to Mr Edwards, however, enterprise IT departments are not in danger of disappearing.
Although companies expect their employees to arrive on the job with a high degree of
technological literacy, at many companies IT knowledge beyond web browsing and e-mail is at an
all-time low. While it is a given that firms will train their employees to operate expensive factory
machinery, many spend little on IT training despite their significant investments in enterprise
“Companies are really missing an opportunity to get the full return on their IT investments,”
observes Mr Edwards. As the need for training continues to grow, IT departments could ensure their
continued relevance in the years ahead by providing this service.