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The Data Center of the Future Will Be Customer Oriented

By Sinclair Schuller2.5.15

Data center blades close up via Bob Mical/Flickr

Data center blade servers via Bob Mical/Flickr

Let’s face it: IT has traditionally been looked down upon and minimized as a “cost center.” If you bought software or technology in the enterprise, you looked to the IT team to support it. IT was rarely strategic, despite many positioning it that way.

In the early days, businesses bought anything and everything and had IT run it, resulting in a department that grew haphazardly with many inconsistencies. Most IT departments then took on the challenge of rationalizing and reconciling their IT assets and overcompensated by attempting to limit what the lines of business were allowed to do. In many companies, this created an adversarial relationship between IT and the business. The result is that the business views IT as a roadblock and will try to go around IT by using public cloud solutions. But what should IT do? Block the public cloud? Probably not. The public cloud is happening, with or without IT approval.

A better approach is to convert the operational model to IT as a Service (ITaaS). That is, let IT behave more like a business: offering services to those at the company. By adopting IT as a service, IT can streamline and simplify its operations and collapse a messy set of technologies into a series of services that employees at the company can use. In essence, IT would offer services that are competitive with public cloud and—more realistically—that incorporate public cloud resources as a component of other services.

While ITaaS isn’t an entirely new concept, to date it hasn’t attained the vision of what it should be. ITaaS is an implementation of a “customer-oriented data center.” The old model didn’t focus on the customer, but instead on mechanically solving a problem more-or-less related to what the customer wanted. The old model typically offered “raw” IT assets instead of curated solutions. Want a desktop? Let’s send people around to deal with end user computing problems. Are you a developer and you built an app? Here’s a pile of servers and some change requests to get DNS records and load balancer entries created.

A customer-oriented IT model acknowledges that IT works best as an organization focused on satisfying the technology needs of its constituents. Its first-class charter is solving problems for people, not trying to create solutions for technology problems. Like any business, the first thing IT should do is figure out the problems that end users are trying to solve. That requires customer empathy and a fundamental understanding of the types of customers IT services. IT departments aiming to achieve customer-centricity must map out who their customers are, which will then help define the specific services they’ll offer.

By having a clear map of what customer problems you’re solving, you’ll see exploding growth in service use. How, you ask? People willingly consume more of what they need.

But first, two things need to be true:

  1. Services need to be low friction. If they aren’t, customers will find an alternative, such as in the case of developers who go around IT to the public cloud. They also must offer self-service and policy driven control, rather than control via bureaucratic process.
  2. Services need to be presented in a way familiar to the customer and not necessarily what’s most familiar to IT. For example, don’t give developers infrastructure templates and virtualization. That’s what “feels right” to IT. Developers want complexity removed and resources abstracted. Their number one goal is productivity and they want to interface with the data center via APIs and describe their needs via simple capability requests.

Once these two tenets are part of your IT stack and you’ve created a set of “SKUs” for your customers, you’ll find that propensity to consume skyrockets.

Nearly every company on earth is becoming a software company. Whether your company builds farm equipment, mines rare metals, or manufactures clothing, you likely have more developers and write more strategic custom software than ever before. Making sure that your developers are equipped to build and deliver applications at break-neck speed is directly supporting the future of company and will make one of your most valuable human assets—your developers—happy and productive.

Developers need to be able to build quickly, iterate quicker, and push innovative software out the door at the highest-possible quality. In IT, you need to make sure that you have the proper controls and policies in place to protect the organization, while the developers get the freedom to move fast.

At Apprenda, our purpose is to give IT departments the software necessary to establish a hybrid PaaS service for developers. Our customers leverage our technology to organize raw datacenter assets into a new service they can offer their developers who drive the rapid business innovation needed today. The alignment between IT and developers offered by an internal PaaS like Apprenda make it arguably the single most important technology you can offer in your ITaaS, customer-centric strategy.

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Sinclair Schuller

Sinclair Schuller is the CEO of Apprenda. Before Apprenda, Sinclair held positions at Morgan Stanley, Eden Communications, and consulted for the State University of New York’s (SUNY) vast IT systems. Sinclair holds dual Bachelor of Science degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

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