We’ve all heard the term ‘future-proof’ as it relates to technology investments or commitments to technology solutions across our organizations. But what are we really talking about when we use that term? Is future-proofing technically even possible? And if the goal of future-proofing is too lofty, is there a more reasonable approach to IT investment?
I ask some of these questions rhetorically, as, obviously, even technologists have trouble accurately nailing a one- or two-year prediction, much less envisioning what the technology landscape will look like 10 years from now. Future-proofing, as an exercise, isn’t truly possible.
So, what’s a rational approach to long-term IT planning that most of us can relate to and reasonably strive for? I l believe that ‘future-enablement’ is a more realistic and attainable goal.
The difference between future-proofing and future-enablement
I define future-enablement as putting a foundation in place that allows a business to pivot or take advantage of new technologies as quickly and easily as possible. It requires solutions that are inherently flexible. And it requires that you consider those solutions in the context of their integration capabilities and big-picture contributions across your organization.
By contrast, future-proofing has historically involved making an educated choice as to which solution should accommodate your current and planned business trajectory, and then going all-in for the long-haul on that solution. The flaw with this approach becomes evident the moment your business needs change beyond the scope of capabilities your technology investments offer.
Flexibility is an essential element of future-enablement
A successful approach to future-enablement involves looking for modularity in each element of a technology solution and trying to avoid lock-in whenever possible. Modularity is important because it gives you the ability to change functional elements of IT if your business changes direction or if your customers desire something different. For instance, when COVID began spreading around the world, companies saw an immediate need to transition to a work-from-home (WFH) operational model. Companies that already had flexible, mobile-friendly network and data infrastructure in place made the pivot quicker and with less pain than those that didn’t. But even on a more basic scale, regular developments associated with growth, like opening a new office or merging with another company, can drastically change your operational needs and the demands you make of your IT solutions.
Another way to gain surprising amounts of flexibility is through the avoidance of vendor lock-in. Try to give yourself as many options as possible by avoiding large commitments with your partners. Even if you get a significant pricing discount for a long-term commitment, you have to weigh that discount against the cost of paying for a solution that suddenly cannot meet your needs.
Also, consider the possibility of a commodity-based consumption model. Companies that operate in the cloud are free of monolithic infrastructure costs, five-year equipment renewal cycles and forklift upgrades for infrastructure. Instead, when you’ve moved to a consumption-based operating model, you can accommodate most big changes through software refreshes or staff training.
The best strategies are fully defined and carefully integrated
The best IT strategies are linked to your business strategy, and aligned to your business goals. Good strategy goes beyond technology to include people, processes and culture. You must have the agility required to flex and change. And to be agile, you need open lines of communication and deep integration between IT and the business.
You also need the ability to procure services quickly. You can’t run complex long-term RFPs in a fast-paced agile environment. Instead, you need to establish flexible agreements with your providers and look for those consumption-based service models. This can help you to scale up in accordance with utilization.
Proper integration between IT and the business generates tangible benefits. Your marketing team, for instance, should be able to launch new products much more quickly in a cloud environment. But they must remember to talk to the IT team before launching new campaigns to ensure that resources are available and ready to scale with demand. You might want to start running things like AIOps, to enable that flexibility to keep your team free to support the business.
Data gravity and egress fees reduce flexibility in the cloud
Companies that have experienced all the benefits of the cloud for years are now facing new challenges stemming from large quantities of data they’ve amassed and the paralysis it’s created. Our world has a never-delete-data mentality. This has introduced the concept of data gravity, which means wherever you put your data is where your resources gravitate toward.
So now, if all of your data is in one cloud platform, and there’s a tool set you’d like to use on a different platform, you’re stuck. To prevent this, many companies are wisely turning to multicloud. But even then, they often face exorbitant data-egress fees when trying to move data out of one hyperscaler in order to utilize it on another hyperscaler.
Don’t forget to align attitudes and perceptions
The final element of future enablement relates to planning and perceptions. It’s incumbent on current senior leadership to start thinking about how it positions the business for the future. Good leaders will make technology decisions with an eye toward the evolution of customer needs and the technologies that will support them.
And I think you’re going to see a bit of a sea change in the way businesses work over the next few years. Younger generations of workers that have grown up immersed in digital flexibility. They are used to high rates of change and are much more willing to try new approaches solving challenges as they move into leadership roles. And while I’m not about to make a long-term prediction, I imagine future-enablement will still be a focus of the new generation, too.
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About the Authors
Solution Director, Global Solutions Services (GSS)
Paul brings extensive experience across the whole range of IT functions. With experience managing software development and architecture teams, leading service management functions and consulting at the CxO level to define technology strategies that align with, and help drive, the wider business goals, Paul believes in delivering the solution the customer needs, enabling transformation and delivering positive business outcomes. Specialising in cloud, service management and solving problems Paul brings 25 years’ experience gained across a variety of business sectors and organisation sizes, Paul enjoys working closely with clients defining, planning and creating innovation trajectories that will define and drive change, at all levels across your organisation enabling the adoption, integration and operation of new technology solutions that deliver the desired Business and IT benefits. Experience summary 25 years IT service, infrastructure design and software delivery and support experience Complex solutions design and implementation coupled with service integration and process design, Led successful cloud transformation projects across multiple sectors Experienced with working with global, multi-cultural IT functions to deliver large scale services and products Successfully delivered the whole range of projects ranging from 2 server upgrades to £100m+ multi-year IT service transformation programs across a variety of industry sectors.Read more about Paul Jackson