Blog post

Embracing the Blur

By Tom Bittman | February 09, 2011 | 2 Comments

VirtualizationFuture of InfrastructureEducationCloudAgility

We’re having an interesting discussion inside of Gartner (due credit to Neil MacDonald, Lydia Leong, Cameron Haight and David Cearley for the ideas in this post – I hope they post further on this). The concepts here aren’t new. For example, in 2004, I talked about “the walls coming down” between business, the data center and development. I wasn’t unique – others have discussed boundaries breaking down between different aspects of IT architecture for years. However, I’m not sure how many people are aware of how utterly pervasive this megatrend in IT really is, and how much it affects all of us. In a word, the megatrend is "blur." Think about it.

  • blurWhatever happened to the market where there were distinct servers, storage, and networks? Fabric is blurring that.
  • What the heck is an operating system any more, and what does it matter when I have a virtual pool of distributed resources I need to use?
  • Whatever happened to the boundary between consumer technology and enterprise technology? Consumerization of IT. And not just personal technology devices – some IT services are given away for free (and subsidized by advertising). Which leads to boundaries disappearing in business models.
  • Whatever happened to the boundary between outsourcing and insourcing? Now we have cloud computing: public, private, hybrid, and every other variation. Looking for a black and white definition of cloud computing? A waste of time – it’s gray!
  • What about ownership of intellectual property? Open source, community collaboration. Is it plagiarism if you add value to existing content? In a society of information, can you afford not to build on what’s already out there? What should 21st century students do?
  • What about the boundary between trusted enterprise data and untrusted data? Can we really afford to ignore any business information that might be useful? Isn’t it about what we do with the data, rather than whether the data is 100% trusted and owned by the enterprise? The boundaries of data used for business intelligence have been blown completely down. For that matter, we are entering a period of data overload – some we can trust, some we partially trust, some that is impartial, some that is partial. Successful people and businesses will be able to find value in that data. Unsuccessful people and businesses will drown in the data, or hide from it.
  • Whatever happened to the boundary between IT and the business? In some cases, being solidified in the form of services-orientation (e.g., cloud computing), in other cases, the boundary simply does not exist. How many business people can afford to be laggards in leveraging the latest IT capabilities? How many IT personnel can ignore business strategy?
  • What about the boundary between applications and operations – and security, for that matter? It used to be that developers threw their creations over the wall for operations to run, with a kiss “good luck”. New applications are being written based on operational models, with automated deployment/operations/optimization in mind. Security is being captured as policy that moves with the application.

Virtualization. Consumerization. Cloud. Instant connections and collaboration. I could go on.

An overall IT megatrend today is a complete and utter blurring of boundaries – which we could handle conceptually, but it directly affects people and market competition. It’s a lot harder to re-skill, re-organize, and react to partners that become competitors and competitors that become partners and partners who are also competitors depending on the situation.

If there is one “skill” that is critical for an enterprise to have, and for individuals to have who use and/or help deliver IT capabilities (which, by the way, is everyone) – it’s “agility.” If you depend on the predictability of competition, and the predictability of a job category, you’re not gonna make it. You or your company will become noncompetitive faster than you can say “blur.”

To use Neil MacDonald’s perfect phrase, success requires “Embracing the Blur.”

(By the way, Neil has pointed out an interesting book by Stan Davis, called – not surprisingly – “Blur.” I need to take a look!)

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  • Rob Price says:

    Tom, absolutely spot on. Increasingly over the past year, the intersection between commoditisation of IT, boundariless collaboration and ubiqituous connectivity has promoted behaviours and expectations more akin to our consumption of personal IT. Years of rationalisation and consolidation to gain control and structure and efficiency and being switched into reverse to gain flexibility, dynamicism, agility and take advantage of the extended investment boundary outside of the corporate.

    In combination with the economic imperative, it has brought together what i have referred to as the Perfect Storm. Our future (as IT professionals) is not one of debates about Public or Private Cloud, but one of wholesale and fundamental change. Recognising that many corporate environments will inevitably consume a range of services (akin to a Hybrid Cloud), and that the governance function of \IT\ will be necessary be moved closer/into the business, how do we need to adapt? How do we aggregate services? How do we broker? How do we deal? How do we know?

    All the subject of my forthcoming article on my blog.

  • Tom –

    Interesting perspective/debate. Not disagreeing with you.

    But an interesting follow-on question would be: For each of the 8 topics/areas above, what qualifies as the the boundary area that’s being blurred? Not everything is blurred (yet) but certainly classes of things… the “early” initiators. What properties do they have that are causing the desire of the market to blur?

    Sorry, no answers here… only more Q’s

    ~ Ken