Maintaining the IT momentum
Date: Tuesday , July 01, 2008
Last month, the World Congress of Information Technology (WCIT), one of the largest gatherings of business, industry, and government leaders in technology, met in Kuala Lumpur. The time and location were perfect for such a meeting. We are living in a ‘Connected Era’ in which technology is transforming the relationship among businesses, governments, and citizens. Nowhere do we see that transformation more powerfully than in the emerging economies of Asia.
But it is also true that Asia, more than the West, is uniquely suited to tackle the greatest challenge facing the Connected Era: the sheer complexity of information technology.
IT was invented to make our lives simpler, and it has. Mundane but necessary tasks are faster, productivity is up, and reams of data are available with a click – thanks to IT.
But along the way, the systems that were supposed to simplify everything became impossibly complex themselves. In a sense, IT became a victim of its success. The more IT became capable of doing, the more people began expecting and demanding from it. Computers got faster, networked devices proliferated, and data storage exploded. By 2010 the world will generate nearly 988 exabytes, or 18 million times the information contained in all the books ever written.
Maintaining these systems has become a managerial headache. Chief Technology Officers I speak with regularly tell me that IT maintenance consumes at least 70 percent of their time, leaving only 30 percent or less for innovation. Hiring armies of consultants just to keep their systems running has become the norm for businesses and governments.
Clearly, this model is unsustainable. The challenge for our industry is to develop new IT products and systems that are easier to use, simpler to expand and upgrade, and more efficient to operate. This is what businesses, governments, and consumers need if they want to take advantage of everything that IT has to offer.
Happily, technology itself may offer a way out. Today, the most important advances in server technology are making data centers far more energy efficient. Not only can the next generation of servers reduce energy costs, they can offer far more space to store data without relying on expensive new hardware. The process is known as ‘virtualization’, and many companies are discovering that they can unlock a ‘hidden data center’ simply by taking advantage of their servers’ idle time and unused space.
At the same time, ‘cloud computing’ is creating a revolution in how we store applications and other software. Instead of requiring new racks of servers, organizations are accessing applications ‘in the cloud’ whenever they need them.
Most of the benefits of IT simplification are obvious. It saves money, improves productivity, and makes business and even whole countries more competitive.
Some of the benefits are more subtle. Simplified IT makes technology more accessible – it democratizes the benefits of IT. The simpler IT is, the more companies, organizations, and people can afford to use it. For instance, 70 percent of small and medium sized businesses have no in-house IT support. When capability and complexity go hand-in-hand, they are out of luck. Simplification puts the power and the promise of even cutting edge IT within their reach.
Simplified IT is also green. It’s impossible to overestimate how important this is. All around the world governments, companies, and consumers are waking up to the impact that technology exerts on the planet. IT is no exception. The energy used to power servers is growing at about 16 percent globally each year. The next generation of servers delivers more power per Watt, dramatically reducing energy bills by as much as 45 percent.
Creating a Connected Era with IT simplification is Asia’s great opportunity. Unlike the West, which has built up proprietary, legacy computer systems that are complicated to upgrade and expand, Asia has the critical advantage of being able to get things right from the beginning. The systems being built now in the region will incorporate everything the IT industry has learned from its experience over the past quarter of a century in other markets.
That means that Asia – and all emerging economies – will have a built-in competitive advantage over mature markets: better IT systems that cost less, do more, and allow more time to focus on core business strategies rather than fretting about system headaches.
The result is a very exciting time for IT. For the last number of years, IT complexity has been a growing problem. But at Kuala Lumpur, the possibility of simpler, greener, and lower-cost IT was the talk of the meeting. The future, it appears, is simple.