September 08, 2010, 4:14 PM — Look at where technology is going, or where it's dragging us, and you see two unstoppable forces that, if mismanaged, will send problems rippling through corporate IT infrastructure for years: Cloud and mobile computing.
Joshua Jewett, CIO of the nearly $8 billion Family Dollar Stores chain, sees what's at stake. He is investigating cloud services for possible use in application development and testing. Meanwhile, the mobile pressure builds. Jewett says employees check work e-mail on personal devices they bring to the office and most customers of Family Dollar's 7,000 stores carry cell phones.
"Either you're consciously building cloud and mobile systems or you're reacting to forces of the world pushing you down that path," he says. "It's always better to be conscious."
Jewett jokes, but his point is this: You need to make careful enterprise architecture decisions that encompass technology and services that, whether or not they live inside the corporate walls, will incorporate themselves into your business strategy.
Gartner predicts that within two years, up to 20% of companies will own no IT assets at all, their CIOs having hired outsourcers, cloud providers and software-as-a-service hosts to do their computing work for them. Many other CIOs will be responsible for a mishmash of internal and external IT resources that employees and customers use with a plethora of devices. While iPhone users can't yet pinch and flick their way through transactions on a corporate-grade ERP suite running in the cloud, give Apple and SAP time, says Michael Capone, CIO of Automatic Data Processing, the $8.8 billion payroll services firm. That's where we're headed.
No longer can we pick a hardware platform and expect to live with it exclusively, or even for very long. IT leaders must conceive a technology architecture flexible enough to deliver enterprise applications-sometimes even the same single application-in several ways, says Filippo Passerini, CIO of Procter and Gamble. That includes running apps in others' data centers and in the palms of people's hands.
CIOs, therefore, must work closely with enterprise architects to lay down a framework for delivering applications on multiple platforms. Some view enterprise architecture as a theoretical exercise or a noble endeavor to try when there's time. But today's technology shifts make good enterprise architecture a practical necessity. No one can be certain how mobile and cloud technology will develop or which vendors will dominate.
Get ahead of the angst, says Srini Cherukuri, senior director of IT operations at Matson Navigation. "That's the key: starting early on from an architecture standpoint as opposed to retrofitting something after it's been built."