Be afraid, Dell EMC CTO tells CIOs

CIOs “have every right to be scared”

CIOs “have every right to be scared” as they face the challenge of responding to disruptive forces of unprecedented number and magnitude that are transforming enterprise IT, according to Dell EMC CTO John Roese.

Roese was speaking to Computerworld following his keynote speech at last week’s Dell Technologies Forum in Sydney. In that presentation Roese detailed what he said were six big ideas “that everybody in our industry will have to get comfortable with, because they will shape our IT architectures and drive the demand for those architectures going forward.”

The half dozen Roese referred to comprise three architectural ideas — multi-cloud, multi-tier and software-defined — and three demands on IT — IoT, artificial intelligence/machine learning and immersive experience (augmented and virtual reality).

Roese said CIOs, faced with these three big architectural ideas and three demands, were too focussed on the individual forces, and failing to realise their interrelatedness. 

“These are buzzwords today but we have to think beyond the buzzwords and realise that these are going to shape our infrastructure definitions and architectures and drive more demand than anything we have seen in our current generation,” he said.

“We are at a transitional phase in the IT industry. The past era was characterised by building technology and software to support turnkey software that served end users that were principally people — end users and customers — and had a scale that we could largely manage with human beings. We are about to enter an era where all that changes.

“Whatever you think of the scalabilities of the current generation of infrastructure and how difficult they were, add about three zeros to every number you can imagine: That is what we are going to experience going forward.”

Of these buzzwords, Roese said multi-tier was the term that was likely to be less well understood than the others. The term the fact that a fair amount of processing needed to happen near to users — whether those users are actual people or things. "We are now entering an era where our multiple clouds are starting to become distributed," he said.

The challenge of multi-tier

He gave the example of the architectural approach being developed for connected cars. “We have a four tier model,” he said. “We believe the car will be one tier, and part of the cloud architecture. We believe there will be an edge computing layer, because we need to accelerate the functions of the car in real time… We believe there will be third tier: Private data centres, performance-optimised to manage the back-end of the cars of a particular brand. We also believe there will be a fourth, public cloud tier where collaborative experience like infotainment and navigation are best placed."

Roese said every industry would need to figure out its multi-tier strategy as the next generation of architecture evolves.

He described “software-defined” as "being one of the most poorly used terms in the industry," saying: “What software definition really means is that you have to separate the layers of the IT stack so innovation can happen at the appropriate speed… hardware innovation happens at a different speed to low level infrastructure software and protocol innovation, and that is very different to virtualisation software innovation and application platform innovation.

“If we bind them all together into one big blob of a stack we operate at the lowest rate of innovation... Instead we need to create a stack properly abstracted with APIs that when properly put together delivers an IT outcome.”

AI will be bigger than you think

Roese said the impact of AI had been greatly underestimated. “We see three distinct domains in which AI will completely transform our experience,” the CTO said. “The first is the user experience, to make interacting with technology simpler for people… The second is to apply machine intelligence to every business process… The third is AI applied so deeply into the infrastructure that we cannot see it. What that does is to solve problems that no amount of human beings can solve.”

Roese predicted that most people in IT would spend a disproportionate amount of their time over the next decade incorporating machine intelligence into business processes, because doing so would represent “the biggest impact we can have on productivity in our organisations.”

Roese said the magnitude of change being driven by these forces was leading to CIOs becoming too focussed on trying to adapt and adopt, without asking why.

“Most CIOs are obsessing about clouds and about building a cloud strategy in a vacuum, because they might not understand what they are going to use it for,” he told Computerworld.

“I think that is the wrong approach. The right approach is to look at those three demands and decide which problem is most important to you as a CIO.”

Focus on the problem

“Is the problem that you have to extend the intelligence and automation of your business out to a new class of user? Or is it that the biggest problem you have is a lack of human capacity that is slowing you down, so you have to move to a next wave of productivity improvements to shift the bar up?

“Or is your competitive differentiation not just about improving business processes or extending the user base but about transforming the way you interact with your customers, your employees? In that case it is all about shifting to immersive experiences.”

According to Roese, any one of these would be a perfectly valid strategy for a CIO to choose, but this choice should be made prior to any decision about IT architecture — and this tends to not be happening.

“Unfortunately we have a backwards approach where, because of the momentum around cloudification and modern infrastructure, many CIOs feel they cannot go and solve business problems until they have build a modern infrastructure and developed a cloud strategy.

“I would argue that, if you only pick one strategy, pick one that is transformational at a business level whether that is extending the user community, improving your business processes or changing the way you interact with your customer.”

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