“The future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.”

That quote from William Gibson is one of my favorites.  It implies that we can know the future by perhaps doing a little investigative work.  To me it also hints at the possibility of inventing the future.

I’m sitting on a flight to New York and like most people I am using the time to catch up on some reading and some time to sit back and think and reflect. We are just wrapping our budget cycle for 2011 and this is where we have to anticipate the projects and direction we want to go with technology.

Of course with all the demands placed on IT I always have to try to keep my team focused on the “Top Line Challenge” – The highest and most important use of IT is growing the top line.  But I won’t blog about those activities as you can understand. 

However I have lots of other thoughts floating around that I wanted to write down to think about and it hit me that this would be a good blog post to potentially get some discussion started.  Like many CIOs I am being hit with the triple whammy – social media, mobility, and cloud computing.   

The mobility Holy Grail is “every app across every device”.  One path is web based apps that adapt to the browser and screen size. We already see this for simple things like blog platforms – if you view this blog on an iPhone for example you get a different user experience than the full site – but the same content.  This path can be quite successful for simpler web enabled applications.

The other path is the “app family” – native apps across many platforms.  This is demanded by more complex applications but this path requires a lot more investment and ongoing support.  Frankly from my view isn’t really feasible economically unless you limit the platforms you support. 

I believe traditional desktops and laptops aren’t going away any time soon, so one platform for us is Windows 7.  I also believe that traditional desktops and laptops are already being supplanted by tablets and smartphones so you have to make a bet on where those platforms are headed.  My bet is iOS and Android.    

Our employees want to use these devices and there is a clear indication that RIM has fallen too far behind.  Three apps – windows, iOS and Android are possibly economically viable but we don’t have the skills yet for Android and iOS.  We are building our first iOS application just now, but we have a long ways to go here.  The good news is that for today traditional desktops still dominate.

Desktops

As a CIO I spend a lot of time thinking about the technologies that our employees use all day, every day.  This is our fleet of PCs, laptops and basic productivity apps like the Office suite.  So if I could shape the future (and I can) – here’s what I am thinking about:

Patching is a key issue. Our current stats tell me that on a consistent basis each machine in our environment needs about 15 patches. As fast as we deploy patches, new ones are released. So for every 1,000 machines we are shy about 15,000 patches. No matter how hard I push my engineers they refuse to simply deploy patches and clean up any broken glass after – they insist all patches be tested. However testing is actually piloting – i.e. the patches are deployed to small group first and then deployed more widely.

What I want: an automated patching system that pulls down patches (for all our software, not just Microsoft products) and automatically deploys them – with a twist. The twist is I can setup pilot groups and “deployment waves” in such a way the system will automatically pull down a patch and immediately deploy it to our defined pilot users. After 24 hours it deploys to wave 1 and then every 24 hours it deploys another wave until all machines are patched. The only human intervention is a “kill switch” if any problems crop up. This essentially mirrors what we manually do today.

Application deployment and software licensing – instead of describing the pain I’ll cut to the chase of what I want. I want a corporate “app store”! I want all our corporate software packages all loaded up and ready go in an app store that our employees can access. The app store knows which versions of apps run on what OS/software images and shows the employees what they can “buy”. They choose it and it downloads and installs to their computer and tracks the license use.  Of course it also would track usage so we could recover licenses if they aren’t being used. 

I’m a huge fan of the self-service model.  Not because it reduces the burden in IT but because it reduces the “friction” in delivering to employees what they need, when they need it.  Employees should be able to just go get what they need without a lot of heavy IT lifting. 

I think an “app store” for traditional apps, coupled with automatic patching delivers a better and more secure client experience.  This coupled with the continued drive to migrate to browser-based applications would really revolutionize our desktop services.

One more thing – Microsoft if you are listening Group Policy is far too complex. There are >7,000 setting for Windows 7, now add Office and Internet Explorer and you over 10,000 settings.  Our employees are overwhelmed.  Simplify it or make standardized configurations we can simply adopt and tweak – I want a “large financial services company” standard.  We’d be willing to help define it – hint, hint.

Workforce

We have virtualized our servers, storage and now even our network in some ways. What’s next? What I really want is cloud labor. I can buy a server from Amazon for $0.02 per hour (the new micro servers). Why can’t I buy skilled IT labor that way?

Amazon has created standard definitions for servers, storage, databases, etc. – we understand virtual “things” and the Amazon definitions, so it’s easy to mentally make the leap to buying some virtual capacity.  But what I really want is virtual labor capacity. 

We need a way to describe the IT skills we need with that level of precision or the output we desire. If we could very clearly articulate the work to be done along with a system to line up skills, availability prices, and a way for both parties to rate each other (think eBay IT services) we could basically buy IT labor capacity as needed. 

This gives us the flexibility we need for the things that are well defined.   But we all know that IT is messy and complex.  Once you outsource, or move to the cloud, or virtualize all the well defined parts what is left?  All the complex and messy issues, strategy, architecture, emergency problem solving, etc. The people who can thrive with the messy remainder are like manna from heaven.

Today there is no such thing as a generic, generally accepted, overarching IT framework.  Until there is IT architects will be necessary to match the needs of the business to the changing landscape of technology. We need to incubate innovators, entrepreneurs and architects and allow them to invent our future.  Then we need a way to turn these ideas over to the “mainstream” part of the IT organization for implementation to high-scale and high-reliability operations.

To sum up I am being impacted by social media, mobility and cloud computing but the direction I want to head is managing innovation (remember the top line), mobility, and creating a cloud labor force.  What is in your future?

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  • http://www.quantumcloud.com/ webdev

    Actually, I think the quote refers to the fact that most every technology we can think of are already available but it is not available to everyone yet or are still in prototype phase. Space travel, Telekinesis, Nano technology, Gene modification etc.

  • Dan

    You are spot-on. I have always been intrigued by the aspect of the idea that in labs today exist some the technologies we will come to know “in the future”. If you work in one of those labs you are literally “inventing the future”.

    So when Steve Jobs visited Xerox PARC he saw the future and brought it forward to the rest of us.