Next Generation IT: Platform Part 4 of 6

Platform

As we move down the stack from the front-end applications and business process aspects of an IT solution, we dive into back office IT. This is the enabling area of the IT estate that underpins the business applications and provides key support services to the solution. Without back office IT we would not be able to operate.

The Platform layer has many dimensions, and although certain features and support services span the entire stack, we need a launch pad for them. The Platform layer is a good home. If we consider that platforms are a combination of products (excluding the core business applications) that provide a framework on which applications can be delivered and supported, we can examine a combination of platform solutions that include DevOps, Big Data Platforms, Application Hosting, Virtual Desktop and Mobility.

We can also examine some of the supporting platforms that typically operate up and down the stack. These are critical to ensure the integrated solution is able to operate in the business. One of the critical areas is Service Management, in the form of Operational and Business Support Systems (OSS/BSS). You need to be able to report on the operation of the overall IT solution, alert on issues, capture problems before they arise, and ensure that the business is receiving the service performance and stability that is required, aligned to its business SLAs.

Another critical area is Security Systems, which can get more complicated with regulatory compliance laws. However, the fundamentals for antivirus, identity management, audit logging and firewalls are the default must-haves, and these need to integrate up and down the stack. As we move applications to the cloud, be it public or private, we must ensure that we secure the data, data transport, and end-user interaction with the data at all times. The cloud infers that physical infrastructure is shared in some manner, either with other customers, business units or applications. Therefore, security needs to be integrated much deeper into the Platform and Application layers than the traditional client-server solutions of the past, which could lock themselves behind physical ring-fenced architecture and firewalls. Today’s security platforms are software enabled, embedding themselves into the applications and platforms to provide much more granular control.

Although some might put Orchestration under the Service Management umbrella, let’s pull it out as a separate area, as it is very important in the new integrated solution architecture to consider how we make the deployment, management and configuration of any IT solution easier, and reduce the pressure on the typically depleted and over-run IT department. Cloud providers could not operate if they did not employ automation within their IT estate. Imagine the change requests coming into Amazon every day, or even every hour. Your workforce and systems could not cope. The fact that you can’t quickly stand up systems, make adjustments and react to business change is not a technology issue; it is a resource and process issue.

Today the technology in workflow management and orchestration tools are designed to orchestrate and manipulate products through common APIs and protocols. This lets you request, deploy and manage complex environments with minimum effort. This may scare some people, but your business is looking at the competition and trying to move quickly. Your IT estate has to do the same thing. Otherwise your business’s time to market will be impacted and revenue lost. I think we all know what typically happens next.

As we look across our IT estate, we need to ensure that the orchestration tools focus not only on provisioning an application but also deploying the service management tools and agents, configuring the security polices, and setting up connections to other systems and end user applications. So can we expect orchestration to configure and commission 100% of our IT estate? Not today, but we should be moving towards 70-80% of the estate, with the remaining configuration being custom tweaks and tunes required by the application that are too variable to automate.

Platforms will always be the connection between applications and infrastructure. In many ways Platform is the most important layer in the IT estate, because it not only provides the home for the business applications but is the enabler for Service Management, Security and Orchestration. As mentioned in the Application section, the move to the cloud is a key driver, and Cloud Platforms are fundamental to the success of moving applications to the cloud, or providing supporting services with easy integration.

Link to Part 5 Infrastructure

Next Generation IT: Business Process Part 2 of 6

Business Process

It does not matter if the process is an industry vertical business process or a cross-industry business process. Either way, the process is the output — the deliverable — that will define success or failure for any business. All the other layers are merely enablers to get you to this point.

At this layer we consider asset management, supply chain / order processing, marketing, financial management, customer relationship management and knowledge management, to name a few processes. With unique industry and business requirements, we can see how the Business Process layer requires many variables and strong industry expertise. So what about Next Generation solutions? There are well-established application products that support these processes, but consider the extra value pieces like analytics. In most cases today the Business Process layer is supported by legacy business intelligence reporting that tells you what has been rather than what could be. This comes from the data locked inside internal systems. What about all the data you know has value and insights but are not able to access?

The first aspect of Next Generation solutions is the addition / supportability of Big Data Analytics, recognizing there is more data that can be analysed to better answer critical business questions and help solidify business decisions. Although the execution of these analytic queries will be done in the Application and Platform layers, the query itself is based on key performance indicators and metrics that require deep business knowledge and the ability to translate this knowledge into an executable hypothesis.

 

If we think about other aspects of a solution that is defined in, and directly dependent on, the Business Process layer but is executed in the other layers, then Business Continuity Planning must be a factor. This is about aligning the response of the technology, people and process to the impact of an outage or disaster that cripples the business. This comes down to knowing the acceptable Recovery Time Objective (RTO) for the critical business applications. For example, a patient record system for a health provider can only accept a very small RTO; the technology, people and process have to be designed to handle this, so the solution is generally not cheap. However, a small manufacturing business can tolerate a less aggressive RTO. Although it needs to get production back up and running, the business can use alternate technologies, reducing the cost and enabling the business to meet its customer SLAs.

Another aspect of the Business Process layer to focus on is enabling people to work better with the business applications as well as collaborate and share information and knowledge. Mobility (discussed later) should be considered to empower the workforce, drive the business forward and respond quickly to changing business situations.

Link to Part 3 Application