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12/12/2011
01:31 PM
Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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12 Enterprise IT Resolutions For 2012

From taking mobile to the next level to preparing for a hybrid cloud world, we offer a dozen suggestions for moving toward progressive IT.




Mobile, social, cloud and analytics: If your firm has yet to embrace these big-four IT trends, it's high time you get started. And if you've already dipped a toe into the waters, it's time to take the next step. Take mobility beyond checking email, for example, and start supporting two-way interactions with enterprise apps. If you've built out corporate Facebook and Twitter presences, move beyond counting friends, fans, and followers and start measuring ROI. You say you're using cloud-based CRM? What about collaboration or even two-tier ERP?

On the analytics front, if you're sitting on stockpiles of unused data, you're wasting what could be big data gold. All that history could be used to peer into the future with statistical and predictive analytics. Data warehouse appliances can be quickly deployed to tackle the structured stuff, while NoSQL is emerging as the affordable new platform of choice for high-volume unstructured information management.

We round out our 2012 enterprise advice with an encouragement to consolidate data centers, a suggestion to reconsider RISC-server replacements, and an admonishment to customize apps only when necessary. The overarching theme behind so many of these recommendations: Reduce IT cost and save staff time, energy, and money for innovation.

If you have to focus on one trend, it would be hard to ignore how mobile is changing everything. Smartphone sales surpassed PC sales for the first time in 2010. Then in 2011, a wave of tablets, led by the iPad2, took another big bite out of demand for desktops, laptops, and notebooks. It's clear that consumers and employees alike are going mobile, and they expect businesses, government agencies and employers to do the same.

The first wave was about providing access to email and account status information and customer contacts. Leading enterprises are taking their mobile strategies to the next level by enabling dynamic, two-way interactions with core enterprise systems and e-commerce capabilities. Mobile employee and consumer interactions that were formerly cryptic, crude, or only possible on costly ruggedized devices can now be flexible, interactive experiences supported on standard consumer smartphones.


Keeping pace in mobile won't be easy, or inexpensive. Feeling smug about that shiny new iPad app? Great, but are you ready to support iOS upgrades, Android, and other platforms or the inevitable onslaught of new devices? And then there's the complication of integrating all that with multiple back-end systems.

The good news is that leading browsers and mobile platforms are embracing the maturing HTML5 standard, which promises the ability to build reliable and functional mobile applications that can be developed once and deployed across a range of devices. Many enterprise app suppliers (including Microsoft and Salesforce.com) are hedging their bets by supporting both native apps and HTML5 Web apps and development platforms.

Enterprises venturing into mobile development take note: HTML5 apps won't give you the ultimate experience on each device just yet, but HTML5 looks like the way to go if you can't control what devices customers and employees will use.

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No need to review the numbers--your customers are on Facebook, Twitter, and other social platforms. And what those customers are saying about your brand and products in the social sphere is much more important than what they might tell you in old-fashioned focus groups and customer surveys. That's why interest in various social analysis applications is growing and has given rise to a spate of new vendors and products.

As a first step to becoming a social enterprise, companies build out Facebook and Twitter presences and start counting fans, friends, and "likes." As a second step, they start monitoring the brand- and product-relevant mainstream buzz and what customers, influencers, and even employees are saying using social monitoring, sentiment analysis, and social network analysis applications.

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Once you've ventured into the social realm and are building and measuring your community, the next step will be to measure the return on these initiatives. That means you'll have to make a better connection between social profiles, likes, dislikes, and interests, and your existing customer database. This deeper understanding will improve measurement of marketing campaigns and brand and product promotions, and you can start to apply social network insight beyond the marketing realm. For example, electronics retailer Best Buy learned just how unpopular restocking fees were through the social sphere, so it eliminated them through changes in product-return policies.

The idea is to make well-informed, holistic decisions about what products to develop, how to optimize the supply chain, and how to appeal to key customer groups with revenue and profitability in mind. In other words, once you embrace social, don't treat it as a stand-alone silo of insight.

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Pop quiz: Which vendors are growing fastest? Which tech startups are getting venture capital funding? What types of vendors are getting acquired by your incumbent technology suppliers? In case you couldn't guess, the answer to all of these questions is cloud computing vendors.

Is your enterprise still a cloud holdout? If so, it's time to at least experiment with cloud-provisioned infrastructure and applications.

There's an opportunity to offload IT infrastructure and administrative work that won't distinguish your enterprise. Email, calendaring, and collaboration apps are cases in point, and they've emerged as attractive cloud-computing starting points. Microsoft Office 365, Google Apps for Business, and other cloud-based alternatives can lighten IT's administrative load, freeing resources to focus on mission-critical apps and innovation.

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Hybrid deployments, with some apps on-premises and some in the cloud, look like the future for enterprises large and small. CRM, HR management, Web analytics, and marketing automation apps have all moved heavily into the cloud. Next up will be ERP, with Microsoft (Dynamics) expected to join (sometime in 2012) NetSuite, Oracle (Fusion), SAP (Business ByDesign), and Workday in the cloud.

Hybrid deployments might play out for you in different ways. A common choice will be keeping some apps on-premises while moving others into the cloud. Another choice might be to follow the model of the emerging two-tier ERP approach, in which headquarters uses on-premises software, while divisions and satellites run ERP in the cloud. Similarly, some regulated enterprises are mixing on-premises email for some users, while others are supported by cloud-based apps. In short, expect to see many variations on hybrid deployment in the years ahead.

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The IT trend making the biggest impact on corporate and government strategy is the rise of analytics, particularly advanced statistical and predictive analytics. Once an elite niche affordable only to the largest enterprises, advanced analytics are being embraced more broadly by way of analytic applications, embedded BI, and prebuilt data models and analyses. The trend goes hand in hand with interest in using large data sets (also known as "big data") to foresee risk, anticipate customer demand, and formulate more successful product and service offerings.

Indeed, the old practice of following the money--using lagging financial indicators to guide decisions--is giving way to the forward-looking approach of following the data. Organizations are gathering, managing, and analyzing more information and more types of information, all with the idea of using advanced predictive and statistical analytics to improve internal operations, get closer to customers, sell and market products more effectively across physical and digital commerce channels, and outperform the competition.

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The smartest business decisions are based on fact, not gut feel. That means they're based on analysis of data, a resource that most organizations have stockpiled but failed to use to guide their business decisions. These stockpiles are growing faster than ever, with Internet clickstreams, sensor data, log files, mobile data, and social-network comments adding to vast stores of transactional information.

Led by Internet marketers, telecommunications providers, and other big data pioneers , enterprises are embracing new technologies to tap into their big data stores. Massively parallel processing (MPP) platforms and column-store databases, for example, have flourished in recent years, often deployed on pre-integrated data warehousing appliances complete with software and hardware. On the cutting edge, NoSQL (not only SQL) platforms such as Cassandra and Hadoop are now on the rise, offering low-cost options for processing and managing semi-structured, unstructured and combined data types encountered at a massive scale.

If your data volumes are headed north of 10 terabytes and you're encountering a greater variety of data, more complex data, and expectations for faster insight, it's time to reexamine your information-management strategy and infrastructure.

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The trends toward mobile computing, social computing, advanced analytics, and the use of big data have all put a spotlight on the relationship between IT and marketing. In fact, in all too many cases, marketing departments are working around and ahead of their IT departments. It is incumbent upon you to make sure that IT is part of the solution, not part of the problem.

At Vail Resorts, the CEO, CMO, and CIO Robert Urwiler worked together to dream up and develop EpicMix, a mobile app that lets the resort's skier and snowboarder customers track their runs, share vertical-feet and distance stats along with photos via Facebook, and connect with friends who are also on the mountain. Urwiler urges his peers find their version of EpicMix by working collaboratively with CMOs.

CMOs need support from IT now more than ever because they're totally dependent upon data-driven analyses. Marketers are frustrated by gaps in measurability across call centers, e-commerce websites, and various channels used for advertising and promotion. Many try to fill those gaps by way of rogue IT expenditures because they don't trust (or can't wait for) their own IT departments. It's high time for IT pros to work more closely with their marketing colleagues to deliver the requisite data management and analytic modeling skills.

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Between economic pressures, crimped IT budgets, and the move to cloud computing, enterprises are looking toward sprawling, redundant, and underutilized data centers as a ripe opportunity for savings. The U.S. government, for one, plans to slash the number of federal data centers from 2,094 facilities to 1,132 data centers by 2015. In fact, that data center consolidation plan is already ahead of schedule, with 472 data centers set to close by the end of 2012.

Data center consolidation saves money at several levels--land and commercial real estate, heating and air conditioning, server energy consumption, hardware and software licensing costs, human resources, and administrative costs. Just as important is the opportunity for a philosophical change, for as we focus on minimizing keep-the-lights-on infrastructure and administrative work, we also free up resources for IT innovation.

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IBM, HP, and Sun might not like the profit margins in the commodity x86 server business, but powered by ever more powerful chips, this class of servers has steadily moved up into the data-processing big leagues. x86 systems now account for 95% of server unit shipments. Data warehousing and analytic workloads, for instance, are now completely dominated by x86, with companies scaling out on dozens, scores, or even hundreds of inexpensive servers, rather than scaling up on pricey RISC-based boxes.

High-end transaction processing is still a relatively safe haven for proprietary RISC-based servers, but top-of-the-line x86 servers and emerging NoSQL options like Cassandra are showing the way toward powerful and highly available commodity-server deployments for mission-critical and data-intensive transaction processing.

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Years ago, enterprises needed to do all sorts of customization to gain specialized functionality and get all that was desired from enterprise apps. But times have changed and those business apps suites now include modules and sub-apps for just about everything--from talent management to sales and operations planning to transportation management to governance, risk, and compliance. What's more, apps are replete with configuration capabilities, so you customize functionality and role-based interfaces without developing a single line of code.

There are undoubtedly a few areas where custom development is part of the secret sauce of your enterprise--that critical differentiator that distinguishes you from the competition. But as for everything else, why not stick with out-of-the-box functionality? Don't develop, configure. This move will save you countless hours of development work now, and once again when you face the next software upgrade cycle. If something breaks, it's up to the vendor to get it fixed. Save those IT resources for innovation and let go of customization wherever it offers little gain.

Recommended Reading

Get Close To Customers Through Social Media

Office 365 Vs. Google Apps: Top 10 Enterprise Concerns

Microsoft Upgrades Flagship ERP Suite

Web Vs. Native Development: There's No Winner

Hadoop Spurs Big Data Revolution

12 Top Big Data Analytics Players

IT And Marketing: How Digital Media's Changing The Relationship

Research: 2012 BI and Information Management Trends

10 Lessons Learned By Big Data Pioneers

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