“Hybrid IT is the new IT and it is here to stay.” So said analyst firm Gartner back in 2012, and they weren’t wrong. Since then the hybrid IT model has been hotly debated within the IT industry, even if not everyone properly understands what it is. (It often gets confused with cloud services, for instance.)
Ironically it’s the very flexibility that hybrid promises – and which has been the key factor in its popularity – that has made it a bit difficult for people to get their heads round. Unlike cloud – another hot topic of recent years – hybrid isn’t a distinct “product” in its own right. Instead, it’s a mixed model of hardware, software and services, both on-premise and off-premise, some of which is provided by external companies, but all of which is looked after by a company’s CIO.
Indeed, the rise of the hybrid IT model has been closely linked with the changing role of the CIO. “IT” in most organisations is no longer defined simply as swathes of hardware like PCs and servers – instead it means regularly updated software, data analytics tools and consulting services that help shape what the business does.
Similarly, CIOs no longer just buy tin boxes to execute things other parts of the business want doing. They are choosing the right mix of software and services to help drive their business into a digital future.
That’s why most CIOs view the shift to hybrid as a process that will play out over the medium term as their mix of hardware, software and services continues to diversify. So what things should CIOs consider as they start to move towards a hybrid future?
Look at your infrastructure and skills – and don’t kid yourself
The shift to hybrid has to start with a brutally honest appraisal of your organisation’s current IT infrastructure. Is it supporting the business in the right way? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Do you know what “shadow IT” solutions other functions within your business have bought without your approval? Equally, does your IT team as it’s currently established have the right skills to achieve what you need to do?
Focus on what you can do best and outsource the rest
Once you’ve properly audited your infrastructure and skills base, it’s time to prioritise. The main plus point of the hybrid model is that it allows businesses to focus on what they do best and call upon specialist providers for the rest. CIOs need to concentrate their effort on the areas where they add real value to the business, rather than trying to spread themselves too thinly.
Strike the balance between cost savings and control
The temptation for CIOs could be to shift big chunks of their IT budget to external providers in order to reduce costs. But of course they will want to keep control over some really vital or sensitive areas of their network. Not all of these areas will be obvious at first, so striking that balance between cost savings and maintaining security and control needs careful thought.
Link your value to the business
Needless to say, the shift to a hybrid IT model shouldn’t be done for its own sake. It has to deliver benefits back to the business. And if CIOs want to have more of a strategic say within the boardroom, they need to be able to explain their rationale to their colleagues. So what’s hybrid’s value for your organisation? Is it in reducing costs, managing risk, improving efficiencies, or a mix of those? How do you ensure this value is reported regularly as the business evolves and priorities change?
Keep checking your results – and your options
The benefit of a hybrid model is that CIOs shouldn’t be tied into long-term contracts from just two or three providers, as often happened in the bad old days. Instead, they can keep close tabs on the how all the elements of their system are performing, and change their mix of services on a more agile basis. Their range of provider options has massively increased too – there’s a load of smaller, software-based firms that can now offer products that are as good, if not better, than the traditional providers, often for a fraction of the price. Consider all the options.
In summary, there’s no doubt that a well-thought-through hybrid strategy can deliver big benefits to businesses. And this isn’t just about saving money. The world is changing rapidly and – as we all get smartphones and spend more time on them – it’s becoming increasingly digital. Most CIOs who have put a hybrid strategy in place think it helps them make their business more nimble as it adapts to this changing environment. This new world isn’t going away any time soon, which is why it’s best to start planning your shift to a hybrid IT model now for the years ahead.