Twelve Challenges Facing IT Professionals in 2014

    According to Paul Simoneau, a senior instructor and course director with Global Knowledge, the coming year will have 12 main challenges for IT management and staff. Since each organization is unique in how it functions and where it places its priorities, these are offered in no particular order. The issues include new technology, cloud, Big Data, virtualization, BYOD and BYOA, shadow IT, boomers, energy efficiency, user systems, interoperability, creating value, and social networks. After a brief comment on each area, more suggestions for dealing with that situation follow.

    Challenges Facing IT Professionals

    Click through for 12 challenges facing IT staff in 2014 and a few suggestions for dealing with each, as identified by Paul Simoneau, a senior instructor and course director with Global Knowledge.

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    Technology advances rapidly and shows up in media on all sides. This means users, managers at all levels and even competitors pressure IT staff to implement this new technology just because it is new. The real challenge is deciding which of these new technologies will work to the best interest of advancing the organization and which is better to avoid for now.

    Organizational priorities and long-term goals tend to remain relatively static. Technology has become much more fluid and changes more rapidly. IT management must evaluate the organizational value each technology offers to determine when and if it is a good fit.

    New technologies such as cloud, Big Data, virtualization, and mobility all become tools for experienced IT managers who understand their organizations’ priorities. Since every organization is different, the IT value of each new technology will vary with the organization’s strategic goals.

    To address this issue: To make the most of any new technology, an IT manager needs a solid understanding of the organization and the challenges its users and markets face. Prior to jumping into a new trend in technology, IT managers must ask one question: “How does this help us address our current challenges or meet our strategic goals?”

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    Many organizations have yet to make cloud plans. They choose to keep their data and applications in-house and manage everything themselves.

    With the advances of cloud offerings and to future-proof the network, preparing the organization for a potential future cloud move is simple common sense. For example, what happens when cloud offerings get to the point that organizational management decides to set up an internal cloud solution. Maybe that is a step toward moving applications and data off-site.

    The main point: You must create portable applications today that won’t hold your company back in the future — whatever that may hold.

    To address this issue: This comes down to software and hardware architecture. New applications must be built using an open architecture that lets them run on any platform or with any database. Doing so means the organization’s applications will run on the in-house servers, an in-house cloud, or in an external cloud. The extra benefit is that any move to a cloud-based solution can be completed without new applications.

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    Data is projected to grow by 800 percent in the next five years. The big challenge is that more than 80 percent of it is unstructured. Unstructured data varies in its format, including plain text, email, blog, formatted document, standard and non-standard image, video, voice, animation, sensor input, Web search logs and more. Unstructured data is growing faster than structured data. As a relatively new and untapped source of organizational insight, unstructured data analytics has the potential to reveal more important interrelationships that were previously very difficult or impossible to determine.

    Part of that unstructured data includes data from communities, groups, and social networks outside the organization known as “the collective.” Data mining the collective is a great way to understand the organization’s market and customers.

    To address this issue: To provide the best value to the organization, Big Data analytics requires new approaches to capturing, storing, and analyzing data. The massive amount and growth of unstructured data rapidly outpaces traditional solutions and calls for new volume handling. Big Data is collected from new sources. Traditional data management processes fall short in coping with the variable nature of Big Data. New analytics offer methods to process the variety. Data is generated in real time and the demands call for usable information to be ready as needed. Solutions like 100 GB Ethernet, parallel-processing, and SSDs (Solid State Drives) offer good response times.

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    Virtualization continues to expand from desktops to servers to switches, routers and firewalls. Virtualization will provide a much higher level of control of these devices rather than saving money. In fact, the organization’s infrastructure will require larger servers, more VM licenses, and emulation software in addition to the continuing cost of desktop licenses.

    A virtualized data center requires many of the same management tasks that also must be performed in the physical server environment. These tasks need to be extended into the virtualized environment as well as integrated with the existing workflow and management processes.

    One example is that IT organizations must be able to automatically discover both the physical and the virtual environment and have an integrated view of both environments available for monitoring and managing. That view of the combined virtual and physical server resources needs to stay current as VMs move from one host to another. The view must also be able to indicate which resources are involved in the case of fault or performance issues.

    To address this issue: In January 2013, the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) set its virtualization management (VMAN) standard. That includes a set of specifications to address the management lifecycle of a virtual environment. VMAN’s open virtualization format (OVF) specification provides a standard for describing virtual machines and applications for deployment across various virtualization platforms. VMAN’s profiles now standardize many aspects of the operational management of a mixed vendor virtualized environment.

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    For years, IT has controlled user devices. With the advent of smartphones and tablets, that has changed. Users now bring in their own devices, often without IT’s knowledge. They use them for both personal and work-related tasks. IT’s initial plan was to attempt to maintain control. The facts are clear: Controlling user-owned devices in an organization’s network is nearly impossible.

    When a user brings their own device, they will also bring their own applications that they have grown used to using. That is a plus for productivity and a challenge for IT security. IT managers and CIOs will need to decide what to secure: the network infrastructure or the organization’s data.

    To address this issue: Controlling users’ mobile devices is a losing battle. IT staff, even with automation, can’t possibly monitor every device that links to the network. The solution moves to controlling data access. First, secure the data on servers. Then provide users access to that data in the form of mobile Web apps. This lets them access the data on any server they are authorized to access, but doesn’t store any data on the mobile device.

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    IT continues to have a poor image inside many organizations. Whether it be slow response times, dictatorial actions, or software challenges, many IT departments are facing users’ preference of going to intra-department super users for help. Add the easy availability of cloud software and services, and organizations see users and groups beginning to bypass the IT department altogether. They find and purchase third-party SaaS (software-as-a-service) packages to meet their needs.

    Other departments like sales, marketing, accounting, etc. are considering independent arrangements with outside IT service providers.

    To address this issue: When end users and managers are less satisfied with the service and support they receive from IT, they begin to look for other options. The solution is less about controlling an emerging shadow IT. It’s really about training the IT department to better communicate with and support the needs of the organization.

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    Starting in 2012, approximately 10,000 baby boomers will become eligible to retire every day for the next 15 to 20 years in North America. A lot of those potential retirees are IT people, who have years of both IT and organization-specific knowledge and experience.

    The entry-level people coming into the workforce are much more loyal to themselves, what they know, and in some cases, to their peers than to the organization. They arrive with different skill sets and new ways of looking at and using technology.

    To address this issue: To deal with retirements and the possibility that younger workers may stay less time, there are two basic alternatives. One choice is a mentoring program so those people who need to be replaced can share their knowledge with their potential replacement in sufficient time to complete the exchange smoothly before retirement. Another solution is giving newer IT workers projects outside of their comfort zone, training, opportunities to learn something different and so become less vertically focused. As they complete these projects they move to other new areas and projects.

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    Most estimates say that a 25,000 square foot data center will use about $4 million in energy this year. At that rate, a savings of just a few percent can make a big difference to an IT budget. With an increasing trend of expanding green initiatives and alternate sources of energy, organizations are working on ways to improve energy monitoring and efficiency.

    There’s an emerging market of tools for energy monitoring and efficiency. More than 25 vendors have entered this market. These tools monitor consumption at the device level and, in some cases, at the application level.

    To address this issue: Resources and tools are readily available to help IT and data center managers benchmark energy use, monitor ongoing trends, identify any savings opportunities, and adopt the most energy efficient practices. Projects funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) can strongly improve energy efficiency in both IT and telecommunications.

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    Desktops, laptops, notebooks, tablets, and smartphones are already an integral part of many users’ lives. In some cases, it has become increasingly difficult to draw a line between them. Will tablets replace laptops and notebooks? Will desktops go the way of the dinosaurs?

    Tablets and smartphones already perform many tasks previously completed by desktops. That means organizations must adapt to multiple different systems. These days, internal users and customers may access organizational data and applications via any of these systems and quite possibly via different methods depending on their current location.

    To address this issue: IT managers must develop applications that adjust to the device the users have available. Some will turn to responsive design that creates a more fluid display to adjust to the screen-size variations. Others will use the adaptive approach that designs the display to match the desired screen size.

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    Users, customers or in-house, are more demanding of the products on their desktops and mobile devices. It all comes down to communicating with each other. Systems need to send and receive data that will be usable on all user platforms.

    Open applications and systems built on open standards are the way of the future. Development efforts must focus on the system or application itself as well as how that system/application works with others.

    Tips to address this issue: At the most basic level, developers must avoid proprietary architecture and use only open architecture and frameworks that communicate easily with other systems.

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    Creating value is a recurring IT issue, and it’s now a priority. IT departments must focus on improving service to the organizational user and to the organization’s department needs. To do so, IT managers must remove any non-essential activities that are in the way.

    That means a different way of sourcing non-core activities to keep the focus on value creation. This outsourcing means moving as many services to the cloud as possible. Why own or maintain software or hardware? Small or mid-sized firms can easily rely on the cloud for standardized services.

    To address this issue: This is relatively simple. Ask, “Does this task/activity improve our organization’s core priorities?” If not, figure out how to eliminate that function and focus on the mission-critical tasks.

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    Customers, suppliers, and others are currently talking about every organization on some form of social media. That may be Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn, YouTube, or more. IT and marketing at a minimum needs to monitor and participate in those conversations. Semantic analysis tools can help companies mine that social dialog to shape new product and upgrades, improve customer service, and improve sales and marketing initiatives.

    To address this issue: At minimum, establish a social presence and determine what is being shared. The biggest challenge here is the struggle with shifting from providing a platform to sell products and services to delivering strong customer solutions.

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