What is the Role of IT Now?

Rethinking Communications

What is the Role of IT Now?

By Jon Arnold, Principal  |  July 23, 2012

This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY

The overall theme of this column is re-thinking communications, and in my view everything – and everyone – are on the table. Over time, I’ll cover various stakeholders related to telecom and the broader space of IP communications; the focus this month is IT. There’s certainly a lot to discuss here, and this time around I’ll look at how the role of IT is changing.

Traditionally, IT’s role was fairly well defined, especially around telecom, which existed in a parallel world alongside the data network. Data encompassed many things, but voice was straightforward, with a dedicated network to provide high-quality, reliable real-time communication. When IP telephony came into the picture, network convergence was the next step, and now IT must manage all the modes in one environment.

On a practical level, that should make IT’s job easier, but as we know, other things make the job harder. Certainly, there are complexities around prioritizing real-time modes – namely voice and video – over a common network supporting a multitude of applications. Even more daunting is how quickly new applications are being adopted and how often existing ones need updating. Add to that the growing amount of network traffic that is web-based, and IT is facing a losing battle of control.

This is a very different world from when IT held all the cards and could dictate network access. The web is almost impossible to police, and with BYOD, employees bring not just their devices of choice, but also their own wireless broadband services. The balance of power has been shifting since the advent of IP telephony, but it’s really accelerated with tablets and smartphones.

This is very much the consumerization of IT at work, where innovation from outside telecom – namely Apple (News - Alert) and Android – has created a new mode of behavior that takes the form of BYOD.

I talked about tablets in my last article, and will move on here to a broader concern with IT. With so much technology and connectivity in the hands of end users, what levers are really left for IT?

Many businesses are faced with a growing demand for bandwidth, but lack the proper tools to effectively manage consumption. As a result, IT has two choices – either keep adding bandwidth, or make do and hope for the best. The former gets to be expensive but won’t last, as IT is under constant pressure to reduce costs. This makes the latter the lesser of two evils, with the result being a congested network and compromised performance of communications applications.

Neither is a desirable situation, especially with video poised to become as widely-used as voice. The technologies are ready to support that, and as the cost of endpoints and applications comes down, there is a case to be made that video will replace the desk phone altogether. (I’m among those advocates.) With this major change coming, IT cannot afford to settle for either of the above choices.

In a roundabout way, I’m leading up to the cloud, which may well have just as much impact as video in shaping the business communications environment. There seems to be no end now to the various cloud offerings, both for standalone applications like desktop video, as well as fully integrated unified communications suites. When taking all these challenges and options into account, it’s not hard to see how the cloud solves a lot of problems for IT. This is especially true for SMBs, where IT resources and expertise are often in short supply, and the needs keep getting more complex.

If you fast-forward to the point where IT concedes that the cloud is the way to go, things get more interesting in charting their future. With the burden of network management removed, IT needs to find other ways to add value to the organization. Of course, they will have ongoing requirements to integrate the cloud services with internal applications, but at least now they won’t have issues about scale or providing high-availability service.

Fair enough, but there is a bigger role to play, and that’s with the end users. Essentially, the cloud will free up IT from daily network management, allowing them to focus more on meeting the needs of end users. There is actually a promising opportunity here, as end users need education around all the tools at their disposal, especially for UC.

Not only do they need to learn about what UC has to offer, but it’s in IT’s interest to encourage them to keep as much business-related traffic as possible running over the LAN. This will allow communication to have its fullest value for the business, especially by keeping it private and secure. Many end users do not realize how vulnerable BYOD traffic is, especially when flowing over Wi-Fi or the public Internet.

This is not the role that IT signed up for, but there is no turning back the clock, as end users are now equal partners in managing network resources. IT has a lot at stake here, and the more they learn to work constructively with end users, the less likely the chance of being outsourced to cloud along with the network itself.

Jon Arnold (News - Alert) is principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and marketing consultancy with a focus on IP communications, and writes the Analyst 2.0 blog. Previously, he was the VoIP program leader at Frost & Sullivan.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi