IT teams today are faced with two equally challenging strategic transformation missions. On the one hand, they’re charged with spearheading digital initiatives that will drive business growth, efficiency and competitive advantage. On the other, they must execute IT modernization projects to keep pace with technology changes that have upended both the infrastructure and the management of the data center. Progress can be slow on both fronts. 

Despite the pressure to optimize IT operations in the face of escalating business demands, for example, a recent IDG Research survey commissioned by Insight Enterprises’ Cloud + Data Center division revealed that 44% of organizations planning to undertake digital transformation projects have not yet made process, operational and/or technology modifications to their IT environment.  

One-third of those (15% of total respondents) have not even begun discussing strategy. The other two-thirds (29%) have started the conversation but taken no action, leaving organizations stuck at first base in their IT transformation journey.

Roadblocks to IT modernization

The survey of 200 IT executives at companies with a median of 6,250 employees also identified a variety of reasons for the delays in IT modernization. Among the findings:  

Legacy infrastructure is a major roadblock. 64% cited outdated/legacy infrastructure, processes or tools among the top five factors hampering IT modernization efforts. 59% named technology silos, another legacy issue. Also ranking in the top five were data privacy/security (60%), budget (54%) and too many competing priorities (53%). 

Cloud strategy is difficult to execute. Major hurdles specified by respondents included determining which workloads should move to the cloud (72%), choosing cloud deployment models (70%), the lack of tools to support and monitor cloud applications (70%), and changing the IT mindset to a cloud-centric approach (69%).

Lack of cloud readiness compounds the problem.  63% ranked an absence of cloud-ready processes and practices, a cloud-related staffing/skills shortage, and data governance in the cloud in their list of top stumbling blocks. The survey also revealed that only 42% of applications are optimized to support cloud storage consumption, not to mention for cloud compute, networking, security and cloud-based access.

Stalled and abandoned projects are common. 51% of respondents reported having suspended or dropped one or more initiatives because of unexpected complications. Based on Insight’s experience, the usual culprit is inadequate analysis and planning. 

None of these conclusions is surprising for anyone who has had a ringside seat to IT transformation efforts. Even under the best of circumstances, IT modernization is a multi-year undertaking with months required simply to create a roadmap. People, process and technology changes need to be implemented in stages, whether filling skill set gaps, re-platforming applications, or testing new cloud deployments. Many of these changes need to be fine-tuned or even aborted if they don’t pan out as expected.  

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Staying on track

Still, there’s no need to get stuck. Here are a few rules of thumb to help you grease the skids and keep your IT modernization projects moving forward.

Start small – Half of the IDG survey respondents said the sheer scale of the IT transition confronting them essentially put the brakes on their activities. (“Project scope is too big and we’re stuck or don’t know where to start.”) Breaking the job down into smaller parts will help keep the wheels turning. Start with one business unit or specific need. If you run into obstacles or fail altogether, you’ll learn from your mistakes and limit the damage when you move on to the next project. 

Let your business goals shape your strategy – Are you trying to improve customer communications? Change the way they purchase from you? Launch a new product or service? Focus on one mission at a time and let that drive the conversation rather than allowing your IT makeover to be steered by your data center deficiencies or enterprise license agreements.

Don’t assume your legacy infrastructure needs to be put out to pasture – Unless you haven’t invested in your core infrastructure for many years, you should be able to harness your legacy systems to support some of your digital transformation initiatives. You will, however, need to rearchitect portions of your environment based on application dependencies as well as how your business is using each application. Mapping tools can perform the technology analysis, but you will also need to involve the people in your organization to fully understand what’s required. 

Go hybrid – Organizations that opt for a hybrid cloud model get farther faster, according to the IDG survey results. 63% of respondents who reported enterprise-wide IT modernization progress utilize a mix of public cloud and on-premises workload deployments. In contrast, only 23% with a cloud-only strategy and 14% with no “cloud first” policy have implemented companywide people, process or technology changes to address modernization needs.

Don’t bite off more cloud than you can chew – If you try to move all workloads to the cloud at once, you will fail. Even if you have adopted a cloud-first mindset, it’s a multi-step, multi-year process that typically requires re-architecting applications, re-skilling IT teams, addressing governance issues, and a try-before-your-buy-everything strategy to avoid runaway costs. Taking a slower, phased-in approach will pay off in the end. 

And that’s the fundamental lesson.  IT modernization is a marathon, not a sprint. Whether you forge ahead by yourself or use third-party consultants to accelerate the process and dodge the inevitable landmines, keep moving and don’t let avoidable roadblocks slow you down. It may take some time to complete the journey, but you’ll get there eventually, be rewarded as individual projects reap business benefits along the way, and ultimately create the modern IT backbone that will help keep the business engines cranking at full speed.

Juan Orlandini, Chief Architect of cloud and data center transformation at Insight