Monday, 14 July 2014

Should CIOs be playing buzzword bingo?

Cloud.  BYOD.  Big Data.  SDN. Internet of Everything.

IT is full of buzzwords and hype, however is it right for a CIO to be out there ticking off each one to show that they are out there at the forefront of these trends?  Are they in fact just trends or is there some substance behind them?  Are these buzzwords simply the product of IT vendor marketing departments?  Are they dangerous because they become catchphrases thrown around at conferences aimed at executives who know no better and become cheerleaders for poorly thought out concepts?  Do they in fact represent the future of IT with terms that are useful in selling the IT department to the CEO and business users?

It’s probably a bit of all of the above, however as an IT technician I hate buzzwords.   Doing something for the sake of ticking a box is not my idea of fun or smart.  Or perhaps as a network engineer it is a fear of the unknown or a possible lack of job security that makes me dislike these so much.  Below I review some of the more common buzzwords that are popular at the moment and provide my take on whether they should be on the CIO’s bingo card.

The Cloud

Nobody understands the cloud.  It's a mystery.


The cloud (formally known as ‘As A Service’) is probably the buzzword that annoys me the most.  In reality it means a web based application or outsourced infrastructure.  Web based applications are nothing new.  I remember having my ‘’ email address during the mid to late nineties, and it was simply web-based email.  It wasn’t Software-As-A-Service, nor was it ‘The Cloud’.  As for services such as AWS and Azure, this is simply outsourcing IT infrastructure.  Private cloud?  I think you mean a data center.  Hardly a new concept.

An important soft-skill for IT staff that often comes up is the ability to explain complex ideas clearly, simply and without jargon.  The term cloud is jargon and does not provide a clear explanation of the services and how they are delivered.

As far as implementing ‘cloud’ services, I don’t actually have a problem with it where it makes sense.  If there is a business need that can be met by these services then it makes sense to implement them.  My only advice is to be fully aware of the risks and costs of these services, which is true for any outsourced service.  As a technician, I’ve seen first-hand how much time and effort is actually spent by internal resources managing a so-called fully outsourced solution.

BYOD – Bring Your Own Device

Mobile devices that connect to the corporate network need to be managed, and since users generally treat a work provided mobile device as their own anyway, having a system that is BYOD capable is not really anything over and above what should already be in place.  Personally I don’t see a massive push from either end users or business for users to supply their own device, however I do see users pushing for a choice of device.  It makes sense for IT departments to provide users with a range of options and while there may be some instances where it makes sense for users to purchase and own their own devices, I’m yet to be convinced that there is a genuine push for BYOD versus the requirement for more mobile device management in general.

Big Data

Business intelligence and analytics are nothing new.  All CIOs should have been striving to provide IT solutions to assist in the collection of data and analytics before big data was even coined as a term.  Although the amount of data has grown exponentially and the technology required to process and mine the data has changed, I question the need for new jargon and the new C-level position of Chief Data Officer or Chief Data Scientist.

SDN – Software Defined Networking

SDN promises scalable and adaptable networks, with simplified network configuration on cheaper hardware by using commodity switches.  This is made possible by separating the controlling function from the data plane forwarding function by moving the smarts behind the network out of the switches and into a network controller, similar to the way that wireless LANs have worked for a number of years.  The SDN market is still quite immature, and at this stage 99 per cent of enterprise organizations will have no need to implement SDN.  None of the reasons provided to me by vendors, especially around configuration when our infrastructure is highly virtualized, and QoS when we, like many organizations, are at the mercy of an ISP managed WAN network.  So while SDN is real, rather than jargon, the hype around it seems overblown for the vast amount of organizations that have no need to implement it.

Internet of Things/Internet of Everything

Again I question the need for a new term for simply connecting nodes to the network, if not for vendor marketing departments to push for more sales and to push their credentials as thought-leaders in this newly conceived area.  If health industry CIOs weren’t already preparing their infrastructure to connect monitoring devices to the network, then they have clearly been asleep at the wheel.  If the CIOs of the various utilities haven’t been working on IT based solutions to improve their service and reduce costs, then they haven’t been doing their job.  Since these sensors, or ‘things’, will have processors in them, they are essentially computers.  Connecting computers to the network does not need a buzzword.

I would like to see IT start cutting through the nonsense and jargon that gets thrown up by these marketing departments and start calling out these things for what they really are.  It is vitally important for CIOs to make sure that their strategy is based on achieving business goals, rather than simply ticking a box or implementing something because this buzzword was all that was talked about at the latest executive conference.
Perhaps I’m overblowing this whole thing and there actually aren’t CIOs out there that are doing this.  I’m not a CIO yet, so I don’t actually know, but from what I’ve been reading it seems as though there are a lot of people out there that are falling for marketing ploys rather than doing their job in the first place.  I’d love to hear opinions from CIOs or IT managers out there who have experience with this.  Please leave your comments below or on Twitter @TheRoadToCIO.

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