As we approach Cloud World Forum in London this June BCN had the opportunity to catch up with one of the conference speakers, Mark Evans, head of IT at global property and construction practice Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB) to discuss supporting BYOD, the need for standards in the cloud sector and the impact of working with large data models on the technology choices the firm has to make.
What do you see as the most disruptive trend in enterprise IT today?
I’m not entirely sure that the most disruptive trend in enterprise IT is entirely technical. Admittedly, the driving impetus for change is coming from technology, but it is being driven by non-IT people who are equipping their homes, cars and any one of a multitude of other environments with technology which works for them. The disruption manifests itself in the attitude which is brought to business from these domestic environments; people no longer see the bastion of “Corporate IT” as unassailable as it once was, before the commoditisation of IT equipment became the norm. Domestic procurement cycles are driven in a different manner to those of any business – it’s what the likes of Apple thrive on.
There’s more of a “heart” aspiration than a “head” decision when it comes to buying IT at home. Let’s be honest? Who – at home – works out depreciation of an asset when a loved one is being tugged at by slick marketing and peer pressure? Maybe I’m a misanthrope, but this sort of pressure has a knock-on effect with a lot of people and they seek the flexibility, the performance, the ease of use and (let’s be honest) the flashiness of new toys at work. The person with the keys to the “toy box”, the erstwhile IT director, is seen as a barrier to that oft-quoted, rarely well-informed concept of ‘agility’.
So… BYOD. People bring their home kit to work and expect it to work and to offer them an ‘edge’. I think the disruption is bigger than Dave from Accounts bringing in his shiny new laptop (with added speed stripes). It is the expectation that this is acceptable in the face of business-wide legal constraints of liability, compliance and business planning – the directors of a business set the rules and this new, almost frivolous attitude to the complexity and requirements of corporate IT is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” in terms of the risk it brings to a business. Where do I sit on this? I say, “bring it on”.
What do you think the industry needs to work on in terms of cloud service evolution?
Portability. Standards. Standards of portability. I still believe that there is a general complicity between vendors and purchasers to create a “handcuffs” relationship (“Fifty Shades of Big Blue”?) which is absolutely fine in the early part of a business relationship as it provides a predictable environment from the outset, but this predictability can become moribund and in an era where business models flex and morph at previously alarming rates, the “handcuffs” agreement can become shackles. If the agreement is on a month-by-month basis, it is rarely easy to migrate across Cloud platforms. Ignoring the potential volumes of data which may need to be moved, there is no lingua franca for Cloud services to facilitate a “switch on/switch off” ease-of-migration one might expect in the Cloud environment, predicated as it is on ease-of-use and implementation.
Data tends to move slowly in terms of development (after all, that’s where the value is), so maybe as an industry we need to consider a Data Cloud Service which doesn’t require massive agility, but a front-end application environment which is bound by standards of migratability (is that a word? If it isn’t – it should be!) to offer front-end flexibility against a background of data security and accessibility. In that way, adopting new front-end processes would be easier as there would be no requirement to haul terabytes of data across data centres. Two different procurement cycles, aligned to the specific vagaries of their environments.
Can you describe some of the unique IT constraints or features particular to your sector?
Acres of huge data structures. When one of the major software suppliers in your industry (AutoDESK and Construction, respectively) admit that the new modelling environment for buildings goes beyond the computing and data capability in the current market – there are alarm bells. This leads to an environment where the client front end ‘does the walking’ and the data stays in a data centre or the Cloud. Models which my colleagues need to use have a “starting price” of 2Gb and escalate incredibly as the model seeks to more accurately represent the intended construction project. In an environment where colleagues would once carry portfolios of A1 or A0 drawings, they now have requirements for portable access to drawings which are beyond the capabilities of even workstation-class laptop equipment. Construction and, weirdly enough, Formula One motorsport, are pushing the development of Cloud and virtualisation to accommodate these huge, data-rich, often highly graphical models. Have you ever tried 3D rendering on a standard x64 VMWare or Hyper-V box? We needed Nvidia to sort out the graphics environment in the hardware environment and even that isn’t the ‘done deal’ we had hoped.
Is the combination of cloud and BYOD challenging your organisation from a security perspective? What kind of advice would you offer to other enterprises looking to secure their perimeter within this context?
Not really. We have a strong, professional and pragmatic HR team who have put in place the necessary constraints to ensure that staff are fully aware of their responsibilities in a BYOD environment. We have backed this up with decent MDM control. Beyond that? I honestly believe that “where there’s a will, there’s a way” and that if MI5 operatives can leave laptops in taxis we can’t legislate for human frailties and failings. Our staff know that there is a ‘cost of admission’ to the BYOD club and it’s almost a no-brainer; MDM controls their equipment within the corporate sphere of influence and their signature on a corporate policy then passes on any breaches of security to the appropriate team, namely, HR.
My advice to my IT colleagues would be – trust your HR team to do their job (they are worth their weight in gold and very often under-appreciated), but don’t give them a ‘hospital pass’ by not doing everything within your control to protect the physical IT environment of BYOD kit.
What’s the most challenging part about setting up a hybrid cloud architecture?
Predicting the future. It’s so, so, so easy to map the current operating environment in your business to a hybrid environment (“They can have that, we need to keep this…”) but constraining the environment by creating immovable and impermeable glass walls at the start of the project is an absolutely, 100 per cent easy way to lead to frustration with a vendor in future and we must be honest and accept that by creating these glass walls we were the architect of our own demise. I can’t mention any names, but a former colleague of mine has found this out to his company’s metaphorical and bottom-line cost. They sought to preserve their operating environment in aspic and have since found it almost soul-destroying to start all over again to move to an environment which supported their new aspirations.
Reading between the lines, I believe that they are now moving because there is a stubbornness on both sides and my friend’s company has made it more of a pain to retain their business than a benefit. They are constrained by a mindset, a ‘groupthink’ which has bred bull-headedness and very constrained thinking. An ounce of consideration of potential future requirements could have built in some considerable flexibility to achieve the aims of the business in changing trading environments. Now? They are undertaking a costly migration in the midst of a potentially high-risk programme of work; it has created stress and heartache within the business which might have been avoided if the initial move to a hybrid environment had considered the future, rather than almost constrained the business to five years of what was a la mode at the time they migrated.
What’s the best part about attending Cloud World Forum?
Learning that my answers above may need to be re-appraised because the clever people in our industry have anticipated and resolved my concerns.