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IT 2010: SHARE ushers mainframe pros into the next decade

Columnist Robert Rosen, former past president of the mainframe user group SHARE says data center managers need to contribute to their companies' overall business strategy.

In February, the IBM user group, SHARE, will host its spring event in Tampa, Florida. This conference will consist of about 800 sessions designed to provide IT professionals with tools and training that they need to be successful not only as technologists, but also to help their organizations meet their overall business goals.

To meet these goals, the SHARE user event will focus on two themes. One is called IT 2010 and the other is Business Resilience. As a preview to the conference, I'll be talking about what IT 2010 is, what it means, and why it is important. Next time I'll discuss business resilience.

IT 2010 focuses on business value

Technology changes quickly, but the requirements that we put on people is changing as well. What kind of skills are people going to need to be successful in the IT business in the future? IT 2010 helps us focus in on what skills we think SHARE members are going to need and make sure we put on sessions to help people acquire those skills.

One thing that has become evident is that data center managers can no longer just be technologists. Management today is saying that IT is not a cost center or an ivory tower laboratory anymore. It is a key part of the organization. What is IT doing to help the bottom line of the company? Companies want IT people to come forward with ideas on how they are going to help the company grow revenue and reduce costs -- not just IT costs, but reduce costs overall.

This requires an understanding of business, an understanding of how to deal with people, what we call soft skills, as well as answering the questions of how to apply this great IT technology to the real world.

I have always been amused when someone would come up with some great new technology. And when business people would respond by asking what it would be used for, the response would simply be "well, just look how cool it is." I've been guilty of this myself. But that isn't going to work in the modern IT department. IT 2010 is not only understanding the technology but moving beyond that to carefully considering the processes and business applications that technology has the potential to have an impact on.

Changes made at IBM Research for example, illustrate the way IT is changing. IBM Research is a world class organization with more patents than anyone in the world (more USA patents than any other organization for the past 14 years) and they have Nobel Prize winners on their staff. They would work on astounding technologies that often would just sit on the shelf; i.e., cool technology for technology's sake. While that is often the nature of research, there has to be more.

When Lou Gerstner came in as CEO of IBM, he asked the research staff to always keep an eye on what they planned to do with this research to move it into products. IBM is still doing great research, but one of the things they've done is focus on how to incorporate that research into the technology of their products. It has really made a big impact on the technology that they're selling. For example, their research in data algorithms led to advanced tools that can be used in data mining. Their research in CPUs led to the super high performance cell processor which powers, of all things, the PlayStation-3 game machine.

How does SOA fit into IT 2010?

Implementing a services-oriented architecture (SOA) will be a major topic at the conference because IT professionals in 2010 will be working with it. In successful SOA implementations, SOA is more than programming and technologies. It requires reconfiguring an organization's processes so that they're logical and modular, making it easier to plug the IT supporting the processes into the enterprise service bus. It's getting more popular because people are realizing that if the business processes are redesigned to work more efficiently, then there is an exponential improvement in quality. Think about the value to an organization when IT helps create an exponential improvement in their product quality.

This is also where an idea such as ISO 9000 can be valuable tool. The idea behind ISO 9000 is to create a process that is repeatable and can be documented. In the most simplistic view, you could bring in someone who knew nothing about a task, give them a book of procedures and by following the documented procedures, they could turn out work that is equal in quality to the person who's been doing the same work for a number of years. It is the concept of simplifying the processes and documenting them so the end product is produced in the most efficient and effective way possible. It is a necessary, but not sufficient, step along the way to a good SOA implementation; i.e., SOA is not just technology. ISO 9000 is not the total solution either. You can do an ISO 9000 effort on a horrible process and it would still be a horrible, although well documented, process.

ISO 9000 is a useful tool for IT managers. It makes them look carefully at all the details of their processes and do all the mandatory documentation. They begin to see places where unnecessary, and possibly damaging, processes are followed. This byproduct of the ISO 9000 process isn't really the goal, but it forces IT managers to look at things intelligently. Going beyond these tools leads you to ITIL, another subject that will be covered at the SHARE event. These are just a few examples of the kinds of tools and thought processes that will be required of the IT professional in 2010.

Why focus areas?

Ultimately, the goal for focusing on IT 2010 and Business Resilience at the SHARE User Event is to create a return on investment for the companies. IT people can sell their attendance at the conference to their companies and demonstrate to management that there is a payback for spending the money to send them. IT 2010 will help IT staff learn about the technologies and skills they will need in the future and how to apply them to meet the challenges of the changing role of IT.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert Rosen is the immediate past president of SHARE Inc. Currently, he serves as the CIO at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health and Human Services.

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