This post follows on from my last one which discussed the arrival of new tools that enable the decentralisation of IT, or that enable shadow IT, to be carried out in an effective manner with some degree of enterprise control, but also introduced the term ‘Shredding the Edge’. I have used this term to refer to the loss of integrity in process and data as part of the now accepted shift to decentralisation of the edge of the enterprise in order to capitalise on and optimise localised and specialised across the firewall business opportunities.
This shift also leads to the increasing demand for real-time data analysis locally to support decision making around these events. This is not centralised business information, as we have known it, when the feeds from ERP transactions allow comparison of actual performance with budgets. It is the ability to analyse and compare data from outside, probably from web sources with internal expertise, and arrive at operational decisions. These decisions will eventually lead to processes and transactions that will show up in the conventional BI in time.

This edge-based decentralisation is the home of SaaS, as the funding model is not under the IT budget, and more often than not that means that the local business manager and their team are buying and building on Amazon, Google or Salesforce.com. The CEO and sales / marketing heads are delighted with the results, quick and agile, to be able to react and deploy new offers and capabilities in a way that the IT department has never been able to manage. The CIO may be worried, but then he or she has a lot of pressure on big system work and can’t spare the resources to deal with these increasing numbers of small requirements that frequently change. So it’s deemed acceptable, even desirable, to let shadow IT flourish deploying business technology, as a separate activity to information technology under the IT department.
There are several issues that this is going to raise in the medium term, but the two main ones are going to be questions from auditors on how these activities are ‘managed’ in terms of corporate data ownership and policies; and the dawning realisation that the enterprise is unable to see the full picture of their markets and activities due to the fragmentation, or shredding, of cohesive data. Of course the other question might relate to the wisdom or cost of using external cloud services for what is a crucial sales activity. So is there a better way?
Most enterprises have the computational capacity to support these new services, and if they haven’t then virtualisation of the existing server base may well provide the capacity. However, the challenge is not in the possession, it’s how to make them available. The secret of Amazon is to offer virtual machines as Infrastructure as a Service, or IaaS, but that’s still not enough to answer the enterprise challenge. The missing element is the construction of a Platform as a Service, or PaaS, that offers the consistent environment on which shadow IT workers can build and change their SaaS based services.
A great example of a well constructed PaaS is vForce the combination of VMware over the IaaS of SalesForce.com. VMware technology is available for any enterprise to construct their own in-house equivalent together with additional features such as policy management, budget charging, etc. and most of all a consistent data model to ensure all the various activities can be used as enterprise data. How to build on the PaaS offers the options of technology savvy members of business units doing their own builds. This can now be relatively simple scripting with low risk, through to using a specialist services provider to deliver the necessary team of people to be available to do the work.
Though initially this will almost certainly be a private cloud with internal SaaS services, the same PaaS can also act as an aggregation point for external ‘services’, thus ensuring that they too are policy managed. This mingling of private and public clouds to form a hybrid cloud is the likely future state for most enterprises, the challenge is to realise how to start moving in the right direction with the right controls. Adopting an internal PaaS with all of the immediate short term benefits is the answer for most enterprises, and will do much to calm the rightful concerns of CIOs and auditors.