Future of IT Infrastructure?

By March 2020Cloud, Data Center, News

Future of IT Infrastructure?

Future of IT Infrastructure?


Nelson Tan

Director, InfoComm Infrastructure at Nanyang Technological University.

In our staff meetings, I have been talking about IT workplan, with focus on cloud and mobile technologies as the approach to acquiring new capabilities and enhancing user experience at speed. Examples that I always used are Ariba for Procurement, ServiceNow for Service Desk, Workday for HR, Office365 for Productivity & Collaboration. Each of these comes with a “mobile twin”, enabling convenience at our fingertips literally. And more will follow.

In one of such meetings, someone asked me in this cloud and mobile enabled world, what is the future of IT Infra. I gave a long answer to the short but deep and enlightening question.

User world is evolving

In many organisations, users are trained on new digital competencies such as Agile, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), and Data Visualisation. Agile changes software delivery from the traditional long-drawn waterfall methodology, to quick but small deliverables using weekly sprints and daily stand-ups, and heavy user involvement. As things speed up, Agile requires DevSecOps to reduce frictions and hand-offs. RPA enables the users to automate mundane and/or laborious tasks by themselves, reducing the demand for IT to “integrate” across systems or customise workflows. Data visualisation enables users to personalise their reporting needs, reducing the demand for IT to instrument reports for various individuals.

In NTU, we too started on this user awareness journey. We have completed our second year of Technology and Adaptive Skills brown bags for our users. A glimpse of the topics and esteemed speakers for 2019:

So should IT evolve too

As users’ demand for IT shifts, so should our focus and competencies. One of such IT shifts is to go into driving automation. Google probably came up with this answer many years back, and they called it Site Reliability Engineering (SRE). Google in fact published a book by that very title, sharing how they did it and the thinking behind it. Google’s approach is to put developers into infrastructure roles. These developers, then wrote codes to solve all infrastructural tasks, be it load balancing, capacity planning, service monitoring and recovery, service provisioning, etc. Many of such codes were then contributed to the open source, giving birth to a significant portion of the ecosystem that we see today. Of course, Google’s approach is quite different, as they run at Google scale, whereas most enterprises run at a fraction of that scale. Thus, the pragmatic approach is for Infra to implement tools and products that enables automation across the same functions of load balancing, capacity planning, service monitoring and recovery, service provisioning, etc.

To enable such a shift, we have shifted budget from operations to transformations, minimising additional funding requirement. We have started some of the automation projects in our workplan, across all components of infrastructure. And we are starting to develop deeper engineering skillsets.

Partnership at maturity

As IT competency matures across both users and IT (Infra in this context), the other shift is to deepen partnership between the two. It is one thing to roll-out a platform such as Office365 and ServiceNow, it is another to drive meaningful use cases leveraging the power of such platforms. These platforms that we have implemented present many opportunities to enhance and enrich work processes as well as user experience.

Partnership has to be bi-directional. We need to develop in-depth understanding of the user domains and needs and create solutions that enhances those domains and user experience. In parallel, we are increasing the user engagements through roadshows to showcase use cases of the various products, eDM to highlight key features, knowledge articles for self-enablement, so that our users can co-imagine the future together. This is where Adaptive Skills come in handy, on storytelling, change management, communications.

Lifelong employment comes with lifelong learning. The journey will be a bountiful one.

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