Line of dominos

The IT domino effect: First big data, then mobility, cloud…

Anyone who manages IT systems knows a technology change can have a domino effect across an entire organization. One change leads to another and another, and pretty soon the whole business process has transformed because of the way information flows through the organization.

Today, there are several IT changes on the horizon which, within the next two years, could hit government IT organizations very much like a line of falling dominoes. Each change could have a substantial impact of its own, and it could affect the next domino in line. Government IT managers and business process planners will need to keep these cascading changes in mind as they make  their long-range IT plans.

The first domino in line is the rapid growth of the Internet of Things (IoT). This refers to a wide range of items, including sensors attached to roads, bridges and traffic lights; energy consumption monitors embedded into building heating and cooling systems; and even so called “personal area networks” that channel data from smartphones, health monitors and heads-up displays like Google Glass. Smart City efforts alone will create new petabyte-size data collections as they store everything from captured video images from license plate scanners to GIS mapping for police reports.

The second domino to hit government hard will be changes related to mobile devices and mobile networks. Discussions about mobile are no longer limited to tablets, smartphones and Wi-Fi systems. Mobility also means closing that last mile to the vast array of IoT devices that are popping up across the  country. Thousands of networked parking meters or traffic lights  don’t each get their own cellphone connection; they connect via neighborhood wireless systems.

Consequently, companies like IBM, Hewlett-Packard and General Electric have entered into citywide pilots related to the infrastructures needed to support this wide range of new city-management devices. Sometimes commercial projects can piggyback on government infrastructure. Electronics companies Philips and Ericsson are working with Verizon Wireless on a project to merge energy-efficient street lighting with mobile phone infrastructure. The solution will soon be offered to city governments.

With that kind of wireless infrastructure in place, new solutions can be attached to the networks. For example, in Barcelona, Spain, sensors in public trash cans alert workers to when they should be emptied. The city also monitors how water is being used, with an application that workers can view from an iPad. Meanwhile, cities like Lafayette, La., are investing in their own citywide broadband solutions to help boost economic development.

The third domino to hit government is already at the tipping point. It’s the cloud-based solutions that are rapidly coming to the forefront for many departments. Even though the majority of public-sector IT departments still maintain their own data centers, when they launch new solutions, they are likely to use cloud-based infrastructure. This practice is especially true for applications that generate large quantities of new data or that require data feeds from outside the enterprise. As a result, agencies need to be ready to make the enterprise architecture changes necessary to interact with third-party IT resources. These improvements can range from boosting network bandwidth to establishing an enterprise services bus to allow both new and legacy applications to interact with the new data sets.

So these first three examples show how one domino falls into the other. 1) The growing IoT will boost the need for 2) new broadband mobile solutions, and new mobile solutions will feed data into 3) rapidly expanding cloud solutions. But the cascade of IT changes doesn’t stop there. We’ve already mentioned that these trends are having an impact on the enterprise IT architecture within many organizations. And one of the biggest changes is how IT is consumed. Government organizations are increasingly outsourcing their infrastructure and instead focusing their IT departments on the specialty applications they need to build and maintain themselves.

Next domino: With the growth of mobile and cloud-based applications, look for more agencies to outsource application management and device management. This trend will lead to standard devices and apps across the enterprise (and actually lead away from support for the bring-your-own-device movement).

And within their internal networks, government organizations are seeking solutions that will provide them with quickly reconfigurable networks. Cisco’s  “application aware networks” provide better (and often highly automated) network optimization and control, with a focus on network capacity management and planning that is trigged by an awareness of application usage and performance across the network.

The real long-term issue here is that most government agencies want to make this type of change, but they lack the IT investment capital to make it happen. But the wise groups will analyze their return on investments to understand their current baseline costs and what their potential savings might be if they take a new approach to the influx of new data and new devices.

This is not an easy path to walk. But being ready for these falling dominos could be the difference between being prepared for change and having the force of that change come crashing down. 


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