Decentralized IT management raises concerns

IT isn't happy about the shift to decentralized IT management, so VMware tries to provide the best of both worlds: developer flexibility and centralized IT

Decentralized IT management raises concerns
Credit: International Data Group

VMware is in the midst of seismic change.

The company was a pioneer in server virtualization and has grown to dominate the space. In the process, it became a supplier to virtually every large organization on earth. But the time, as they say, are a-changing, and VMware is under pressure.

The rise of cloud computing vendors such as Amazon Web Services, new approaches towards technology such as containerization and serverless computing, and a fundamentally different way of doing enterprise IT all mean that some clouds are on the horizon for VMware.

So, this is one company that wants to be tightly aligned with the wishes of its customers. Some, less sympathetic commentators would suggest that this is, in fact, a company that wants to spread fear and uncertainty within its customer base so that those customers will want to stick with their “trusted partner.” Either way, a survey recently commissioned by the company is interesting reading. Both in and of itself, but also given the unusual context VMware sits within.

Central IT doesn't like decentralized management

The survey was conducted by Vanson Bourne and focused on IT management—in particular, central IT’s attitudes towards IT management and how it is changing in this ever more complex world. The key findings were stark: fully 69 percent of respondents concur that the management of IT has become increasingly decentralized in the past few years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given VMware’s traditional customer base, this is a change that isn’t being applauded by IT—65 percent of respondents wanted a move back to the good old days where centralized IT controlled everything.

In an interesting finding, and one that will generate guffaws of laughter from several more agile and innovative IT practitioners, these same respondents (or at least 74 percent of them) believe the IT department should be responsible for enabling other lines of business to drive innovation. The typical response to these statements is that centralized IT and business innovation are, at least to an extent, mutually exclusive, and that any IT practitioner suggesting they can deliver both is, at best, deluded and, at worst, perpetuating outdated and refuted IT thinking.

VMware's focus on fear

In discussing the findings of the survey, VMware comes close to (and some would suggest crosses) the line of delivering FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) to its customers. At once it seems to embrace innovation and the democratization of IT, before, kind of, doing the opposite:

“Business models are being disrupted, and digital transformation is critical in enabling organizations to remain innovative, competitive and agile. Cloud computing has been key to this transformation, but IT is struggling to keep up and so responsibility has shifted away from IT. Lines of business are now purchasing IT ‘as a service’ to drive innovation within their domains. With this decentralization comes both opportunities and challenges. While it could empower all business units to drive innovation and ease pressure on IT, it also creates numerous management, security and compliance issues.”

Of course the company has a different spin on it and pushes its recently announced Cross-Cloud Architecture as a way to enjoy the benefits of developer choice, alongside the comfort of centralized control.

I’m not so sure of that, and the next lot of high-level results would seem to indicate a focus on the fear aspects rather than the enabling of positive outcomes ones:

  • 57 percent agree decentralization has resulted in the purchasing of non-secure solutions
  • 60 percent agree decentralization results in applications being developed outside of corporate or government regulations
  • 56 percent agree decentralization results in lack of regulatory compliance of data protection
  • From an IT perspective, 58 percent agree decentralization has created a lack of clear ownership and responsibility for IT

And that gets backed up with some scary economic impacts of decentralization:

  • Businesses are seeing an average increase of 5.7 percent on spending on tech/IT as a result of decentralization
  • 61 percent believe decentralization creates a duplication of IT spending across the organization
  • 57 percent believe decentralization creates a lack of awareness of overall IT spending across the business

My POV

It would be easy to give this report a read and just assume all was rosy and happy and that VMware was giving organizations the ability to enjoy the best of both worlds. I don’t really buy that line, and I have to say that the tone of this report and associated comments feels more defensive than I’ve seen from VMware for the last few years.

The idea of centralizing IT and still enabling developer flexibility doesn’t really work—too many cultural barriers are in the way. This report will be gobbled up and absolutely adored by traditional, and traditionally conservative, IT practitioners—but, alas, not for the right reasons.

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