We are seeing, reading, and hearing all about digital transformation, and how you can use technology to change the way you do business. However, I think it’s worth looking at how technology has changed over the years and how we as technology professionals must also change to support this. Technology does move quickly, and we have always had to change with the times that’s not the point, the point is that it is now going through a major change, a change in how we consume it, and a change in how we need to approach it. To be honest it has been there for a while, but the realisation for some has only just happened, we need to change at the same rate to stay with it and be more flexible to remain on the front foot.
If I think back to when I started in IT, I was building servers with the base components, installing hard drives into hot swap trays, clicking various expansion cards into PCI slots and being overly obsessive about keeping all the cables neat and tidy. Now with the selection of a few check boxes in Azure, you can have all that and more, servers can be provisioned and configured in minutes with zero cables and no need to dig out that tiny little screw that fell off when you tried to fix the CD-ROM in place.
But it’s even bigger than that, whole datacentres can be provisioned in a short time, and it’s no longer just the servers themselves, networking is now provisioned in the same way, you can configure routing groups to provide layers of security, you can deploy virtualised appliances into virtualized networks, supporting your entirely virtualised datacentre. Dare I say it, but technology is now so commoditised what used to take days and sometimes weeks to install and configure, can now be done in minutes. For me that’s great, I’m not the tallest and I can say with complete confidence that it’s a lot easier than trying to slot a rack server into a cabinet, whilst holding it above your head, trying to fasten those seemingly over complicated washer and bolt arrangements.
If we move away from the infrastructure and look at the operating system and applications side this is also very different. The long days of building PC’s for new starters, having to line up hard drives on benches with a rig that looked like it had been cobbled together in someone’s shed, all so you could install an image on multiple hard drives has long gone. All the process of configuring and activating the software by entering the volume license key, joining the machine to the Active Directory Domain, being careful not to get distracted and then rename the Domain controller, I never did that of course. On top of all that you would then have to go through the applications one by one to make sure they too were activated, all that is now done with no user intervention with Windows Autopilot. I also recall a task I was assigned when working on an internal IT team, install an Exchange 2003 servers into the existing Exchange estate. The plan to install it needed to be written, the out of hours work needed to be agreed, then the realisation hits you, you won’t be out on the town with your mates this weekend as you’ll be sat in a room with the install discs watching a progress bar for most of it, those days are far behind me now though.
If I expand on the application side, all that time I spent configuring Asterisk PBX servers, configuring user mailboxes and troubleshooting permissions on file shares, that too is all gone. Office365 has taken all that pain away, by simply assigning a license and selecting a few tick boxes, you can have all your productivity tools ready to go. Skype for Business is there, you can start to make calls immediately, you have an Exchange mailbox, and a SharePoint site to store files. Now with Teams it’s not even separate clients, you have a single client that you can configure to support whatever you need to do, and work in a way that makes the technology even more beneficial, and even better, it’s all secured using your corporate identity. The days of multiple logins has ended, I know that’s been the case for a while, but Windows hello takes that even further as you use your face to unlock your machine. I remember seeing that function in a Sci-Fi film thinking that’s amazing but it’s decades away, it really wasn’t.
So, what does all this mean, well, as I originally worked in a support function then moved into consultancy I have first-hand experience of the sheer amount of time and consideration that had to be put into rolling out new applications. The hardware needs and networking that required consideration, usually the trips to the datacentres that were separated for disaster recovery reasons. Rolling out technology was a massive job, and ultimately what happened as a result was very little interaction with the users. Thinking back on it, the main consumers of all of this had very little say and usually had to adapt business process and even change the way they worked to support the technology.
This brings me to point that I wanted to make, historically as a Microsoft consultant your measure was how well you understood the technology, you would be a subject matter expert in your chosen product. For me that was originally Office Communications Server through the versions and up to the latest iteration, Skype for Business. But this is available online now, and yes, I know that in some cases the online versions don’t have feature parity, but if you want to use that reasoning to protect your position as that type of Microsoft consultant, you have already been left behind. It won’t be long before online services eclipse that of any application you can install on-premises. To remain on the front foot, the approach to delivering technology needs to change, you don’t need to worry about the infrastructure anymore, that’s all dealt with, Microsoft’s Clouds are there when you need them, they can expand, and contract based on your demand, they are more resilient then any datacentre I could hope to design and deploy.
The focus should be on those it should have been on originally, the users, only by fully understanding the users and how they carry out their day to day activities can you ensure the technologies you deploy are going to be of benefit, and that’s what matters. Driving the benefit to the end user is vital, note that I said technologies, and I say that because you should now start understanding the benefit of multiple technologies. As an example, how a communications solution can enhance and support business functions, such as remote working and federated communications. How a document storage and classification system can make you more efficient, no more scratching around to find the right document, security and compliance in a messaging solution that protects confidential information automatically. You can also start to extend this out to how you manage and secure the devices that you consume these services on.
Being a Microsoft consultant is no longer about understanding how the infrastructure is designed, deployed and maintained, it’s designed, deployed and maintained by Microsoft. Being a Microsoft consultant is about using the technology to improve, enrich and transform the way users work, and that in turn will transform how the organisation works, if you ever hope to help organisations use technology to transform the way they work, then you also need to allow technology to transform you, specifically the way you think about it and approach the delivery of it, and then continue to drive the benefit of it.