Jacob Chacko, Regional Business Head – Middle East at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, reflects on how CIOs and IT Teams can prepare for life on the edge.
IT teams have been under pressure to introduce a range of new technologies into businesses, across multiple departments and functions. These range from IoT, to AI and machine learning, data processing alongside traditional functional technologies like CRM systems. The network edge represents the culmination of these technologies coming together. According to Gartner, edge computing will be a necessary requirement for all digital businesses by 2022. With potentially trillions of dollars being invested in the hope of generating huge economic returns, the argument for paying attention to the Edge opportunity is clear and the window for learning and action is narrowing.
The challenge for IT teams is to lead the pursuit of these edge-based strategies across the business, and manage the edge environments, from user devices to operational technology all with data security as a priority.
In the findings of the e-book commissioned by Aruba entitled ‘Opportunity at the Edge: Change, Challenge, and Transformation on the Path to 2025’, many interviewees and survey respondents highlight the sheer scale of the technology ecosystem that IT must manage in an edge environment. For example, in a university environment, IT now must accommodate and support the range of student devices being used across campus – from laptops to smart speakers – plus IoT-enabled environments such as temperature sensors and security cameras. At the same time, all the university functions from catering to the athletics department are deploying an ever-wider array of technologies at the edge that need to be bound into the network and supported in a secure manner.
Innovation, Change and Transformation Advisor Philippe Choné reinforces this point “Products used to be physical things. Now products come with a layer of software and data and that points to an ecosystem. Product management and strategy, then, needs to involve not only IT partners but also legal compliance.”
Part of the challenge for the C-suite is ensuring leaders have enough understanding and digital literacy to drive and support the IT function to fulfil its crucial emerging role in a business pursuing edge strategy.
Building an Edge-Capable IT Function
Across the expert interviews, survey, and secondary research, the issue of upgrading IT capabilities was raised consistently. Emphasis was placed on the need for the C-suite to reassure itself that the IT function fully understands the requirements and challenges of delivering seamless and secure service across tens of thousands of digital touchpoints, with focus on four key issues.
First, the management, integration, and security of a highly distributed IT infrastructure spanning from the core of the business via the cloud to the new network edge. Typically, this ecosystem includes users, fixed and mobile edge devices, applications, data, distributed data centres, networks, gateways, on-premises infrastructure, cloud services, infrastructure management processes, security management, and reporting. Key here is flexibility, as most organizations cannot say with certainty just how many digital touch-points they might create over the next three to five years in an edge environment. Hence the infrastructure strategy needs to allow for the potential for the number of edge-connected devices to increase by 10X, 100X, or 1000X – placing the spotlight on the scalability and interoperability of the technology choices being made.
Second, the collection, storage, management, security, privacy protection, and governance of data becomes a heightened priority as the organization increasingly reinvents itself around this core asset.
Third, the sheer complexity of such environments will drive organizations to make far greater use of smart software applications operating at every level from device monitoring to management of the entire ecosystem. While AI will have a clear role to play, it is critical that every component in the software architecture can be monitored with full traceability of how it made its decisions. This may be a major challenge with many of the current AI applications that cannot explain their reasoning.
Fourth, as highlighted earlier, the edge represents a massive increase in potential security risks as every device and network touchpoint becomes a potential point of vulnerability and source of threat. The InfoSec Institute highlights a number of critical risks that need to be managed, including weak device access passwords; insecure communications; data collected and transmitted by devices being largely unencrypted and unauthenticated; physical security risks for individual devices; and poor service visibility, with security teams unaware of the services running on certain devices.
The edge clearly represents a massive business opportunity and delivering on it will inevitably mean the C-suite spending progressively greater amounts of time truly understanding the IT capabilities being delivered. Leaders will need to be immersed enough to know if their IT function, its infrastructure, and its key partners are fit for purpose and can provide a robust platform to enable a range of future options.