The IT department isn't traditionally perceived as the hub for organizational innovation and growth, but it’s slowly getting there.

Gartner recently forecasted a number of developments that will significantly impact the IT function in years to come, spanning mobile device management, hybrid cloud integration and software-defined networking. As these disruptive technologies continue to mature, IT is well-positioned to drive overall corporate success, enabling organizations’ innovative capabilities to really shine through.

Assimilating these new technologies won't come easy, however. Lots of time and resources must be dedicated to fine-tuning these tools for unique IT environments—and that’s on top of existing “keep-the-lights-on” IT maintenance. Efficient IT management will be a key challenge over the next year, and enterprises will have to approach it much more strategically if they’re to realize the benefits of next-generation technologies.

I foresee two major developments emerging in 2014 to improve IT management: The application of big data to internal IT processes, and an evolution of the operations manager (OM). Both trends reflect more proactive IT service management strategies, which I believe will unlock the potential of disruptive enterprise technology.

Big Data for Internal Processes

Big data is widely recognized as a valuable tool to help understand customer behavior, particularly among the manufacturing, retail and financial sectors. We know, as an industry, that turning data into decisions is a powerful concept, so why should it be used exclusively for external stakeholders?

In 2014, organizations will open up a whole new playing field for big data, turning predictive analytics inward and applying it within the IT function to track where operational incidents happen most frequently. The real value here is that it will enable IT and network admins to track patterns in the operating environment and, based on those patterns, create more accurate thresholds for recurring issues or events. As a result, businesses can better predict and perhaps prevent IT incidents before they happen, ensuring better overall uptime and performance.

Data is everywhere, so collecting it is perhaps the easiest part. The challenge is translating that data into actionable knowledge.

All the data available to us means nothing if it’s not concentrated, sorted and organized in a way that’s useful to create meaningful insights or inform decision making. Integrating analytics into an IT management console can make this a more seamless process, especially when the system can automatically respond to threshold alerts and deploy a corresponding action, all before the incident even occurs.

Resource availability and performance are two obvious benefits of big data analytics in IT. By analyzing where issues occur in the network or IT infrastructure, organizations can discover which problems need to be addressed, thereby reducing instances of performance degradation and bandwidth over-consumption, for example.

More important, though, is the speed at which these results can occur. As an example, let’s take a look at the financial services market and the management of trading applications. Without the aid of big data analytics, a system administrator might take up to an hour to figure out why a new trade failed to execute. Meanwhile, the trade has decreased in value and the revenue opportunity is lost, all because of a slow infrastructure analysis process. With greater volumes of transactions and more decisions made within compressed timeframes, admins can collect enough data to address the factors that cause slow or failed transactions, and eventually prevent them from happening at all.

Evolution of the Operations Manager

IT can—and should—prepare their systems for events that are easy to predict; for example, preparing websites with extra capacity during regular or expected periods of peak traffic (and they can also address recurring issues, such as the financial trade execution).

But with the complexity of today’s converged infrastructures, there will always be unexpected circumstances and new problems that arise. Here is where the operations manager (OM) will play a significant role.

Traditionally, OMs were confined to break-fix roles, responsible only for reacting to these unpredictable problems as they arose in an IT environment. These expectations will evolve as cloud usage ramps up and 60% of server workloads are virtualized by the end of 2014. The rate of incoming service requests will increase exponentially, so managing those incidents will have to be much more systematic.

Under this increased pressure, we’ll begin to see the OM’s role expand beyond purely break-fix tasks to include more application support, including resource procurement and provisioning. This might require, for instance, adding more virtual machines, bandwidth, CPU or memory in response to infrastructure capacity shortages. Moving away from mere execution, the OM will become more of a strategic contributor—a resource manager and critical business unit.

For the next-generation OM, automation will be a necessary tool. Availability monitoring and performance assurance in today’s IT landscape simply cannot be accomplished by human efforts alone, and automation gives the OM a method to provision on demand. By setting triggers that correspond to automated actions, the operations team can track usage in real-time, which is supported by automation that increases resources if and when they are needed.

As IT infrastructure becomes increasingly dynamic, it’s critical that operations stay ahead of the curve. Backed by unified monitoring and automation tools, the OM can move from a reactive role into more proactive management, ensuring that growing volumes of IT issues are responded to immediately. As a result, they can significantly free up time to focus on integrating the technologies of tomorrow and driving true business innovation.

IT Moves Off The Bench And Onto The Playing Field

As innovative technologies bombard the enterprise, IT management has to keep up the pace—in fact, its performance will dictate whether new technologies can be accommodated at all.

Improving IT efficiency has been an enduring goal on most organizations’ agendas, but I think our industry’s mentality around efficiency is finally beginning to shift. It’s no longer about providing the nuts and bolts when something goes awry. Now, it’s about elevating IT’s position within an organization in order to take a more strategic approach.

Whether it’s planning ahead of breakage issues, or ensuring resources are in place when they’re needed, the IT function is going to have to step up to the plate. The good news is, they won’t have to do it alone. As quickly as disruptive technologies are evolving, so are back-end management technologies. Together, with IT as a tactical leader and automation in support, 2014 should see a boom in disruptive capabilities that 2013 had yet to show.

Lead image by Shutterstock