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IT shops brace for faster tech innovation, mobility demands in 2014

Rapid tech innovation can be a boon for businesses, but can IT pros keep pace with the quickly evolving mobile space and faster Windows upgrades?

Rapid technology innovations will force enterprise IT departments to deploy new devices and software upgrades quicker than ever to gain a competitive advantage.

This need in part stems from what industry pundits call the third platform of technology, which includes mobile devices, cloud services, social media and big data. The growth for all these areas will be fueled by worldwide IT spending, which is expected to reach $2.14 trillion worldwide in 2014, up 5.1% from 2013, according to IDC, a market research company based in Framingham, Mass.

Companies that are slow to innovate will find themselves quickly commoditized, said Frank Gens, senior vice president and chief analyst at IDC, during a webcast offering IDC's 2014 predictions. So, these companies must adapt and  inject  a faster cycle time and business process, he said.

Microsoft, for example, which has been slow to deliver technology updates, now updates its software on a faster upgrade cycle.

End users drive tech innovation, faster technology deployments

Some enterprises have embraced this faster pace for deploying new technology. These business stakeholders and IT departments realize there is a need to change long-standing mindsets and to partner more closely with each other to understand how technology can aid an organization's ultimate business goals, yet comply with the requirements from all team members.

In fact, delivering improved productivity and workflow are what makes Stamford, Conn.-based Starwood Hotels and Resorts' Hoyt Harper II, senior vice president, motivate his IT organization.

"My job is to make them uncomfortable by being impatient," he said.

Starwood's Sheraton hotels run their business on Windows 7 and are in the process of rolling out Windows 8 kiosks and tablets for guests to use. Windows 8 is now deployed in 20% of Starwood's properties in North America and the company is in the process of customizing Windows 8.1 for its organization, Hoyt said.

"The goal is to put new technology in the hands of our guests and create a personalized [experience]," he added.

Deploying new technologies requires Hoyt to work closely with his IT department so each party understands the other's needs. Hoyt said he is sensitive to IT's requirements surrounding security.

"We do thorough due diligence in what we allow to talk to our systems," he said. "Security and privacy are [our] top two concerns, [as well as] functionality and compatibility." 

For some IT organizations, moving fast to meet mobile business needs can be a challenge, but they have no choice. Delta recently deployed 11,000 Microsoft Surface devices to replace pilots' 40-pound flight plan manuals, plus another 19,000 Windows Phones to flight attendants.

A typical Delta IT project can take up to 12 months, but the airline took a more aggressive 10-month timeline with this project, said an IT principal with the company who requested anonymity.

The demand for faster tech innovation, combined with pressure from business stakeholders to implement new mobile technologies, does not bother him.

"People just have to get used to it," he said.

Nevertheless, pressure for vendors to deliver new innovations quickly doesn't come without some concern for enterprises.

"I have not had one customer or one IT person … ever come to me and say, 'Gosh I wish OSes shipped faster and more frequently," said Michael Cherry, vice president of operating systems research at Directions on Microsoft, an IT consulting organization based in Kirkland, Wash. IT wants stability, predictability, reliability and security, he noted.

Tech innovation needs to be done at an evolutionary pace, Cherry cautioned. 

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