It’s 15 years since Total started out in business. Looking back, it’s surprising how much has changed in that time. It’s not just the technology, although that has changed a lot, but more interestingly how customers deliver IT and what they want from their IT partner that’s changed. And that in turn has affected how we’ve grown and developed as a business.
In 2003, there was no iPhone, and the top-selling handset was the Nokia 1100. Windows XP was state-of-the-art, and with 95% usage Internet Explorer had well and truly ousted Netscape as the world’s browser of choice.
It seems to me that there was less choice and less complexity then, and something of a DIY approach to the delivery of IT. Our customers generally seemed to have a good idea what they wanted to do and, once they’d got the products from us, were often happy to implement them themselves.
Since then, IT has become far more complex: through a proliferation of choice, the increasing sophistication of the technologies and the need to more tightly integrate them together. It’s become practically impossible for most organisations to maintain in-house the level and range of skills they’d need to do everything themselves. In addition to that, many organisations have reduced the size of their IT teams during the last decade.
As a result, we’ve seen our customers move away from a predominantly DIY approach to make more use of external IT resources, as part of a broader ‘virtual’ IT team. We’ve developed our services accordingly, helping them to fill the skills gap with high-level consultancy as well as relieving them of some of their day-to-day burdens, by undertaking everything from configuration and asset tagging to managing Azure services for them.
With all this, I think many IT heads have seen the focus of their roles shift, from team and project management to orchestration and relationship management.
The increased complexity of IT has also paved the way for the move to ‘as-a-service’ delivery. Here the emphasis is on the outcome (what will I get?), so IT no longer needs to know all the intricacies of how it’s done.
We saw this first with software, where as-a-service is now pretty much the norm. But back in 2003 it was a very different world. Software seemed to require far more customisation and every company seemed to have pieces they’d developed in-house: ranging from relatively simple holiday booking systems, through to more complex business systems.
In the early days, we ran our business on a Sage application, but it didn’t have all the functionality we needed so there was a fair bit of customisation. Upgrades were a pain, and moving to each new version required spending huge amounts of time and money on testing our customisations. Our customers told us similar stories.
Now, our ERP system is delivered as-a-service, most of the functionality we need is inherent, and upgrades and improvements continuously happen in the background – something we now also see in Office 365 and Windows 10. There’s also little need to develop software in-house anymore, with the commercially available options containing most, if not all, the functionality you need. Now those awkward and risky step change version migrations are increasingly a thing of the past.
Where software-as-a-service led, infrastructure has followed, and many customers now lean heavily on the likes of Microsoft Azure or AWS for the compute, backup and storage that once sat on-premise in a data centre.
Just as IT has matured in technological terms, it seems to me to have matured also as a function. Most IT teams now see themselves as providing a service to their organisation, and are very aware of the quality of the service they deliver. They are also acutely aware of delivering value to their organisation.
Although I think that this had already started to change in 2003, where IT was once a different, hopefully better, way of doing things (for example emails rather than letters), it’s now critical to everything that happens in an organisation. Indeed, I’d say IT is so important to everyone in the organisation that it has transcended being a function – now everyone has an interest in IT. As a result, new initiatives and improvements are more likely to be initiated outside, rather than inside, the IT department.
Has all this devalued the role of IT? From what I see, IT has become more pervasive than ever. Technology is permeating all parts of every organisation and increasingly these technologies are on the network and requiring IT intervention – something that will only increase as the Internet of Things takes hold.
As our customers’ needs have changed, so too has Total. We started out selling products, and that’s still a large part of our business, although increasingly that’s as likely to be a Microsoft Azure subscription as it is a new server or SAN. But many customers now also see us as a key part of their wider, internal and external, IT team. Compared to 15 years ago, we work with customers in so many more ways: providing strategic advice, high-level technical expertise around a focused set of solution areas, and support and managed services.
What will Total be like in another 15 years’ time? I’ve worked in IT long enough to be wary of predictions, but the evidence of recent years suggests we’ll be seeing increasing complexity, given the ever-increasing pace of technological change.