For Future IT, Start With Blank Slate

Opinion: 'Green field' planning could yield a rich technology harvest.

The "green field" IT idea involves imagining what your technology infrastructure would look like if you could start from nothing. If today you could build your data center, applications and organizational structure from the ground up, what would you do?

Where green-field planning used to be just one of those stupid exercises you would be roped into at some management retreat, I think its an exercise now worth doing. You didnt like green-field planning in the past because you knew nothing was going to change, no matter how intelligent the plan you developed.

But now green-field planning is something that easily could become your companys actual plan. Why is that? In the physical infrastructure of the company, the rising cost of electricity, the need for redundant capabilities and the increased density offered by blade servers are quickly making the cost of trying to upgrade a data center an exercise in futility.

Soon it will be faster, cheaper and more efficient to build a new data center than to try to rebuild that wheezing energy hog where your servers now exist. Electrical, heating and cooling costs soon will mean more to your company than processing speeds.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about cooling down the data center.

The application space is not all that different from the physical infrastructure. The past years have been marked by companies trying to upgrade, integrate and put a modern face on aging applications. However, the people who knew how those systems work and programmed them are retiring.

Integrating older applications is proving to be an endless financial sinkhole. Putting together two older applications gives you only two old apps. Trying to provide a new face on older applications might look nice, but new paint on old apps no longer will allow you to compete in the new technology environment.

Those mashed-up applications that are so popular on the Web are now coming to the corporate environment. The combination of mapping, finance and social interactions has meaning for the corporate world just as it does for consumers using a mashed-up Web application to look for the best deal on a new house.

The CRM (customer relationship management) systems that cost millions to deploy five years ago are going to look old-fashioned and be inefficient compared with systems that allow customer relations, current pricing and inventory location all to be displayed in one place on a map that even a harried salesperson can quickly understand.

Probably the most difficult green-field planning involves the role of the technology group from the CIO on down. At best, technology was given equal footing in the corporate hierarchy. Even the best quickly heads downhill when IT departments are put under financial operations, divided up among operations or seen as an amorphous group reporting to no one and serving all.

However, compliance requirements, outsource and offshore options, and Internet-based technologies that offer a way for companies to leap over their competitors mean that the old pyramid-style, walled-off, skills-based organizations cannot keep up with new requirements and capabilities. Im not sure what the new organization should look like, but I know the old org charts are outdated.

Over the past couple of weeks, I had the chance to hear a lot about the new roles of the CIO, including stops at our own Ziff Davis CIO Summit in Napa, Calif., and at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Mass. Amid all the presentations and panels, it was clear to me that technology is once again outpacing the ability of companies to use those capabilities. The difficulty of figuring out how to house those technologies, build applications based on those new technologies, and design an organizational structure that can support and optimize new technologies requires a green-field, ground-up approach in corporate thinking.

This time, your green-field planning can result in more than another report gathering dust: It can result in your companys next IT strategy.

Editorial Director Eric Lundquist can be reached at

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