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Emphasize app modernization in 2020 IT budget plans

IT budgeting can be stressful and complicated, but it doesn't have to be. Communicate with business leaders and users to identify -- and capitalize on -- the right opportunities.

As 2019 comes to a close, enterprises focus on their 2020 IT budget plans. Normally, at this time of the year, I provide a list of up-and-coming areas for IT leaders to emphasize for investment. However, as IT is at an inflexion point, I recommend a slightly different approach than usual.

The manner in which organizations procure, provision, operate and maintain IT is changing. Cloud computing is leveling the playing field and making it easier for small and large organizations alike to gain access rapidly to the functions and services they need.

Identify future requirements -- and existing IT baggage

IT managers must better understand the business' near- and long-term goals to create their 2020 IT budget plan: What does the business consider most important over the next one to five years? IT's role is to enable the business to meet its needs in the most flexible, cost-efficient manner.

The problem is that the end goal might be easier to define than the process required to get there. The biggest constraint on most organizations is not the road ahead, but rather the road behind. The existing IT platform is -- in many cases -- the biggest hurdle to a flexible future, yet cannot simply be stripped out and thrown away in exchange for the perfect, next-gen technologies we would like to see. As the "Roaring 2020s" come upon us, IT administrators should look at how to invest in preparations for their existing platform to continue its slip into obsolescence.

The end goal for many organizations is probably some form of multi- or hybrid cloud platform that provides services brought together via AI to drive orchestration. However, these organizations probably still run a mix of monolithic, on-premises enterprise applications and semimonolithic cloud-based apps. Review these apps as a matter of urgency.

Talk with business users for a better -- and clearer -- idea of where they see constraints: Is the existing ERP system seen as a major problem, or is it the CRM system? Prioritize the main issues for your 2020 IT budget plan. Evaluate how flexible business process automation could change business-side operations, and how a replacement of existing monolithic apps could better meet the organization's needs.

The role of cloud in app modernization

Formulate a plan that outlines how this process would operate in a perfect world. For example, would it be a fairly static, unchanging process that admins can hard code -- and even hand off to a third party to maintain -- for long-term use, or will the process change on a regular basis -- such as highly personalized offers based on fluctuating conditions -- to better reflect the organization's need to react to market forces?

It's no longer an option to sweat existing IT assets -- hardware or software.

If relatively static, IT organizations can use cloud services, usually with ease, to provide resource flexibility, predictable costs and higher availability levels. Easy wins mean happier users.

If the organization requires more flexibility -- something the majority of legacy applications fail to provide -- a composite app that uses cloud-based services to pull together functions and support changing requirement will be necessary in the long term. Dynamic business processes need more thought and more flexible coding but are also more likely to need flexible resource management to support peaks and troughs in workloads.

As part of a 2020 IT budget plan, start to break down legacy applications into constituent functions and begin to outsource parts that are not well supported by the current application. As time goes on, outsource more and more of these processes to cloud platforms, and aim to turn off the on-premises application as soon as possible to save on maintenance and operations expenses.

At all stages, communicate with the lines of business to evaluate the success of changes made. When the answer is positive, see if there are further optimization avenues with low cost. When the response is negative, determine why and try again. The power of cloud -- when implemented correctly -- is that change is far easier to make than it is on premises: IT pros can swap functions in and out as necessary, often at low exit and entry costs in regard to contracts.

Where do you invest?

2020 IT budgeting shouldn't be exclusively theoretical, however. AI, for example, will be difficult to avoid -- embrace it instead. Underlying AI capabilities will be a raft for robotic process automation systems, which IT should, again, embrace, but use carefully in conjunction with AI, not as a binary choice.

Information security must be high on the list as well. Focus on the information, not the platform; the flow of information between different organizations and beyond means that direct control -- via any platform -- becomes impossible. Invent in areas such as data leak prevention and digital rights management, along with access repudiation and timed access to information.

Overall, the future of IT looks distinctly different to its present-day layout. 2020's IT budget plans must focus on preparation for the future, with a strong focus on point of origin, as well as desired destination. Flexibility is the key to getting this right: It's no longer an option to sweat existing IT assets -- hardware or software.

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