IBM CIO's Great Refresh: No, Sales Guy, you can't JUST use DropBox

Rip XP from 500k boxes, bung software in cloud, install Ffox. Coffee

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Three-quarters of new apps to float on the cloud

Dropbox, along with Microsoft’s Office 365 and Google Docs, is officially not allowed. This is because they’d break IBM’s guidelines on the use of secure computing and social media, which staff are expected to know as part of IBM’s annual business conduct certification process.

The rules prohibit storing client-confidential information on a service. IBM offers it’s own alternative: IBM Connections, which has file-sharing and the ability to create private spaces within spaces.

Working with the sales, marketing and consultant types means the way IBM's own apps are being built is changing – they are becoming more agile, Horan says.

Software development in the back office is more process-oriented and aligned to processes such as six sigma (quality control strategies for process improvement) because the apps are more transitional and based around rules, such as accounting.

How IT crowd works with 'experimental' marketing bods

The front-office jockeys treat app development more as an "art" than as a set of codified instructions, Horan says. “How a salesperson engages with the client is more to do with the client’s style and the salesperson’s style, and they want more flexibility.

“If you put a marketing team and an IT team together, the marketing team's language is around 'concepts' and 'ideas' and 'strategies'. If you talk to an IT team, their language is around 'projects' and 'milestones', so how do you bridge those two?

“When we are working with marketing teams, an agile methodology is much better. A back-office team will say: 'Here’s my requirements, here’s what I need,' and you can go away and bring it back to them three or six months later and they will say ‘Thank you’ and off you go.

"But with the marketing teams, it’s much more: ‘Let’s try this and experiment with that.’ While the concept is there, the specifics might not be.”

More of the the apps are now being developed and tested using the cloud rather than on servers and desktops, the CIO adds. IBM’s Smart Cloud, to be precise. The goal is for 75 per cent of new software to be built on the Smart Cloud in the next year to year-and-a-half. Currently, about 50 per cent of it is built on the cloud. But Horan ruled out a complete move to the cloud, given some apps have unique or demanding requirements.

If you put a marketing team and an IT team together, the marketing team language is around 'concepts' and 'ideas' and 'strategies'. If you talk to an IT team, their language is around 'projects' and 'milestones', so how do you bridge those two? – IBM CIO Jeanette Horan

IBM is shovelling more application development on the cloud because it means faster delivery times, with less time spent waiting for a new server and then provisioning it.

“It’s mostly around agility and turnaround time," says the tech boss. "If you think about what the demands are on me as a CIO - the business always wants more, [and] faster. So if we can shorten the development time for a project that’s always a big win...

"If I get to save some money as well, because I’ve now got pooled hardware and high utilisation of the hardware, that’s great to me because [then] I’ve got better control of cost,” Horan says.

The CIO might have her eye on a mighty five-year plan, but this is IT and not everything is grand or strategic. Sometimes, you just have to do things that don’t actually add any value to the business or advance the technology and which don't make you feel particularly fulfilled. Moving nearly 500,000 staff and contractors’ PCs off Windows XP ahead of Microsoft’s support cut-off next April surely qualifies as one such job.

The move actually started under Horan, who has only been CIO since 2011 – relatively late in the Windows XP lifecycle considering Microsoft's support runs out next April.

It seems, though, that the migration has gone quickly. When we spoke to the Brit tech boss earlier this year, Horan said migration had almost been completed. One reason for the rapid move was probably the accompanying removal of IE6 that had already begun under her predecessor Pat Toole - now general manager of maintenance and technical support services for IBM global technology services.

IBM, like many other enterprises, had its business-critical apps hardwired into IE6 and they had to be re-written. “We had a fair bit of application remediation on that but we’d addressed it before we got to Windows 7,” Horan said.

Desktop migration: You can't take it with you

IBM is not going to Windows 8 and, at the time of speaking to The Reg, Horan hadn’t even looked at Microsoft’s touchy operating system. “I’m sure some folks on my team have been kicking around with it, but I haven’t taken the time to go ask them about it yet,” she said.

In this respect she’s like many other CIOs who are doing a swerve around Windows 8 and going from Windows XP to Windows 7. Win 7 will eat less hardware than the new tile-based OS and there’s also greater compatibility with existing Windows apps.

“Everybody is going through that same journey - the desktop migration," says Horan. "There’s the physical desktop migration and the application migration, too. You like to think that these systems are all upwards-compatible so you can bring things forward with you but that’s not always possible.”

Unlike many other Windows XP migrants, though, IBM hasn't stuck with Microsoft on the browser: instead, IBM has replaced Internet Explorer with Mozilla's Firefox, which is now its “preferred” browser.

Firefox is a bold choice given that Mozilla is determined that it will only provide security updates to two versions of Firefox prior to the current release. Mozilla has said it won’t be dictated to by enterprise support needs, claiming it's putting consumers first.

Microsoft's browser, at least, comes with the promise of a decade's worth of fixes and security patches.


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