Much of the coverage of this sector focuses on the technology and the infrastructure development, and much of the rest looks at the consumer side. But the large enterprise marketplace and the IT professions within them have a lot to say as well about where we should be going, and one place you can hear them talk is at ONUG, the largest community of Global 2000 IT business leaders. With us today to share a few insights into today’s tech and telecom world is Co-Founder Nick Lippis. ONUG has played a key role in the rise of the SD-WAN and hybrid/multi-clouds and is looking to develop reference solutions for navigating the digital transformation ahead.
TR: What set you on this path and what led to the establishment of ONUG?
NL: I’ve been an independent industry analyst and consultant for a big chunk of my career, and as part of that I met Ernest Lefner. He basically had global infrastructure responsibility for Fidelity and worked with large enterprises around their IT strategies. Our conversation totally changed what I do and I think has also made a big contribution to the industry. He said that enterprise IT leaders needed a place to actually talk about their digital journeys and how to navigate it. This was before the term digital transformation became popular, but we both knew that we were in a new period that was very similar to the late ’80s and early ’90s when the internet hit and caused a massive re-thinking across the global economy. We knew it was starting to happen again, and it has. So we created a user group that would actually talk about these things, where we could help each other plot out an overall strategy. The board was made up exclusively of IT executives, and we have a range of working groups that aggregate use case requirements that are shared with the industry.
TR: What types of IT executives are involved with ONUG today?
NL: ONUG is very focused on Global 2000 IT executives, for example the CTO of Morgan Stanley, the CIO of GE, the person who runs cloud infrastructure for Fidelity, Cigna’s Chris Moretti, Pfizer’s Nelson Tai, and FedEx CISO Gene Sun are all on the board. These are big brands that most people will recognize whether they use them or not on a daily basis. Mid-sized companies do participate as well. The people who come to ONUG meetings tend to be IT architects, designers and engineers, plus the cloud-native DevOps teams and cybersecurity professionals, etc.
TR: Your fall meeting is coming up shortly, what are the big topics that enterprise IT executives are talking about?
NL: I think the big conversation is that there is a crescendo point in the industry around how every large corporation organizes their technical talent. Today we have silos of chief information officer, chief technology officer, and chief digital officer and each has its own organization and role. The CIO’s role is usually focused around productivity improvement. The CTO is focused around what technologies make up the products and the services that the corporation uses to deliver value to their customer base. The CDO’s organization focuses on what new digital products and services are needed to serve digital consumers. That model with three separate organizations doesn’t work anymore. The way we have thought about IT, the way it has been procured, its value and supply chains, those days are essentially over. A new organization structure is starting to form that combines the CDO, CTO, and CIO organizations together, and it is a seismic shift in the industry. When you change this kind of organization, then both the skills that are important and culture of the organization change. The relationship between the vendor and the corporation changes. The vendors won’t be going to the same people to sell them the same things, but to new group of people with a different set of responsibilities. That’s huge. It’s a total reshuffle.
TR: What else do ONUG’s working groups have on their plate right now?
NL: There is a large focus around multi-cloud at ONUG because very few large enterprises have a set, standard multi-cloud strategy, because it’s just hard. We are trying to reduce that pain through working groups and reference solutions around connectivity, cybersecurity, observability, orchestration and automation, and AI Ops for SaaS-based applications. There’s a cybersecurity reference solution for multi-cloud environments that’s going through verification testing now. And there is an SD-WAN 2.0 effort, aggregating requirements for connection into edge and cloud computing, and for support of IoT-based applications.
TR: AI still has a futuristic buzz to it, what kind of AI topics are large enterprises focused on?
NL: This is a very practical group that is really not that interested in things that they can’t deploy during the current business cycle. They are looking at AI as applied towards a SaaS application. Someone using an application like Zoom from an office might be connected to an end-point device via wireless, then through a switch, then a router, a firewall, a load bouncer, and maybe an SD-WAN or MPLS service that finally gets you into that SaaS application. That whole dependency map is going to be looked withn the AI Ops working group. All the different parts of that dependency map are supplied by different vendors. What we are looking to do is create a way in which data from all those dependencies can be shared. One of the key things that has been precluding AI from really having any impact in IT is that vendors don’t share their data with each other. This process is all about gaining access to and being able to correlate the data so that when things go wrong on a very specific application, we can use AI to do reduce mean time to detect and to repair. If we can do that for one set of applications, we can replicate that for many others. The analogy that we’ve heard within the community is that AI is almost like creating wine. You need really good grapes. And then you need a really good process to crush those grapes to make a good wine. Right now, we’re trying to get really good grapes. Once we have the grapes, then we can start experimenting in the back end to correlate and automate.
TR: In the broader telecommunications space, 5G is driving a lot of talk. How does that manifest at ONUG among large enterprises?
NL: For 5G there’s lots of buzz with our industry, but it is usually driven by the vendor community, not the enterprise. There is nothing wrong with that, but it takes a while for that kind of noise to turn into signal within the large enterprise. You need to have some really good coverage in 5G in order for the enterprise marketplace to consume it. We are starting to see use cases coming into ONUG and we also see it in long-range planning talks. One common use case is that 5G could eliminate the need for things like Wi-Fi or switches within campus environments as everything becomes wireless. Then you also have more direct connections going into cloud providers, which hopefully makes the whole multi-cloud connectivity a lot easier. But these are more expectations driven by the vendor community than actual deployments right now.
TR: Buzz is ubiquitous in today’s marketplace, how do you tell the difference between what matters and what doesn’t?
NL: What I’ve learned from being at ONUG is to not really pay that much attention today to the buzz that’s in the industry from the vendor community. When it starts to be talked about at ONUG then I know it’s real. And if they’re not talking about it, it’s probably not that important. For example, we never really spent time talking about OpenStack, even at the time when OpenStack discussion was getting really loud. The problem was that very few in the community actually started use cases, or if they did they might have been for a very niche part of their workloads. And I think OpenStack has been pretty much a disappointment now in the industry. What people get from ONUG is a sense for what’s real and what’s not real, and thereby avoid making some big, costly mistakes.
TR: What are the biggest challenges large enterprises see ahead for the industry?
NL: What’s driving every major decision is the rise of the digital consumer. If you’re not satisfying the digital consumer then they’re not going to be your customer, and you’ll start to lose chunks of your business. You are a digital consumer, just as I am. When you buy something from a company for whom you have to walk into a store or call them on the phone, your relationship with them is going to be much weaker than one that you can interact digitally with, e.g. pay with Venmo or order stuff from their website etc. Large enterprises realize that, and they are responding by creating more digital products and services. But we don’t have reference solutions for this. We don’t have a framework, the guiding posts, the architectures that allow large organizations to build the new digital infrastructure we need. The cloud providers aren’t giving reference solutions either, they just give you a bunch of APIs and say build it yourself. The biggest thing I think that’s happen systematically across IT is that they are morphing and changing into solution integrators; that is the biggest challenge. IT organizations get hammered every year, reducing staff and doing more with less. They are constantly under that pressure, and they are very internally focused. They have to reorganize and find the right skill sets and the right culture in order to build products and services to satisfy digital customers. This is systemic across all industry sectors today.
TR: Thank you for talking with Telecom Ramblings!
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