And they do it well. The smart ones exploit commoditization trends, best practices and especially these days deep discounts in the provisioning of computing and communications gear. Chief Infrastructure Officers are under pressure today to reduce their budgets even more than they have over the past few years.
Lean-and-mean is taking on a whole new meaning.
But infrastructure is easier to acquire, deploy and support than strategic technology. Does anyone want to argue that its easier to upgrade desktops than implement a CRM application? Infrastructure is more predictable and therefore manageable: we understand infrastructure performance metrics much better than strategic technology metrics.
Strategic technology that touches customers and suppliers has always been more challenging than operational technology. Life cycles are longer and project scope creep is bigger with strategic technology projects. Expectations are higher as well.
While everyone thinks that email should be bulletproof, they also believe that CRM or business intelligence (BI) applications should transform business processes and almost instantly spike revenue. The difference is that email can be bulletproof, whereas CRM, BI, and similar applications are far from perfect and, in fact, are often pretty lame.
I have thought about the dichotomy for decades. (I realize that this means that I have a flat learning curve: if Ive been thinking about it for so long then why havent I solved the problem?) Infrastructure is completely different from the technology intended to transform or improve business processes.
Ah, the world of servers, desktops and networks. I can actually touch them, fondle them if I like. But where is my data on that nasty customer and how does it help me turn an adversarial relationship into a productive partnership?
Two different worlds, two different sets of expectations, two different tool sets, two different skill sets. Everythings different in these two worlds.
So why have they lived together for so long?
One explanation is precedent. Operational and strategic technology have lived together for a long time, from the beginning in fact. But that partnership has always been lopsided: the overwhelming percentage of technology has since the beginning been operational, not strategic. Sure, companies (and their vendors) talk a good game about strategic value. But the fact is that the action has mostly been about operational cost-effectiveness.
This explains the other reason why operational and strategic technology have lived together for so long: theres hardly been any real strategic technology out there.
But now its the 21st century and strategic technology is very real and robust. Operational technology has actually never been in better shape. Through technologies like virtualization and voice-over-IP, its never been easier, faster or cheaper to provision infrastructure services. (Chief Infrastructure Officers if they are smart and competent have plenty of time for golf.)
Strategic technology is as different from this experience as possible, suggesting that maybe its time for a divorce.