IT – The Service Broker, Builder or Blocker (Guest Post)

Matt Watts is the EMEA Director of Technology and Strategy and has been with NetApp for 7 years, providing guidance on NetApp Strategy and Technology to NetApp's Customer and Partner Community. He has over 15 years of IT experience and has held a number of roles from Support Manager to Business Development Manager. Matt currently Chairs NetApp’s Senate for Strategy and Vision and frequently attends events articulating NetApp’s Strategy and the business value of IT.

How many of you use Dropbox?

I travel across EMEA speaking at events to companies of all shapes and sizes and overwhelmingly the majority of people respond that they do indeed use this service, there are other services too which have started to see widespread adoption, but I want to look at this one for now in a little more detail…

Dropbox, aside from becoming a successful provider of services has also helped to highlight several very significant challenges for us and what’s more it’s highlighted them all the way from the consumers inside our organisations, right up to the Exec level.

The first one is how has Dropbox become so successful in delivering something that you would imagine to be a pretty basic service that any IT department should easily be able to deliver, its file-sharing, that’s it, no more and no less, yet 100’s of thousands of us don’t have this service. So you have to ask, what stopped our IT teams from delivering this, was it a perceived lack of importance? A concern about security? Or something else, maybe IT are just to busy doing other things and the value of this was hard to justify, but it clearly does have value the adoption rate is proof of this.

Which brings me to the second point, how easy it is for us now to find services outside of those that come from our own IT departments. It’s not exactly a new phenomenon, there have always been some basic services that we could get from the Internet, but the breadth, functionality and scope of what is available now is quite incredible and all of this is easily and readily available for users inside companies to consume. So what do IT departments do? I’ve had a number of different responses when I ask this question, some companies are assessing the risk of services such as Dropbox and if it’s perceived as a risk then they block it. IT departments that take this approach realize that this is likely to do nothing for the perception of their value to the business so most look for alternatives first.

My third point, how does IT evolve when Enterprise users have many external and often more flexible options for a given service? Are they the Blocker? Constantly on the lookout for services where users are bypassing IT and then turning around to block them? Do they look for these ‘popular’ services then work out how to Build them themselves, or do they become a service broker? Where IT deliver the core services where security and confidentiality is essential and the services that have the potential to create value and revenue for the business? Then building a catalogue of other services that users may need from providers that have been assessed and can be guaranteed to deliver the right service and security needed. This needn’t be an arduous activity, we’re not necessarily talking about business applications here, we’re talking about iApps, the useful applications that people can consume if they see a value to themselves  Processes need to be in place for these to be assessed quickly and made available quickly and this could come in the form of IT as a Broker.

I like the idea that in the future companies could have catalogues similar to an ‘App Store’, where users can go to select the Applications that will benefit them, some of these delivered by internal IT, some delivered by vetted external Service Providers.

The mass adoption of Dropbox has provided some clarity to people as to what a Cloud service really is. It’s highlighted a whole bunch of new challenges that IT is going to have to learn how to deal with. What’s more is that it’s highlighted these challenges right up to the level of the Exec’s, who are now realizing that with this particular service you give away all rights to the information that you put into it, (it can be mined and re-used), that huge numbers of people in their company are using it and that no one knows what information is already out there.

If you’re in IT then do you know how many of these types of service your users are already consuming? How many of your users use Dropbox? How many of your developers use Amazon EC2? How much of your company’s data has already been moved outside of your firewall to these types of providers? And who is responsible for the security of it?

So, what will you become for these services in the future? The Broker, Builder or Blocker?


Blocker and broker. Based business requirements these things drive the business. We offer a file sharing service via VPN as well calendar and address book syncing via SSL connection. Chat via jabber and a virtual dev environment via VPN. But they still by pass it because they do not have root to the servers or some other excuse. The biggest objective is to protect company intellectual property.

The other thing is it is to much hassle to send a help desk ticket. Just saying.

Keith, thanks for the comment, just out of interest do your users  use Dropbox? finding the balance between what we allow users to do and how we can ensure that company intellectual property is protected is a dilemma that we always have and I suspect always will have to manage. As a Systems Engineer many years ago I remember  having the debate as to whether we could or should allow all our users to have Internet access from their PC's, we accepted that we just had to and we'd need to deal with how we protect company information, then we had to deal with USB sticks and the like, it seems like not a week goes by now without there being a news article about how someone left confidential information on a memory stick in the back of a taxi or on a train. Automation and true self service is likely to play a big role in the future, I think that many users work around IT because they've found a service that's either important to them, or is just easier to acquire than it would be from their own IT department. Identifying what these services are, deciding whether to build them internally and then making them extremely easy to consume is key.