I just spent the better part of December on the road visiting infrastructure & operations (I&O) executives at our clients. Meeting clients is always interesting, but this year was particularly interesting. Why? Because most of the executives I met were a bit panicked. That’s not to say they aren’t good at their jobs, or that they don’t understand how to overcome the day-to-day challenges they face. No, this was something different. Something unprecedented is unfolding — and it’s unfolding with frightening speed. Put simply, these I&O execs all echoed one thing: they’re ill equipped to support empowered employees.

OK, bear with me. I realize I may have lost you at this point, so let me elaborate. Today’s employees have access to a wealth of hardware and software, and they’re procuring it on their own. They need to solve customer challenges quickly and efficiently — and they’re willing to bypass I&O altogether. Forrester refers to these employees as empowered, as written about in the book by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler. We’ve also spent quite a bit of energy discussing how empowered employees will impact I&O and I encourage you to read our reports on mobility, UC, and automation. Even my colleague, Richard Fichera, has discussed his own personal empowered journey.

But the empowered movement is far more challenging than outlined above. Your business executives are going down this path with or without you. They need to address employee satisfaction, talent retention, and customer service challenges. If you’re not scared, then you should be. And here’s why: Supporting empowered employees is expensive. Right now, you pay two orders of magnitude more to build and maintain your own infrastructure than public cloud alternatives. But supporting empowered employees means you’ll need to be just as agile and just as inexpensive as these cloud providers. Otherwise the economics of technology innovation will just steamroll you. Now, trust me, I’m not naïve. I get that security, privacy, reliability, and maturity issues prevent you from jumping on the cloud bandwagon — but you must close the cost gap. If you don’t, you risk driving an irreconcilable wedge between you and the business.

Reboot To Start Your Empowered Journey

And that’s where the need to reboot I&O comes in. This year’s I&O research and events will focus on how you streamline I&O people, processes, and technology to support empowered employees. The goal is not to achieve cloud economics, but to take steps to get at least one order of magnitude less expensive in running your infrastructure and operations. We’ll help you rethink how to build I&O as a service provider geared to support empowered individuals. If you’re wondering if you need this help, just ask yourself a few basic questions:

  • Can your I&O team empower employees with consumer devices in the workplace?
  • Can you build self-service capabilities for users to support themselves?
  • Do you use automation to empower your own I&O staff?
  • Can you achieve an order of magnitude better in infrastructure economics?

Rebooting the economics of I&O requires keeping users productive by providing the best device experience, and reducing the economics of the back-end data center infrastructure. To help you understand these imperatives, I plan to host a webinar that talks through two things you should get started on in 2011:

  • Rebooting the device experience in the post-PC era. Empowered employees are mobile by default. They’re bringing newer devices into your company that can help them do their jobs better. This track will help you learn to build a support strategy for the newer devices from Apple, Google, and Microsoft; construct a client virtualization plan to improve support, flexibility, and security in the employee computing experience; and extend unified communications to amplify employee productivity.
  • Rebooting data center economics with the path to (private) cloud. There is a massive amount of inefficiency in your data center, but you can’t just throw out legacy applications and infrastructure. This track will focus on: building a hybrid cloud that is built on internal capabilities and bursts to public cloud infrastructure; implementing automation and self-service capabilities to reduce operational costs; and organizing your staff in a services oriented structure.

Sound interesting? Then join me at 11:00 AM ET on February 1 on my webinar. You can register here. Or better yet, come to our Infrastructure & Operations Forum in London. We have an entire two-day event dedicated to these themes with three Forrester keynotes, four industry keynotes, and ten track sessions. And in the meantime, let me know what you think. I’m always happy to gather feedback on if and when you plan to support empowered users.