All reports are that this recent holiday shopping season has been a huge success for retailers. What may be surprising is that traditional brick and mortar stores are enjoying the good times just as much as their online disruptors are. It seems that the death of retail has been greatly exaggerated, as 82 percent of millennial shoppers still prefer to shop in a physical store. Now, consider the $13.4 billion acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon earlier this year, forming a powerful coalition between perhaps the greatest disruptor of all time, with a leader in one of the most traditional types of retail – the grocery store. Maybe retail isn’t an “either/or” industry after all.

A similar pattern is evolving in IT as well. For several years now, we have witnessed the great migration to the cloud as companies race to complete the digital transformation of their organizations. The exponential growth of the public cloud has been fueled by its seemingly limitless degree of scalability, redundancy and flexibility. It also alleviates companies of the long-term commitment of investment capital and personnel that the traditional data center has demanded. The hardware-centric on-premise enterprise in which expected life cycles of five years were considered acceptable, and annual support costs were just considered the tough pill to swallow were the norm. In a world of diminishing product life cycles and opportunity windows, this is no longer an option. (Learn more about cloud migration with What Moving an Idea to the Cloud Actually Entails.)

Yet despite the elated jubilations concerning the public cloud and all it has to offer, the majority of enterprises still host a sizable proportion of their enterprise on premise. The fact is that not all workloads are ready for the cloud. What’s more, some companies have been forced to remain on premise or even abandon earlier cloud migrations due to security and compliance issues. In fact, a recent IDG survey showed that 40 percent of organizations with public cloud experience reported buyer’s remorse and moved public cloud workloads back to on premise. Perhaps, just as in the case of retail, the public cloud is not the panacea for all workloads as initially thought.

The Best of Both Worlds

The world is going digital as a result of change agents such as the cloud, mobile computing, social media, big data analytics and the consumerization of IT that has transformed how the world does business today. As a result, companies are transforming their structures into the digital business as defined by Gartner:

“Digital business is the creation of new business designs reached by blurring the digital and physical worlds … via an unprecedented convergence of people, business and things.”

The digital business is not simply about digitizing all services in the public cloud. Just as retail is striving to obtain the ideal balance between an online presence and a traditional storefront, the digital business requires correlating IT solutions to form a hybrid solution. This is why 63 percent of organizations are now pursuing a hybrid IT approach.

Hybrid IT is made up of two worlds, one being the traditional on-premise data center, the other being one or more clouds. The traditional world is built around the principles of predictability, controllability, stability and maximum security. Cloud computing is an exploratory world that emphasizes agility, speed and maximum availability. Hybrid IT is thus about choice. It is about examining the required resources, security requirements and performance needs of a designated workload and determining which world is a better fit. Having the ability to utilize two separate environments for your workloads brings great flexibility to your enterprise.

Defining Hybrid IT

Hybrid IT is not about any “one technology.” Hybrid IT is an approach, a strategy, a blueprint, that governs the deployment and delivery of applications, digital services and information. The goal of hybrid IT is to replicate the manner in which the cloud is able to service customers and provide users with the tools they need. In other words, hybrid IT is about attaining the identical service capabilities of the cloud, for the entire infrastructure, whether it be traditional in-house data center technology or public/private cloud services. Hybrid IT unifies both worlds of the enterprise into a single fluid ecosphere. (Hybrid cloud is also an option. Learn more in Hybrid Cloud: Great Promise, Or a Big Letdown?)

An effective analogy is found in the hybrid automobile. Just as hybrid IT is composed of both on- and off-premise infrastructure, a hybrid car such as the Toyota Prius consists of two engines: a modern-day electric motor and a traditional gasoline engine. The car is able to achieve optimum levels of fuel efficiency and performance through its software management system. It draws power from the battery and exclusively uses the electric motor when accelerating from a full stop. Once the car reaches normal cruising speed, however, the car will completely switch to the combustion engine, at which point the gasoline engine can also repower the generator. During periods of heavy acceleration, both engines may be utilized.

Putting the Needs of Business Before Technology

Hybrid IT is about matching the ideal delivery system for each service. It is not about simply having “some of on-premise and cloud,” says Mark Peters, senior analyst for ESG Global Research. “Hybrid IT is about having some of each working in dynamic, as-seamless-as-possible, and optimal harmony.”

This new approach is about more than just transforming the organization. It is about transforming the role of internal IT as well. Rather than being a cost center that only offers maintenance and support, hybrid IT places internal IT into a role of prominence, innovation and leadership to the digital organization at large. It means that IT is no different from any other business unit within the companies in that investment and strategies must align with the business needs of the organization. To do this, IT must comprehend more than just technology architectures. Instead, IT must understand the business drivers and goals of the company that it serves.

The growing presence of shadow IT over the years has vividly shown that business units will bypass internal IT if they feel they can find a better solution outside of the organization. Internal IT must realize that solutions are not just limited to those within the organization. Instead, solutions are sought wherever necessary in order to find the most innovative solution for its customers – the users within the organization. Under this new structure, IT professionals must look at themselves as IT brokers rather than support technicians. The goal is to broker the best solution for the business, not fit and force an internal technology solution upon it that may not serve the needs of the business.

Conclusion

The purpose of IT is to serve users, whether they are the customers of its parent organization or its internal employees. Like every successful business, IT must know its customer first, then technology. By doing so, IT can provide the services and tools to provide the necessary levels of agility and velocity that companies so desperately need in order to be the leaders of their industries. The time has come for IT to help lead their organizations to greater opportunity by utilizing the flexibility of hybrid IT.