Avoiding an explosive mess
Adopting a short-term approach to IT infrastructure could leave companies with a ticking time bomb.
While the expectation is that IT should be a business enabler - and it clearly should be - the reality is that most IT executives are so absorbed with the challenges of maintaining their complex legacy environments that they cannot look beyond the now.
Consequently, the business begins seeking enabling solutions elsewhere, and the outcome is as predictable as continental drift, though much more rapid in its effect. IT architecture, strategy and standards may be sidelined by the business, as it adopts short-term commodity solutions in its quest for ongoing success.
With most short-term solutions, the initial appearance is of 'mission accomplished', whereas the reality is, in fact, closer to that of a time bomb with a suspect mechanism. Who does the company engage with to ensure it doesn't blow up?
A vast amount has been written in the past about outsourcing, all of which can be boiled down to one simple fact: a good outsource provider will not only be able to eliminate the potentially explosive problems a failing legacy architecture throws up, but will in fact improve the IT systems' functionality as well as the business efficiencies. Leveraging experience and scale allows outsourcers to do so at a lower cost than most companies would be able to do it for themselves. The last thing a CIO needs to face is 'more mess for less'.
And what a mess it can be. There are five key areas of IT infrastructure management that impact on an organisation, and any or all of these may be the lit fuse leading to the dynamite store, that critical IT failure that changes a career.
The day-to-day end-user experience, the response to a user with a problem, the availability of applications and server infrastructure, the capacity and performance of the network and the way the estate is governed and secured. It requires a competent and steady hand to control the complexities that are not only about architecture and the infrastructure, but also about effective security, agile governance and business-cognisant policies which underlie them.
In the modern, connected world, an effective business requires service that operates in tune with today's 24/7 lifestyle. It also needs to be accessible anywhere, any time and from any device. Do companies want to run a service dealing with all the challenges such a round-the-clock offering creates, not to mention the additional expense of paying employees to be available at odd hours? Very few businesses do, which is why enterprises are increasingly turning to outsourcers and cloud solutions to handle this aspect of their operations.
Of course, increasing levels of enablement are constantly demanded of the service desk. Whether it is remote assistance, Web chat or self-help, today's users want instant access to these services any time they need it and from wherever they happen to be. Work has truly become a thing I do and not a place where I go. A good IT infrastructure management partner will be able to provide options that allow users to do exactly that.
End-user computing has also become more complicated as the trend towards "bring your own device" (BYOD) keeps growing. As more employees utilise their own devices in the workplace, new complications arise around issues such as standardisation, security of data, configuration management and repair of the device. Who takes responsibility for this - the company or the owner of the device? An obvious headache, but one which might be part of the service offering of an outsource provider, leaving the CIO the bandwidth to rather leverage the benefits of BYOD for the business.
The last thing a CIO needs to face is 'more mess for less'.
Compared to the complexities of end-user computing, the organisational challenge in the server environment is relatively simple: server sprawl and poor application performance is a common thread in most large enterprises. Legacy acquisition often resulted in vast arrays of technology being deployed, yet most servers run way below their capacity while business-critical applications are under-resourced. Virtualisation has improved utilisation and reduced this sprawl, but the ease with which a server can be provisioned today (even in the cloud) finds many companies fighting this battle again, but in the virtual world. Although simple to conceive, resolving and managing this complexity requires a level of visibility previously unknown. It is no longer a discussion about switch off or repurpose. With this kind of IT headache being one that approaches migraine status, most companies are looking for a different antidote, a new approach.
Making an impact
The final area of IT infrastructure management that should be of concern is that of the network. Still a costly commodity in SA, many large companies have expensive network links they no longer use or require. Reducing network sprawl is a very similar proposition to reducing server sprawl. The benefits include the potential to realise appreciable cost savings, tighter security, improved capacity for critical business applications, and a real impact on the company's bottom line. Is this a KPI for the outsource provider? Shouldn't it be?
Governance is no longer a boardroom debate. It has become an "on-the-ground" reality. Perhaps the most critical aspect of an outsourcer's offering is its role in cross-functional services. Whether this is something as simple as configuration management for an individual's device, or something as complex as business continuity, policies need to be translated into processes in order to maintain a sense of structure and order in the IT infrastructure environment.
It is here that an outsourcer adds possibly the greatest value to a business, as a good outsourcer brings to the table both the ability to shape policies and the capacity to add intelligence behind these policies, through a practical process that ensures smooth and secure operations for the business.
Today's decision to outsource is not just about eliminating a host of headaches on the operations side, nor is it merely a quick fix to removing complexity from the issue of IT infrastructure management. It is a strategic sourcing initiative to realise cost savings and greater business efficiencies in a dynamic virtual world where governance and security are not negotiable and CIOs need to add real intelligence behind decisions that impact their companies. Agility and flexibility are prerequisites and quantified benefit realisation is the measure of success.
Which ultimately then begs the question: if the IT infrastructure is a ticking time bomb that may blow up at any minute, can companies afford to ignore expert help and simply cut the blue wire while hoping for the best?
Allan Wattrus holds an MSc in engineering and serves as programme director for Outsource Optimisation at Bytes Technology Group (BTG). This is a role that is focused on enhancing the value that an outsource contract delivers to BTGâs clients. Prior to joining BTG, he spent 25 years working for Unisys Africa, where he held a similar position, being responsible for service delivery and outsourcing in the Africa region, including the Indian Ocean islands. His vast experience in the field of outsourcing has left him with a unique insight into the challenges posed by a complex modern IT infrastructure, and means he is ideally positioned to elucidate on both the dangers and the benefits of outsourcing. When he is not deeply embedded in the outsource world, he enjoys woodwork, technology design and helping people to realise their greater potential.