Richard Barker, CEO of Sovereign Business Integration, argues that the recession will turn IT white elephants into endangered species.
The past decade has been defined by conspicuous consumption across the board. The cheaper goods have become, the more the nation has bought. And the IT department has been one of the biggest culprits in encouraging this ‘pile it high’ culture. Cheap servers, network bandwidth and storage have encouraged inept practices and allowed users to treat the corporate network as an extension of their personal online presence, from sharing holiday photographs to downloading music.
As organisations retrench in the recession, the IT department should stop focusing on infrastructure and adopt a business-based strategy. By imposing control over the usage of IT resources through strong information management and clear user guidelines, organisations can achieve a far more robust, less expensive and sustainable IT infrastructure.
When selected wisely and used economically, IT is the most effective business enabler industry has ever seen. But prudence has not been on the agenda for the majority of IT departments in recent years. Released from the constraints of expensive hardware and storage technology experienced throughout the 70s, 80s and early 90s, most departments have adopted a relaxed attitude over the past decade to expanding the infrastructure, a move that has seen storage capacity double year-on-year.
And while times were good, such strategies appeared viable – on the surface at least. Adding components at will enabled organisations to adopt a ‘store everything’ approach, easing compliance requirements and theoretically ensuring that critical business information was always available.
The result has been an investment in terabytes of storage which, even at vastly reduced prices, is still a significant overhead. Furthermore, such careless IT and information management is, in reality, a hindrance. Not only has it added unnecessary cost and complexity to many organisations but it has also created massive business continuity risks.
Continuously tumbling prices for servers, networks and disk space and ever-increasing capacity that apparently delivered a seemingly endless supply of additional resource have encouraged appallingly inefficient IT practices.
Most notable is the way in which organisations have allowed, or even encouraged, users to share information with little thought to the control or infrastructure implications. Emails, with attachments, are regularly copied to tens of people and hence stored multiple times. One individual makes a change, resends the document, and it is stored numerous times again, creating an unnecessary storage requirement and using up additional bandwidth as the emails pass around the network.
Organisations are now also choosing to store everything online, yet how often is this information required and, frankly, how long will it take to retrieve? Even the most stringent regulations that demand information to be held for several years do not expect companies to retain it online – an archived record is fine. So why are organisations wasting huge amounts of money and resources on near-line storage of information that is simply not required for day-to-day business?
Many companies use digital cameras to share images with customers, but how many recognise the bandwidth implications of higher resolution pictures? Those cameras offering the highest resolution can use up to ten times as much bandwidth as slightly lower resolution alternatives. But is anyone in IT counting the cost?
Furthermore, there has been a change in attitude: most users expect to use the office network for personal use; they share multimedia files and download music to their MP3 players. Yet the implications for network performance are extraordinary: in one organisation, a single user’s music files took over 48 hours to travel around the network, causing huge productivity delays – with the attendant operational cost.
This lack of discipline in information management, from personal use to poor practices, has dramatically increased the resources consumed by the average IT infrastructure. And while the costs may have appeared irrelevant in the past, today, with budgets being slashed and user numbers reduced, such a cavalier attitude has to change.
And just how many business leaders realise that this explosion in information and infrastructure is fundamentally compromising business continuity? Do they recognise the new challenges in place for effective disaster recovery strategies?
Buying the extra resource once is fine maybe, but having to buy it twice to cope with the increased DR demand is madness. And just how long will it take to restore all this unplanned, uncoordinated data? In the majority of cases, while an organisation may ideally want a maximum three-hour recovery time for key systems, simply restoring the data will be likely to take over 12 hours, fundamentally undermining operational risk management.
Systems resource may be cheap, but it still has a cost. And in today’s economy, any cost is a negative drain on the balance sheet. Simple changes to the way in which files are managed, shared, stored and re-used can make a tremendous difference to the amount of server space a company needs. This in turn will reduce back-up requirements and make recovery from any disaster quicker, easier and potentially less expensive.
Furthermore, judicious management of resources can significantly extend the lifetime of equipment, delivering further savings to the IT budget.
IT departments need to stop throwing infrastructure at a demanding user base. They need to regain control and recognise that this is a business issue, not a technical one. Yes, wise investment in technology that will enable business in the leanest way possible is key to minimising bandwidth and maximising business efficiency. But attitude is key. The workforce must be educated in best practice and strong controls put in place to ensure reasonable use of resources.
If there is one good thing to come out of the recession, it will be that organisations will become far more prudent when it comes to purchasing and managing technology. There will be a return to the sustainable practices of the past. Users will not be allowed to exploit the corporate network or to consume essential bandwidth for their personal needs, and strong information management policies will be enforced to improve efficiency and reduce the demand on the infrastructure.
And critically, IT resources will be mustered to support not only day-to-day requirements but also to ensure that the DR strategy is workable and affordable.
IT departments may be feeling the pinch. But a return to good, business-based IT practices will not only enable organisations to address IT costs today but will stand them in excellent stead as the recession lifts and the economic outlook brightens.
Richard Barker is CEO of Sovereign Business Integration.