Over the past 15 years, there has been a dramatic increase in the scale of corporate IT infrastructure. At many companies, IT has gone from having a couple of dozen servers in the basement to sophisticated data centres housing thousands or even tens of thousands of servers. During the early 1990’s networked storage barely existed, but these days in large organisations tens of millions of dollars are spent on it.
This expansion has occurred for some very good reasons. IT infrastructure supports analytical tools that assist managers and executives with making and communicating the decisions that shape complex organisations, manages consumer data that provides market insights, and runs applications for processing transactions. In fact, in recent years, much of the increased productivity and corporate growth has been made possible by infrastructure.
However, given how widespread and commonplace that networking, storage, and computing technologies have become, it has resulted in some executives to view IT infrastructure as if it was a commodity. It is a mistake to view these technologies that way. It is true that components such as storage and servers – as well as some support processes, like application monitoring – have become commoditised. However, when an infrastructure operation is effective it creates value by making sound decisions about which technologies should be utilised and how they should be integrated. Although technology products purchased from vendors are commodities, being able to bring together the software, hardware and support to be able to provide the best combination of features, resiliency, and cost for new applications is not a commodity.
Sources of Value
There is plenty of evidence that using infrastructure creatively has helped many leading companies become more efficient, improve their customer experience and redefine their business models. Implementing effective IT infrastructures and rules such as the duplicate detection rules on your CRM system could be the difference that makes IT infrastructure more than just a commodity at an organisation.
Real-time data collection
British and U.S. insurance companies use sensors and GPS devices to record vehicle speed as well as damage to them. Manufacturing companies use radio frequency identification (RIFD) tags for insights into how goods are moving through supply chains to help them reduce their inventory levels. In these situations, infrastructure manages and supports the sensors as well as other devices used to capture information inexpensively and reliably.
In the pharmaceutical industry, manufacturers and companies deploy inexpensive computing grids that make it possible to develop products as well develop and test drugs that even ten years ago would not have been possible.
Speed to market
Across all industries, having fast reaction times provides companies with certain advantages like being able to get sales offices set up quickly in territories that are growing rapidly, to provide strong off-site support to customers for their projects, and to meet the demand services whenever there is a surge in online interactions. The best infrastructure units are able to support all of those goals and much more.
The best service providers and retailers allow their customers to communicate with them in person, and via kiosks, call centres, and cell phones. In order to provide a good customer experience, companies need to be able to flexibly switch and route customers across various kinds of networks. An infrastructure needs to be well-tuned to be able to provide this type of flexibility.
Clerical, professional, technical, sales and managerial personnel do a majority of their work using corporate infrastructure, ranging from smartphones to desktop productivity tools. Infrastructure organisations that want to create value need to make decisions about certain issues like striking a balance between ease of use and security, where video conferencing equipment should be deployed, and which kinds of personal devices should be used.
Many application developers end up spending as much as one-third of their time working as amateur systems engineers, devoting hours of their time to consulting with network and server teams, trying to deal with various incompatibilities, as well as struggling to select technologies that will bridge these gaps. Their time could be better spent on writing code or modelling applications for various business processes.
How to Engage With Business Leaders
So what do you need to do to help business leaders understand the true value of infrastructure – without appearing to be protective of your turf? There are several approaches that we have found to work quite well.
Be credible about the basics
More than ever before, business leaders are demanding solid execution on service levels and costs before they are willing to consider taking things to the next level. They view innovation and value creation as being a compliment to efficiency, rather than a substitute.
Understand what the pain points are
Infrastructure affects all aspects of a business. This central position should be used to determine which groups are struggling with analytics, where to cheaply and quickly open and close sites, or who needs to get the most value out of their development teams the most.
IT infrastructure organisations can be positions to not merely be order takers, but as partners that help to determine and execute the business strategy of companies.