Dan McLean: On tour with a simple message: manage your infrastructure

At the Edge

The value and benefits of IT infrastructure management remain a mystery to many – a notion recently discovered yet again by yours truly during a presentation series that toured Canada and the Eastern U.S.

So for those who may not have attended those presentations given in four Canadian cities and two locations in the U.S., allow me to summarize, in 800 words or less, the gist of a discussion I gave.

It begins with an overview assessment of business computing in general, how it today demands increasing performance to support ever-increasing numbers of users, processes and applications through highly distributed enterprise communication architectures. The point is then made regarding the need for reliability – that for many businesses, enterprise data communications have moved ahead of voice of the type considered most crucial to the continual operation of that business.

But the challenge or “disconnect,” if you will, between what’s needed and how business organizations address the problem comes about in the way that IS departments attempt to ensure reliability, availability and performance for users: through a people, rather than a processes, approach. That means IS typically looks to resolve network communications problems with staff resources after things break, rather than employing more sophisticated infrastructure management tools designed to provide deeper views of traffic and performance, and achieve a more proactive approach.

Among the key messages at this juncture of the presentation is to point out that businesses can neither hire enough people to address the problems nor can many continue on with poorly performing and increasingly complex IT infrastructures. It is the complexity of increasing numbers of users, richer and more business-critical applications being layered upon networks and systems that is driving enterprise communication infrastructures to the breaking point. Many businesses simply can’t continue along a path of reactive management and are finding it necessary to rethink entire IT infrastructure management approaches.

And if a business is considering the addition of an e-business-type supporting infrastructure on top of an existing one already stressed and breaking at the seams, then that company is asking for trouble.

At the same time, tight budgets continually force IS departments to do more with less, particularly on the operational side.

So the answer to improved enterprise communications and computing performance and reliability is through the utilization of management tools or processes that provide better insight and automated function, among other things, but the question becomes how to justify the cost.

During the presentation, I’ve suggested measuring benefits and payback through a return on investment (ROI) approach, which measures the value of management productivity, management efficiency and availability. It’s a matter of accurately determining the monetary value of performance, reliability and availability from a business perspective.

Referenced is an IDC ROI study, which examined the use of infrastructure management tools by 30 large businesses. These companies detailed improvements in IT management and application availability achieved through the use of tools and process, then determined the actual dollar value of these savings to their businesses, then subtracted from that total the cost of purchasing and implementing the management tools.

ROI is an important consideration here. The more traditional approach of total cost of ownership doesn’t tell the story from an IT infrastructure management perspective, because TCO does not take into account the business value that management brings. TCO, in this case, represents only one side of the ledger – cost.

In the case of these 30 companies that were used in the IDC study, an average of 13,800 staff hours for systems software deployment were saved through the use of tools that automated this function. Additionally, a third of travel time by IS staff to resolve a variety of problems was also shaved, due to an improved ability to anticipate, quickly discover and automatically, from a central location, resolve infrastructure failures or problems.

Downtime was reduced from an average of 3.2 hours per month to less than an hour, which translated into a huge elimination of potentially lost revenue due to systems/network unavailability. An hour of downtime translated into more than US$16,000 in lost revenue.

The bottom line for these companies was investment payback in 55 days and a return on investment of nearly 700 per cent over three years.

It’s usually at this point in the presentation that I caution listeners that determining both the payback and exact monetary value of these aforementioned ROI factors is an extremely subjective exercise. Payback can range dramatically. However, the bottom line is that when you measure, in business terms, the value achieved through a high-performance IT infrastructure and, more importantly, the business implications of poorly performing networks and systems, the price of IT infrastructure management by comparison is relatively cheap.

The fact is that many companies who have made significant investments in IT management haven’t even considered a disciplined ROI exercise, but were simply compelled to improve the supporting infrastructure in order to alleviate the frustrations of users, partners and customers. ROI is a bonus and provides an additional tool for justification.

Still, IT infrastructure management remains an afterthought and a reluctant spend, especially for those who’ve spent a whole lot of cash on expensive new or retrofitted networks or systems, and find it tough to dole out more dollars for management, even though there’s obvious compelling payback for many.

It’s at this point that I thank you all for listening and wait for the applause. If there are any questions, my e-mail is below.