Business Technology

Cutting through IT complexity means stepping back

6 min read

07 November 2017

Richard Blanford reflects on IT complexity and why tech infrastructure is like plumbing – it must support the services required in the locations desired.

Since coming back from holiday I seem to have spent most of my time talking to customers about IT complexity. For some it’s the increasing complexity of the IT decisions they face – what services to move to cloud, if any, how to prepare for the new data protection legislation (GDPR) or how best to handle increasing cyber security threats.

For others it’s how to get the most from their current IT infrastructure, which is probably much more complex than they need.

This IT complexity is normally as a result of a series of business decisions taken over many years, each one valid in itself and made on the basis of a strong business case but with little thought given to its effect on the organisation’s overall IT environment. The resulting complexity, managed by their IT team, consumes a vast amount of internal resource and cost whilst delivering very little real business benefit.

Before answering their questions, I remind them that IT infrastructure doesn’t provide value to a business. It’s only there to support three things: the business specific applications and data to run operation, the business process improvements that can be implemented more effectively using IT and the information and insights that can be gained from the data the organisation retains. The infrastructure they run on must simply be fit for purpose and work effectively.

IT infrastructure is like the plumbing in your house. It needs to support the services you want in the locations where you want them, from your power shower to your washing machine. But as long as it works, you rarely give it a second thought. However, if you keep adding new services, it will become increasingly complex and you’ll start to get problems such as lower water pressure.

Complexity also costs money. When we carried out benchmark studies across a range of organisations, we found that optimising IT infrastructure can save an organisation up to 25 per cent of its annual IT infrastructure budget.

So when someone asks me how to simplify their IT, I don’t immediately recommend new equipment or handing everything to a cloud provider. Instead, I suggest that they take a step back and consider what IT needs to do to support their business. Only when they understand that can they work out what’s right for their organisation.

This may sound somewhat counterintuitive when we offer, among other services, IT infrastructure! However, we’ve built our reputation on being an impartial trusted advisor, not a “box shifter”.  Sometimes, the best thing we can do is to ask the difficult questions – why are you doing things this way, what do your users really need and where are the pain points?

The best solution may be a short consultancy project, helping a customer review what they have and how to run it more efficiently. I’m always surprised at how many organisations have Microsoft desktop services but aren’t using the associated management tools effectively, and a review of applications and licences can almost always generate cost savings.

With one customer we found that it had installed new software but it wasn’t being used, so wasn’t providing the expected benefits. Another wasn’t aware of a vendor’s licensing policy for a specialist, expensive application. It had bought a licence for every user that required access without realising the licence was actually per concurrent user – it had 300 users but a quick analysis showed only 100 would ever be using it at the same time. We also had to point out that the vendor’s salesperson, who gets commission on the amount of licences sold, wasn’t actually the best person to advise them on this.

This also applies to cyber security – start by ensuring that you’re doing the basics right, using an assessment such as the government’s Cyber Essentials scheme, before spending a fortune on new technology. Chances are you have most of the security software you need; some integration, configuration assistance and better reporting is more likely to help than buying yet another one.

This may not be how people imagine the MD of an IT company spends his day, but as with many other things the 80:20 rule applies. Some 80 per cent of my time is spent in an advisory role, and only 20 per cent talking about the nuts and bolts of technology – fascinating though it is. It’s all about our core purpose, what can we usefully do to help our customers achieve better results, faster.

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.