Disruptive Technology: A hybrid approach

Published in Computerworld UK

Emerging technology is having a revolutionary effect on the 21st century enterprise.

While emerging applications and services are galloping ahead, IT budgets are not – in fact they have been shrinking. And while modern solutions promise greater savings, productivity and competitive advantage, most organisations are not in a position to abandon the core legacy platforms that run their business.

The answer? A hybrid strategy that brings together both to achieve something better.

The perennial challenge for executives is assessing the business case for investing in newer technology and ensuring that any investments made are going to generate a considerable return on investment with demonstrable quick wins along the way.

The chicken and egg

The first hurdle when it comes to investment in new technology is that the lion’s share of any budget is typically already earmarked for maintaining expensive core legacy systems, leaving less available for new investment. The conundrum is that by introducing new solutions and services (such as the cloud), a significant portion of the budget could be saved by achieving greater cost and processing efficiencies, through new and more competitive pricing models, and by using applications that deliver competitive edge and new revenue opportunities.

So what does this mean? It indicates that part of any effective new business case requires that an accurate assessment be made of the opportunity costs of not migrating to faster, better, cheaper, innovative technology. This, of course, is not necessarily easy to answer and may require expert help, but once done can result in a seismic shift in attitude from ‘Don’t fix what ain’t broke’ to ‘We simply can’t afford NOT to modernise’.

A hybrid solution

For those organisations that realise they must embrace change and yet must also retain their core business platforms, the solution is to create a hybrid environment. Retain the tried and tested solutions that continue to run the business while introducing new technologies, devices and applications in a way that enhances productivity but doesn’t disrupt ongoing processes.

Take the data centre – arguably the nerve centre of any organisation. From server virtualisation software like VMWare to cloud services, there has been a plethora of new technologies over the past decade designed to boost functionality, increase business agility and reduce operational costs. When integrated into the existing data centre environment, these are less disruptive and usually more cost efficient than attempting to launch an entirely new build programme.

Consider the disruptive trend towards mobile technology and the virtual office. By, say, linking tablet devices into the central applications and databases, employees can be released into the field on a 24/7 basis with all of the resources they previously only had on their office desktop. Another example is the integration of a social media application like Facebook with videoconferencing, electronic document management and other work sharing tools, which adds up to a powerful and effective way of bringing the global workforce together within a virtual environment.

Considering the cloud?

No study of disruptive technologies is complete without a look at the ‘Cloud’ – probably the biggest game-changer in today’s IT landscape. Yes, there is a plethora of virtualisation scenarios that are jumping aboard the cloud bandwagon, leading to some confusion and making the options as broad as the possibilities are huge: public cloud, private cloud, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) or a myriad of hybrid options.

All things considered, however, there is no doubt that cloud services – once they have been ‘cut to measure’ according to business needs – can deliver vast cost efficiencies when compared to the traditional server environment. This is particularly true with large public or private cloud offerings. A private cloud service with better firewalls may be a preferred solution for those who perceive data security and other downside issues as disincentives.

In many ways private cloud services are similar to the classic IT service provider, but with the benefit of new, more flexible pay-as-you-go contract options. Other innovations include virtual server centres whereby providers such as Rackspace lease scaleable server facilities which can be added or subtracted according to changing business and computing needs. This flexibility can be very attractive to many organisations in the future.

Where to begin?

Well, this depends on your starting point and downstream objectives. In our experience, many clients are all too well aware that they need to find substantial efficiencies, but are unsure what their current cost/performance metrics are, where the weak spots lie, how well they are doing against their industry average, or what emerging technology is best suited to their needs.

There is often general agreement that a cloud-based strategy is the way forward, but the question of whether to simply outsource the whole environment to a cloud provider, or to retain some central cloud services inhouse remains a question. Even after these decisions have been made, the most advantageous pricing model and customer-centric contract arrangements still need to be identified.

What’s the best way forward through this maze? First, measure your current position or ‘where you stand’ vis-à-vis your inhouse/external service provision strategies and then factor in your technology migration and future business objectives.

As the future rushes towards us and options multiply, it’s not surprising that the way forward is not always clear. What IS clear, however, is that there is only one direction that makes sense: going forward.

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