How modern does your infrastructure need to be? The high level, seemingly safe answer to this question is that "enough" of any given technology or process has been put in place when that particular solution matches the business need. Finding this utopian point of solution fit is often trickier than it seems. It is critical however that as a technology leader, you think hard about the solutions you propose to the business. You must ensure you are not being whipped around by the latest technology trends being hyped to you by salesmen in blue blazers while at the same time ensuring that under your stewardship your organization is not missing opportunities engendered by emerging technologies. You must balance the opposing pressures of technology staff members who always see the benefit of the latest and greatest tools with the need to meet capital and operational budgets. The balance must be reached in a way that brings tangible benefit to the business. How do you deliver? I have found that staying focused on a few basics with respect to technology evaluations, business acumen and people management go a long way.
First, separate trends from true paradigm shifts. For example, no one would argue that the advent of virtualization technologies has brought about a true paradigm shift in the creation and management of corporate infrastructures. As a technology leader, you have to identify that and understand where your particular organization can benefit. With respect to something as technical as virtualization, it will likely be up to you to help educate the business about the benefits of making the virtual transition. Make sure you understand some the basics of your organizations business model and strategies in order to help guide your proposal and thinking around such paradigm changing technologies as virtualization. Be aware however that as vendors see these fundamental paradigm shifts happening, they will rush in with products to grab market share, not all of which will have staying power. Be cognizant of the vendors long-term plans for any given technology, how it fits into their strategic portfolio, how likely they are to continue to dedicate R&D dollars to the product 5 to 10 years from now.
Second, understand the real ROI potential of any new technology and take the time to analyze how your particular operation will benefit. See my post here for a discussion on calculating ROI and to download a spreadsheet model. Every particular technology operation has its specific set of characteristics that drive its cost structure. Before you recommend upgrading or changing any of them, know where you are and what your benefit will be. Don’t just use high level concepts in presentations to CFO’s such as “it will lower capital expense” or it will make us more flexible”. Dig deep and be specific, you may find there is no real benefit at all!
Third, understand your teams ability to support a new technology architecture on an ongoing basis. Think hard about what the true people cost will be when evaluating your need to move to a more modern technology infrastructure paradigm such as virtualization. Do you have the skill in house now? Do you have folks you can train? Will you need support from vendors on an ongoing basis? Make sure these “soft” considerations don’t get lost in the discussion over ROI with respect to a new technology. Training, retention, and outside support all help add the operational budget squeeze most technology managers feel. Make sure you are not putting your organization at risk with respect to available support resources just in order to introduce a newer technology or process.
Finally, make sure you are not pushing for a technology or process because you or your team “wants" to learn it. For example, many IT leaders see the value in and "want" to implement an ITIL based management process for their IT operations. This desire can easily turn into conversations with CFO's that start out as we "must" implement ITIL. Make sure any given technology or technology management practice fits the needs of your organization, that it truly has the potential to add value. Top notch technology folks crave to learn and use the latest technologies and process, harness that drive and focus it in the right places.
The above points are certainly not exhaustive but taken together they can help you think critically about technology architecture shifts or upgrades. Make sure you have truly thought out your decisions. Be willing to make hard decisions even if they are not the most popular with your team. Most importantly, be prepared to give a well thought out business case with respect to your current technology architecture state and your strategic plans for moving forward.