IT managers face a tough battle convincing higher-ups that more bandwidth, bigger networks or the latest software will accelerate business. These days, disruption is so common in every industry it’s almost the status quo. Failing to invest in the future means companies can miss out on the latest innovations. And these are coming thick and fast. Drones, autonomous vehicles, Artificial Intelligence (AI), video networks, as well as a swelling army of remote workers — all require a solid, high-performance network behind them.
IT managers would be entitled to ask slow-moving CEOs whether they could afford to risk becoming disrupted by a faster moving competitor. The pushback will of course come from the financial controllers who keep a close eye on spending and profits. Unfortunately, many CFOs lack an understanding of technological issues and their impact on long-term planning.
So how do you achieve the right balance in technology investment and planning? How do you avoid constantly kicking the future into the long grass, until it’s too late?
The way to win C-level execs is to go for genuine leaps in improvement, not marginal gains, says Zack Levy, a partner in Deloitte’s DevOps team.
“How do you use the same team of five to do previously what required 25 people? Because that’s the standard today. You have to do five to 10 times as much and be five to 10 times as productive,” Levy says. “That’s the investment (required) and that’s hard.”
Often it’s not about investing in hardware or infrastructure, but in people. Storage, bandwidth, processing power can all be increased on demand if you’re using hosted services, such as Telstra Cloud Services, Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure.
The biggest improvements can come from teaching staff to do something different to what they did yesterday.
“Upskilling and investing resources in something that’s fundamentally different to before. That’s where the real investment is,” Levy says. “It’s a lot about mindset and almost like a leap of faith. How do you combine old and new technology to do things faster?”
Taking it to the clouds
One of the strongest trends in business is the shift from server-based applications to online or cloud applications. Software developers have moved en masse from designing apps for in-house servers to SaaS. This has led to an explosion in niche business apps designed to raise productivity within SMEs.
Some companies have chucked in the server altogether and run solely on a collection of online apps. However, even these more progressive businesses can fail to recognise the importance of investing in their network. This often happens when software companies oversell the “cloud story”.
“A lot of people see cloud software and think the provider’s taking care of all the stuff at the other end, so I don’t need to think about all that,” says Dan Fairbairn, the Australian operations manager for Ocius Digital, a cloud-software consultancy. “But you still need to get to that somehow.”
Fairbairn explains to clients that they need to think about their network in the same way they used to think about their server. The more you spend on a bigger, faster server, the more power it will give its applications so that everyone can use them effectively.
The same is true for networks. When companies fail to assess how much traffic will pass over their networks, they under-invest and wonder why cloud apps fail to perform as promised.
“We are seeing clients with entirely web-based operations. It essentially means you’re only as good as your Internet connection,” Fairbairn says.
One common misunderstanding in Australia is the importance of upload speeds. Non-technical senior management can look at the download speed of 10 Mbits per second and ask why they can’t send a CAD file to an engineering firm.
“You may think you have the fastest download in the world, but we see a lot of clients killed by upload speeds,” Fairbairn says.
Video is one of the biggest bandwidth killers. Some IT managers are restricting access to YouTube to minimise the impact of staff watching recreational videos during work hours or on breaks. However, legitimate use of video is booming. Increasingly, business conversations occur over webinar software, such as GoToWebinar or Zoom, or via the video-conferencing solutions built into Microsoft Office 365 (Skype) and Google G Suite (Hangouts). A video call creates a stronger connection because body language can communicate as much or more than the words spoken.
Training and education is also moving to video too. Training sites - such as Udemy, Lynda, Udacity and others - provide technical and business classes for marketing, software development, leadership and sales. And YouTube has a lot of peer-created content, which can be very useful for finding solutions to technical problems.
Fairbairn now records all training and meetings and uses video snippets to share instructions. Previously a one-hour training video would take over an hour to upload. It would hog the bandwidth and no one could use the network for anything but basic web browsing.
Now Ocius Digital has moved to a 100/25 Mbit NBN connection, meaning a gigabyte file uploads in five to 10 minutes.
When to work a weekend
The best shot at convincing senior management about the value of technology is to show them. Find a way to demonstrate how to solve a business problem at a small scale. When you make the business case first, the CFO will be more willing to invest in the solution.
“The way that I’ve been successful is with proof of concepts,” says Levy, who used to put them together as a weekend project. “Take something that’s caused pain or was broken or slow and use the new technology to fix it.”
The trick is to make sure the problem is meaningful to your audience. For example, say the e-commerce website crashed and took three hours to bring back up. The CIO or CFO remember it because the company lost three hours of revenue. If you do a demo with new technology that takes three minutes to restore the site then you’re likely to win approval on the spot.