by Paul Frick

Opinion

A new approach to IT infrastructure is key to harnessing new technology

Paul Fick - head and shoulder.jpg

An outside-in approach to IT infrastructure is emerging. Driven by megatrends such as the emergence of the cloud, the ubiquity of mobile devices and the growth of BYOD in the workplace, CIOs are moving away from owning infrastructure and IT solutions to making use of technology infrastructure and solutions on a pay-per-use basis. It’s an approach that is helping organisations harness new technologies to drive business, but is also introducing a changing infrastructure dynamic – one that requires careful consideration to address potential security and interoperability challenges.

The increasing availability of outsourced services, fully managed services and cloud-delivered services supports CIOs’ shift away from capex to opex models, and is giving impetus to the adoption of outside-in approaches to IT infrastructure. The reasoning is simple: why tie up capital that can be used to finance the business, when making use of an outsourced service or pay per use model will give the organisation the flexibility to scale the use of technology as needed.  A balance does need to be found between owning and using technology, however. Depending on the use case, a hybrid outside-in/inside-out approach may be optimal.

When is outside-in better than inside-out?

In making a decision between in-house and owned (inside-out) versus outsourced and cloud-based solutions, the key questions to ask include:

•           What is the comparative cost of the investments?

•           What is the potential medium to long term return on the investment?

•           How critical is the solution to the business?

•           What is the risk?

While the business case will differ for each organisation, the major outside-in approach challenges, namely security, integration and availability, should form part of the assessment.

Cost/benefit comparisons are important to make. There may be hidden costs. In addition to usage and licensing costs, organisations must consider implementation and running costs - e.g., bandwidth usage, data storage, SLAs, technology management and administration.

Cloud-based applications and outsourced solutions will also impact data security. As more organisations allow staff to make use of their own smartphone and tablet PC devices, the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend is taking hold. A mobile workforce can use cloud-delivered applications like Salesforce.com, Exchange, and service management applications very effectively. Unfortunately, cloud-based productivity solutions, besides enabling the workforce, may make sensitive enterprise information vulnerable. To manage this, organisations need to be able to control how these solutions integrate with enterprise applications, data and technology, and what users can access and download.

Availability of the solution remains an issue in South Africa where bandwidth can be limited. If the solution is going to be critical to the business, CIOs need to ensure there will be sufficient bandwidth to run the cloud-based application optimally – for office bound staff, remote workers and staff who travel a lot.

Weighing up the benefits

Solutions that are widely adopted offer proven benefits, with the depth of functionality and limitations well documented. Salesforce.com is a good example. It is a mature solution with proven capability that has been adopted globally by large and small businesses alike. Similarly, payroll solutions have long been outsourced and can be considered mature. While critical to organisations, it’s an outside-in decision that represents little risk.

Adoption of other outside-in solutions may depend on the objectives of the organisation, existing investments, and a multitude of other factors. For example, one organisation that requires a contact centre solution may see huge benefit in making use of a cloud-based pay-as-you-go outsourced solution as it may provide speed to market, scalability, reliability and savings on capex. Another company that has already made a large investment in the infrastructure, technology and staff needed for a contact centre may see little benefit in switching to an outsourced model.

Strike a balance

Making use of an outsourced, fully managed or cloud-based service clearly offers a number of benefits over ownership of IT infrastructure. But to successfully leverage an outside-in IT approach, a balance needs to be struck: the organisation cannot lose sight of the need to keep control of intellectual property, enforce a security policy, and ensure that the technology and applications the business relies on are stable and reliable. Above all, use of outside-in strategies must make business sense – the benefits must be tangible and the risks manageable.

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