25/07/11

By Glyn Heath, MD and founder of Centiq

It is often assumed in business that any IT investment risks taken can be broadly measured in terms of critical outcomes such as sales growth, cheaper transactions or improved productivity. However, despite the scale or cost of these investments, many IT directors — consumed by workloads or perhaps overly trusting of technology vendors’ promises — seem reluctant (or even unaware) of the need to provide effective and regular insight into their IT infrastructure’s performance and how it will meet the changing needs of the business as it evolves.

Too often, company boards have little idea of how their IT assets contribute to the organisation’s bottom line. However, because they have to deploy ever more complex computing environments, IT directors are actually increasing the overall risk to their business by failing to look ahead to potential system issues. Repeated server crashes, creaking databases and slow network performance could be the first signs of serious infrastructure stress and poorly managed resources. This type of incident is an early warning of potentially serious risk to the business and not simply a one-off incident to be quickly patched up and forgotten about.

But, it is also unlikely that a business can accurately specify its requirements for any new hardware without accurate data on historical usage trends. Ultimately, this will affect the bottom-line and translate into rising and excessive infrastructure maintenance costs and poor system performance.

We regularly find that CIOs are being forced to take on considerable risk to keep their operations competitive. Many IT directors will no doubt play hard-ball during negotiations for implementation and testing or carve out additional support from a particular vendor beyond the immediate demands of the implementation. But with even small business running technology infrastructures based on a blend of vendors’ operating system and applications, what happens in the years afterwards?

Many CIOs lack the hard evidence to show how their technology systems are performing or the health of their investments going forward. How can CIOs and IT managers check that their technology systems are in a healthy state and find a way to pick up the warning signs and escalate matters without impeding their daily operations?

Ultimately, monitoring the IT infrastructure and application performance will provide the insight necessary to keep business systems running in an optimal state. Many businesses rely on their users notifying them of a problem, but monitoring allows the identification and resolution of issues before business services are adversely affected.
On a performance level, monitoring ensures that IT systems are in good working order and helps to identify states that could undermine service levels provided to the end user.

But, the ability to analyse historical trends and enhance the understanding of how the system is really being utilised over time gives businesses the invaluable evidence on which they can base forward-planning - using factual data and avoiding the ‘finger-in-the-air’ guesswork that sometimes accompanies new IT investments.

IT departments need to ask themselves the following key questions to minimise risk from ongoing technology investments:

Does your business have documented customer service expectations and minimum service levels that support them?

Do you have regular meetings to review customer satisfaction levels, processes and technology assets?

Can your outsourced IT provider or other solution provider deliver performance metrics that show the contribution of their systems to your business?

Do you have cross-platform monitoring tools in place that can provide externally-oriented, business-focused multiple-level metrics that help the board assess the health of technology assets and provide early warnings such as ‘traffic lights’ of potential issues associated with them?

If the answer to any of these, but especially the last question, is no, then your business could be struggling to detect early warnings of system capacity issues or plan the way your IT infrastructure supports the board’s vision for core business operations. Monitoring your technology investments is the way to start managing risk and providing the much-hyped agile IT operation.