By Ian Callens, Icomm Technologies

It is not uncommon to find IT departments in small businesses weighed down by the job of maintaining software, hardware and infrastructures which grow increasingly unwieldy. Just keeping the lights on in the data centre is a real burden. This has a massive impact on the ability of IT teams to drive innovation that can deliver competitive advantage for the business.

The introduction of virtualisation and automation to the data centre will help free up the IT department yet many companies are failing to fully embrace simple changes that could have a significant impact on productivity. Here we examine three areas where spare capacity in the IT teams could have a significant impact on the bottom line for UK entrepreneurs.

1) Cyber vulnerabilities
IT departments could reduce the risks posed by cyber threats by enabling the IT team to respond faster to the needs of the business.

Since the emergence of cloud computing, individual departments are no longer waiting for IT to meet their requirements. Increasingly they are sourcing solutions themselves from external providers, rather than waiting for the IT department to resolve the issue.

As employees have begun to use cloud services, such as sync and share tools like Dropbox, this has created a headache for any business which has a requirement to keep sensitive data on premise.

Businesses need to give IT the ability to respond quicker to the needs of its staff and alleviate the tendency for employees to look for solutions outside the business.

Businesses can free up their IT divisions to meet these requirements by introducing automation within the data centre, or by reducing the amount of hardware which has to be maintained through virtualisation and consolidated storage.

2) Maintenance costs
The ability of IT to drive innovation in the business is being stifled by the cost of simply keeping the lights on.

The average cost of maintenance now eats up between 72% and 85% of IT budgets, depending on the analyst being quoted.

As a result, other areas of the organisation which have resources available are increasingly driving their own technology-based initiatives.

The introduction of automation and a reduction in hardware also means that IT needs to spend less on power and cooling, freeing up cash for new projects. It also creates spare capacity within the IT department by automatically carrying out checks and balances, on things like backup. This reduces many of the mundane and manual tasks currently carried out by IT staff.

3) Converged infrastructures
The IT department should be spending time on innovation, not integration. This is why converged infrastructures are becoming an increasingly attractive option for entrepreneurs.

By bringing components together and pooling resources in a converged infrastructure, organisations can also lower the overall costs of IT, create agile computing environments and enable the business to scale up and down using cloud computing.

Previously considered an expensive choice for businesses below the enterprise size, the cost of entry to converged infrastructures has now fallen to levels where smaller companies are sitting up and taking interest.

Converged infrastructures don’t necessarily mean that businesses need to deploy a ‘one shop fits all’ solution from a single vendor. In fact, the wisdom of this approach can be questioned. Customers receive the benefits of one name and one badge but the individual components are often not best of breed. In reality, a converged infrastructure requires co-operation between best of breed vendors. Getting this right could be the key to handing the IT department the means to innovate and deliver the competitive advantage businesses seek.