Does your IT team have CDD?

by Mark Swanson

No one can argue against the fact that the depth and breadth of business technologies in use today has gotten, well, much deeper and wider in the last decade. Ten years ago, IT teams primarily worried about desktops, servers and network connectivity. The corporate marketing department primarily managed websites as ‘brochureware,’ smart phones did not exist, only one out of 10 computers were portable laptops, and there was a ‘phone guy’ who managed the phone system.

Today, the situation is dramatically different. Not only do IT teams have to manage traditional IT services, but they also must corral all the new information technologies that have emerged in the past decade. The expanding list of new technologies is growing faster than the national debt — smart phones, tablet computers, remote desktops, VPNs, VoIP, the cloud, the list goes on and on.

“This has led to a condition among CIOs and IT managers that I refer to as competency deficit disorder (CDD).” I define CDD as the inability to manage the various technologies that you choose to deploy in your business. It happens when IT’s focus moves from delivering strategic value to the business to pursuing an agenda of buying technologies as a response to management’s obsession with cost control. When you choose to purchase based only on cost, you make dumb decisions like buying cheap while at the same time paring down your IT staff and bringing previously outsourced services in house. The result is your remaining staff runs around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to fix things that break more often and that they have little or no training on. It’s like a never-ending tsunami of problems. These keep you from focusing on the projects that move the business forward.

How does the emergence of cloud technologies impact CDD? The cloud is the solution to CDD. Well, not quite, but the availability of cloud-based IT solutions offers some cures for CDD. One primary benefit is the reduction in wasted software licenses. A 2001 study claimed that 30 percent of software that companies bought was never even deployed — costing businesses an astonishing $130 billion. The primary reason was that IT personnel did not have the time to develop a competency to get the software up and running. The great advantage of Software as a Service (SaaS) is that you can start with one seat, try it out, and if it works, scale from there. If not, turn it off.

Another big cure is the ability to have a support staff that knows the product when you need it. A lot of times when a system breaks, it might not have been touched for months. Your support staff might not even remember the log-in password. You can’t have competency in a system that is barely used and you can’t afford to pay someone to maintain that expertise. I have Cisco Certified Engineers on staff that cost more than $100,000 and use that skill every day. The point is to choose — narrowly — the systems your IT team should focus on and find good cloud-based providers who have that competency for the rest.

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The Cloud – Why Now?

by Mark Swanson

Despite the cloud’s popularity, there is still confusion as to how the cloud is different from previous information technology services. A common question is, “What’s the difference between the cloud, an application service provider (ASP) and software as a service (SaaS)?”

The answer in one simple word is: nothing. The cloud is a fairly recent term that encompasses the old ASP or SaaS business models. Many cloud applications, such as e-mail and http://www.Salesforce.com, have been around for over a decade. So the real question is, “Why has the cloud emerged so quickly and strongly as the latest IT buzzword?”

I actually had a discussion with a colleague at a tradeshow recently about this very topic. We discussed the factors that are fundamentally driving the adoption of cloud technologies today. The one thing that absolutely stood out was the emergence of ‘ubiquitous broadband’ or the ability to access online applications and data anytime, anywhere. Ubiquitous broadband frees you from worrying about being stranded without access to your data and applications. As connectivity is everywhere, you can now retrieve data and use applications on all the various devices you have — a smartphone, notebook computer, iPad, whatever.

It has fundamentally changed the way we interact with each other personally (i.e. replacing face-to-face interaction with online interaction), as well as how we operate as businesses. No longer are we tethered to an office or to our laptop computers. Ubiquitous broadband has led to ubiquitous data and applications, available anytime and anywhere. It has redefined the way we work. Just think about it — for many people, employment used to mean driving to an office. Now it means connecting to a network where you get things done.

What this has meant for me is that I no longer have to take my notebook computer on business trips. I can always tap into e-mail, have access to all my company’s information and retrieve files using my DropBox program, regardless of where I am using either the 3G or WiFi.

The rollout of 4G wireless this year means much higher bandwidth speeds, which will open the door for a plethora of new devices and applications that will enable business users to leverage this new technology. I am thinking about how we can use this new technology to help our customers. You should too!