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Stuck in Traffic on the Information Superhighway? By Assessing Your Alignment, Experience and Technology, You Can Shift into the Fast Lane

Stuck in Traffic on the Information Superhighway?

By Assessing Your Alignment, Experience and Technology, You Can Shift into the Fast Lane

By Tim Hebert

Investing heavily in IT, many consultants race to leverage new software and applications and technology as quickly as possible with little regard to their existing network infrastructure. Soon, their overtaxed IT systems become inadequate and unreliable as traffic backs up and slows down like any major city's rush hour.

Of course, consultants must have an always–on network infrastructure since poorly performing systems or outages are no longer acceptable. When system downtimes occur, they can have real effects on our bottom line. Our productivity drops; our efficiency plummets.

All manner of collaboration tools, voice/video solutions and business software have become intertwined into the real–time fabric of our practices. This network infrastructure equals the roads, highways, train stations and airports we depend on for our transportation needs. When our IT system functions correctly, we (and our clients, vendors, subcontractors, etc.) are happy. But when our IT breaks down, it's a catastrophe—and if it happens to a great many of us at the same time, front–page news! Such breakdowns can cripple our business.

Unfortunately, when many consultants recognize infrastructure problems, they often reach for such easy fixes as hardware upgrades or additional capacity (such as more memory). But sometimes IT problems do not lend themselves to quick and easy fixes as there may be several root causes—perhaps in the technology itself, in the operational processes, in your organizational structure, your failure to use best practices or a combination of all the above.

To understand the true causes of your network problems, conduct a network infrastructure assessment. This is a comprehensive study of your IT infrastructure to ensure that it is strong, reliable and ready to support the objectives of your business—today and in the future.

However, most firms and practitioners fail to make such a thorough assessment because they are narrowly focused on technology. They ask questions like: Is my technology outdated, powerful or secure enough? Does it have enough features? But conducting an infrastructure assessment this way is like repaving a highway to get more throughput—when actually more lanes are needed!

Successful IT assessments thus focus on three key areas: alignment, experience and technology.

Alignment with Business Goals

Often, business change creates alignment gaps between your IT infrastructure and business goals. This creates inconsistencies in technology, processes and people skills that will weaken your infrastructure stability, hamper operational efficiency and reduce profitability. Alignment begins at the foundation, reviewing up the business plan to understand overall corporate strategy. Then, collaborating with your business' key stakeholders to understand primary business drivers allows you to establish a baseline of technologies, processes and people that impact your business and IT infrastructure. Aligning your business needs and goals with your organization's IT infrastructure will improve operational efficiencies, reduce costs, enhance security and help ensure regulatory compliance.

User Experience

You're late for work and you're stuck in rush–hour traffic. You feel stressed, angry and frustrated. You may feel exactly the same way when using a poorly built and/or maintained infrastructure. Assess your overall satisfaction of your IT services, including whether your networks, systems, applications, process, facilities and people are working well. What's the true experience of you the user (and other users)?

Poorly educated or trained technology users combined with weak support systems cause artificial business bottlenecks that can disable your practice. Understanding all users' experiences will allow you to eliminate potential obstacles that would be present regardless of how much money you have spent on technology. Technology should unleash the power of you and your people, not hold it back.

Technology and Operational Disciplines

Finally, examine the architecture, design, implementation and management of your technology. Many firms review the age of their hardware platforms, the level of their software revisions, available features, functionality of existing devices and so forth. But in doing so, they neglect to examine the interrelated disciplines that must be well managed. Technology must be coupled with operational disciplines such as vendor management, security, problem reporting and escalation, system recovery, configuration management and change management.

So your assessment should provide a candid evaluation of how well your IT infrastructure supports your practice overall and what specific actions should be taken to improve the alignment, performance and cost of your IT infrastructure. By focusing on root causes, not just symptoms, your assessment will include specific recommendations resulting in significant and measurable improvements. This will unlock IT's promise of improved productivity, increased efficiency and a stronger bottom line. By creating such an always–on infrastructure, you'll watch your business surge forward into the information superhighway fast lane.

Tim Hebert is chief executive officer with Atrion Networking Corporation, in Warwick, R.I., a systems integrator and network services provider. He can be contacted at thebert@atrion.net or 401.736.6400 or by visiting Atrion.net.