Are Trends in the External Market a Threat to your Organisation?

photo credit: Horia Varlan via photopin cc

photo credit: Horia Varlan via photopin cc

On our cibsys website we have been writing about the challenges of governing your IT portfolio - http://www.cibsys.com/index.php/ten-questions-to-ask-your-it-department/.  When thinking about this sort of thing it is also worth considering how your organisation responds to the external market place and the sometimes radical trends that come at organisations.  Out there in the sea of the real world there are millions of ideas surfacing every day;  these ideas coalesce into waves that can batter an organisation.  Increasingly we have seen waves of disruptive technology hit businesses and there is now a blur between business strategy and IT/technical strategy, so much so that the two become more and more intertwined.  Each organisation needs to have a process for watching the sea of IT technology and trends (and the same in the wider market place) and decide which waves it needs to catch.

Some organisations will try and catch every wave and surf ahead of the pack, others will lag behind and miss their chance to surf at all.  Choosing the right wave to catch and surf in the stormy sea of technical change is clearly critical.
 

Ten Questions to ask yourself

Here are ten questions to ask about the IT market place and its influence on your organisation to help you decide the right waves to ride:
 
     1) How long are the warranties with the hardware you have in place ? When will the hardware come to the end of its service life? Are these kept in line?
     2) Is there a policy to replace kit when it reached end of service life or do you wait until it breaks?
 
It is tempting from a cash-flow perspective to minimise costs by only replacing hardware when it is broken. However, a break-fix policy will ultimately cost in other areas; operational failures will rise if older equipment starts to fail and disrupt production systems.  Getting the balance between maximising the use of older systems versus active replacement is an art that is similar to the choices we face when replacing a car. We know that we can keep servicing it but we also know eventually it will fail just when we need it most.  So review your hardware regularly and make sure it is fit for purpose.
 
     3) Is there a policy to keep external software versions up to date with latest / penultimate versions of software? Are these covered by current support contracts and licences?
     4) Why are software versions not the latest or penultimate versions?  What is the cost/risk of the upgrade?
 
Every software upgrade comes with a price tag and some risk.  We all know the perils of hitting download on our PCs to take the next version of software and taking the gamble of it being better or worse.  In a bigger organisation there is a natural resistance to change of any kind and it is a constant battle to keep software up to date. In the desktop arena there is a choice of letting the consumers set the standard and upgrade at will, making support more complex if different people have different versions. Conversely not allowing any change can hold the organisation back, and eventually exchanging information with external customers or even within the organisation can become impossible.  On the larger scale, corporate software lagging the market can start to cost in terms of service contracts and supportability.  In both cases knowing the investment and quantifying the risks can help to actively manage the right point for each upgrade.
 
     5) Where software or hardware is old/not current is there support available from the supplier?  Is this in place?
     6) Is there an active regular review of the entire software and hardware portfolio for upgrade and/or decommission?
 
Lagging the market in terms of versions may seem attractive at first as the support costs are minimised and the effort to upgrade is avoided.  Over time lagging becomes more and more costly as suppliers push support and warranty prices up on older versions until the cost becomes prohibitive and a change is forced.  It is rarely worth waiting so long that the supplier is pushing the upgrade, so being proactive and setting the right time will ensure the best possible price to performance for the organisation.
 
     7) Is the active review on a portfolio basis as well as each individual component?
     8) Is someone in the organisation tasked with and actively reviewing the IT market place for trends and opportunities?
 
Looking at the whole portfolio is what www.strategy4it.com is all about.  You can use Strategy4IT to map your organisation and its use of software and hardware in a way to manage the whole portfolio and review what to keep, what to upgrade and what to replace.  Of course you can do this without a tool but our method will save you a large cost and make it repeatable.  Whatever you do don’t ignore a look at the whole portfolio as well as reviewing the components individually.
 
     9) How are more radical and disruptive ideas captured in the organisation ? Are these encouraged and do people know where to direct them?
     10) Does the IT market place review get board attention on a periodic basis?
 
Finally, make sure that the wider market trends are included in your look at the IT portfolio.  We have seen the various IT revolutions kill off companies that failed to spot the trends and ride forward.  Missed opportunities can mean the end of an organisation more quickly than a higher cost base from lagging support contract ever can.  Think about the big trends of the last ten years – online shops killing the high street, downloads killing the media business, and before that the PC and email revolutions – all have killed companies.  Make sure your company is aware of the trends in the market; it may be social media, big data or mobile but the next technology change is around the corner and watching for it will help your organisation decide on it and thrive.
 
So are you going to surf ahead of the pack or wait until the IT wave overturns your organisation?  Make time for an IT strategic review now.
 

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