This organisation decentralised its IT support for valid reasons - to respond quickly to acquisitions and other forms of growth, and presumably for better cost-justification and containment of IT spending as well as to align IT resources with business unit needs.

However, its decentralised approach has had costly long-term results. Lack of standards, availability problems, and security and compliance challenges have led to decreased productivity, increased risk of business interruption, and - in all likelihood - unnecessary spending.

The first challenge in cases such as this is not choosing the right technology, but finding a more effective IT management mindset. As Einstein is reported to have said, "a problem cannot be solved by the thinking that created it." Corporate IT groups can suffer as easily as siloed groups from an "incrementalist" mindset, especially when confronted with the enticements of emerging technologies.

Grouping the problems
The first step toward adopting a more effective mindset, and thus reducing cost and risk, is to examine how problems relate to one another, and what integrated set of solutions best addresses each group of issues. Based on many conversations with organisations like this fictitious manufacturer, we have found a range of IT issues that fall within six basic solution set areas.

1. IT portfolio management: The ability to tackle standardisation issues of the sort described in the example requires knowing what you have. Inventory auditing and asset tracking provide that information. For any organisation, but especially one with older, less reliable equipment, streamlined maintenance contract management can help minimise business interruption by assuring that equipment failures will be repaired within required timeframes.

Together, these services - along with software licence management - constitute overall IT portfolio management. The information they provide facilitates easier short- and long-term management, as well as better ROI measurement. This enables more strategic investments. Given the challenges facing this organisation, one would have to ask: Do the IT executives really know what they have? Do they really know how individual technology assets support specific business functions?

2. Server optimisation: Technology and platform fashions aside, server, storage and network concerns come down to performance, availability, interoperability, manageability and budget. Recent proliferation, concerns about aging equipment and a "mish-mash" of technologies can be red flags that the time has come to assess the IT environment. However, effective server optimisation methodology requires stepping back to ask questions such as: How do we ensure that we meet our service-level agreements to our customers? Can we find a solution that is better, faster, less expensive and more secure?

3. Storage optimisation: The same is true for storage and networks. In examining the need for storage optimisation, deciding whether virtual storage (or a storage-area network) is the appropriate technology solution is secondary to determining if and how the current state of storage is affecting business performance, recoverability and compliance-readiness. Critical questions include: Are our backups done properly? Can we really recover? Do we treat all data the same even though some data is far more valuable than other data? Do we know what data we have and where it is?

4. Network optimisation: Network infrastructure is most often the gating factor to overall application performance and availability. And "new data centre" technologies such as IP communications, optical and wireless offer tremendous promise. However, organisations can run into trouble putting the cart before the horse in terms of when and why they implement the new technologies.

Network optimisation requires asking questions such as: What connectivity standards do we need to support the performance requirements of our different business units and locations? Could network convergence help us cut our communication costs? Is our network ready to support our upcoming IP telephony initiative? Thinking about networks also must lead to a consideration of security - though security goes well beyond the network.

The upshot: This company needs a new mindset before it can venture into new data centre planning.

5. IT risk management: Compliance, security and business continuity/disaster recovery concerns together constitute IT risk management. The biggest mistake many companies make is to defer risk management initiatives until after they've "covered the basics" with regard to infrastructure. This is more risky and costly than an integrated approach.

IT risk management is not a technology; it is the way a company builds and manages its enterprise and its processes to handle varied risk factors, from security threats and vulnerabilities to compliance audits to knowing the answers to questions such as: What would happen to our business operations, and bottom line, if the candle factory next door caught fire? What damage could a savvy, ill-intentioned hacker do?

6. Sourcing: To execute effectively based on the new mindset, our hypothetical organisation also might want to look at sourcing options, asking the questions: How do we find the resources to manage and execute all of the initiatives required to fix our major problems and turn IT into a true services organisation capable of enabling the business? How do we know our IT team is looking at the big picture? The first question here is not "Do we in-source or out-source ?" but "What resources will this require?"

Recognising the interdependencies
The next step in adopting a better mindset is examining the ways in which the solution areas are interrelated - rather like the six sides of a Rubik's cube. With the cube, there is a danger of scrutinising one side head-on and not even seeing the others. Likewise, a change on any one side of the cube affects the others -- such as a change in the storage infrastructure directly affects the server and network, and therefore security and recovery.

Furthermore, getting one side perfectly solved is no guarantee that one or more of the others aren't a mess. Finally, with each turn of the cube, a new "puzzle" is created that might be easier or harder to solve. In other words, even the best of intentions - or emerging technologies - when implemented without a strategic, overall plan, can make things worse.

Before making any investment in new data centre technologies, this company needs to invest in a new mindset. After all, if you can't find the time and money to do it right the first time, where are you going to find the resources to do it all over again?

Nolan is senior vice president of professional services and network solutions at Forsythe Technology. He oversees Forsythe's networking and security businesses, as well as its consulting service practices. He can be reached at [email protected].

Find the seed article for this feature by following the 'Out with the old' link below.