The questions to ask yourself before buying IT

Guest post by Dave Rogers, Services Director at Microsoft partner, Ultima Business Solutions.  

Many organisations I talk to these days complain that their IT infrastructure is slowing them down, yet too expensive to replace. More often than not it’s because they’ve:


  • inherited systems or their IT has simply grown organically over time


  • made knee-jerk purchases, rather than planning ahead and making informed buying decisions


  • chosen to “sweat the assets” of back-end infrastructure, diverting reduced budgets instead to line-of-business applications in the hope of boosting productivity and thereby surviving the downturn


  • opted for tactical deployments and ‘point’ solutions for supportability and technical functionality purposes, rather than strategically optimising their IT estate as a long-term business enabler.


All these mean businesses are often using out-of-date technology which is bound to hold them back - a handicap that’s exacerbated year-on-year as their technology ages. But, thankfully, it’s a problem you can avoid in future by asking yourself a few simple questions before reaching for your chequebook.


How do we get our infrastructure back on a stable footing?

Firstly, you can’t make informed purchasing decisions - or fully exploit your existing assets - without knowing what IT you already have and what you’re likely to need in future. You should therefore get your Microsoft partner to help you review your business requirements, identify appropriate technology solutions and define a strategy and transition plan. To help our clients achieve this, we’ve developed an Infrastructure Optimisation Model based on Microsoft Infrastructure Optimisation technology.


This modular framework can be applied to your entire IT infrastructure or a single layer (e.g. network or desktop) to pinpoint inefficiencies, identify areas for improvement and define initiatives to better align your IT with business goals. An optimised infrastructure will also help you make better buying decisions that transform your IT into a strategic business asset - one that facilitates innovation and can respond quickly to change.


Which technologies will be most successful?

Before acquiring any kind of IT, you should define some success criteria based on the requirements of the business. Will new software save staff time - by automating invoicing, for instance? Will it save money? By understanding the requirements of different parts of the business and defining some success metrics upfront, you’ll stand a better chance of choosing the right solutions. There are basically three audiences you need to consider: IT staff, business managers, and users - each of whom will have their own particular needs:


  • For IT staff, success means increasing manageability, security, rapid provisioning and system availability - in other words, all those things that make their job easier.


A technology worth considering in this respect is virtualisation using Windows Server as it will enable your IT team to play a greater strategic role within the business by allowing them to create and manage a unified and efficient estate. In conjunction with infrastructure optimisation, virtualisation enables them to deliver new high-value services to your users faster and more easily through greater operational agility, resilience  and flexibility.


  • For business and financial managers, success is more about commercial justification and budgets. They want a better return on investment (ROI), lower total cost of ownership (TCO), competitiveness and the agility to support future business initiatives.


I believe cloud solutions like Office 365 are a compelling proposition in this respect since they are characterised by low entry costs and you pay only for that which you actually use. They not only eliminate the usual delays over hardware procurement and capital expenditure, but also allow you to scale up or down quickly to meet user demand.


As with IT staff, virtualisation will also keep business and financial administrators happy because it saves energy and makes better use of data centre space. Moreover, it will ensure they enjoy a much higher ROI by making the company’s desktop, servers and applications more flexible and useable.


  • For users - perhaps your most important target group, since they grow more powerful by the day: an ever-improving ‘user experience’ is key.


Remember, IT is no longer driven solely by the business and controlled by IT pros - latest end-user computing (EUC) models have turned the organisational chart on its head by giving staff greater freedom to customise their use of technology. What today’s users want is productivity, device support, application access and ‘follow-me’ technology.


To this end, a good starting point is Microsoft’s Desktop Optimisation Pack (MDOP) methodology, an end-to-end solution for migrating to an EUC environment. It gives you better control of your desktop, speeds and simplifies application deployments, and enables you to provide highly responsive service. Moreover, it is constantly evolving to include cloud-based offerings, plus on-premise/off-premise and remote access. Not least, MDOP will significantly reduce the TCO of your operating system and application management lifecycle.


You might also consider introducing a Bring Your Own (BYO) policy. A recent report by TechMarketView predicts that by 2016, 9.5 million UK employees - about one-third of the workforce - will be using their own computing devices for work as the trend gathers pace. Enabling your infrastructure to support BYO is relatively simple; securing personal devices can, however, be more challenging.


You might therefore also consider Microsoft System Center 2012 Configuration Manager (SCCM) which helps empower employees to use their own devices while maintaining corporate compliance and control. It means you will have a single “pane of glass” through which to manage physical, virtual and mobile clients. It also provides tools that make it easier for IT administrators to do their jobs.


Do we take a strategic approach or go for tactical wins?

A dilemma many businesses face is whether to go for tactical solutions to immediate problems or strategic programmes of change. To my mind, strategic is always the preferred option, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also look to make quick wins, where appropriate, to return benefit to the business.  


Bear in mind, too, that the company’s core needs may well change in the future; IT purchasing decisions can often be influenced by killer requirements and compelling events - for instance, the creation of new offices or consolidation following mergers and acquisitions. As with lease refreshes, these types of event may give you the opportunity to streamline your infrastructure at the same time. They may also encourage you to get to grips with strategic technology projects that might otherwise languish for years.


Lastly, here are some takeaways:

  • Beware polished pitches by charismatic vendors - always evaluate several solutions and carry out due diligence


  • Pick best-of-breed mainstream technology where skills are readily available


  • Be prepared to take a ‘hybrid’ yet integrated approach - preferably via a Microsoft partner like ourselves who can give you impartial advice


  • Check how the licencing model works, how much the solution will cost you, and consider a formal RFI/RFP


  • Find out what your competitors are using - and remember, a few hours of Internet research, studying vendor websites and white papers is time well spent 


  • Never deploy technology for its own sake - always refer back to your business requirements and success criteria: How well does each one meet them? Are there any gaps? If so, how will you fill these gaps?


Above all, remember that IT is a major investment, so try to avoid knee-jerk reactions, don’t rush to be early adopters, and invest wisely.


I hope this helps. Good luck and do get in touch via if you feel we can be of any more help.


Dave Rogers