It is a way of working that is expensive, time consuming, and hard to manage but, like the ancient ill-tempered auntie you invite over for Christmas dinner each year because you always have, it’s an ingrained habit or way of working that often just carries on despite some fairly pressing reasons to change.
Medium-sized companies in the UK typically have a lot of IT projects going on, and only rarely are they integrated to achieve consolidation benefits like shared management and reduced overheads from shared platforms.
It’s much more common to run individual projects on a case-by-case basis. Each one of them has its own aims, a budget to purchase bits of tin, an associated management and operational burden. And, taken individually, each one of them can easily be judged as a success.
This kind of approach is easy to understand on some levels – it’s the way projects have always been run; technology hasn’t always been able to support strategies that would mitigate the costs associated with maintaining the status quo.
A concrete example of how an alternative approach might be a better option is provided by one of my customers in the UK, a very large service provider which, having its origins and therefore headquarters elsewhere in Europe, has a large-ish operation in the UK, one of its bigger markets.
To give an idea of scale, this service provider has to deal with four million concurrent users for its messaging services. The first half of this year, they have 70 new IT projects planned. If they treated each one of these projects as a standalone i.e. bought infrastructure for each project, their costs would be out of control. They would need a nuclear power plant to provide enough juice to run them all.
Why did they change – why should anyone? Inevitably, it is to do with cost, both current and projected. These guys simply figured out that they soon wouldn’t be able to swallow any more and, even though a permanent alternative would be somewhat expensive up front, it would be cheaper in the long run to put in a high capacity shared service platform.
Advantages for the business – for any business – go beyond cost savings, too. If done properly, a shared service platform makes the IT department into a service provider – an app store for the business. Think about how many SMEs in the UK are adopting cloud services. Often it is the sales or marketing functions that drive this, because their IT department cannot or will not deliver what they want in time, so they go elsewhere.
It’s the same for medium and larger enterprises – by adopting a shared service platform, they allow time-to-market for new services and projects to be drastically reduced, as they no longer have to procure new infrastructure and figure out how to manage it. Redundant hardware can be repurposed for development and testing, and is sometimes bought back by equipment vendors. The convenience of the App Store is brought to the commercial world.