IT infrastructure often conjures up images of rack upon rack of hardware, stashed away in data centres. These critical elements keep the business running. And, as long as it stays up and running, life inside the business carries on. There’s a ‘set and forget’ mentality when it comes to infrastructure. Plus, it’s a far cry from the calls of innovation, seemingly taking place at the front end of the business — driving better customer experiences and empowering staff.
But, IT infrastructure should and needs to be a focal point of innovation. It’s the basis from which great customer and employee experiences are born. From networking and cloud to servers and collaboration tools. And, it’s not just about the technology. Innovation in IT infrastructure is just as much about new ways of doing things, the talent you have and how the business operates. Selecting the right technologies is merely half the job.
As Ross Winser, Senior Director Analyst at Gartner said:
“There is a dramatic evolution of I&O (Infrastructure and Operations) happening right now. It’s no longer about hardware or software — it’s about delivering services that accomplish business needs. The future of infrastructure is everywhere and anywhere, and will be business-driven by nature.”
And, these considerations aren’t just for the domain of large enterprises. Mid-market organisations are prime candidates for some of the innovative practices now on offer.
If you’re seeking to drive more value from your infrastructure, we discuss five things mid-market organisations should have in mind to meet tomorrow’s business needs.
1. Ensure dynamic infrastructure priorities
In Gartner’s 2019 CIO Survey, IT leaders reported digital initiatives, revenue growth and operational excellence among their top priorities. Traditional infrastructure areas of focus, such as modernization of legacy systems and ERP, featured far lower in the priority stakes.
That’s not to say these areas are no longer important. It’s simply that infrastructure needs to refocus, aligning with the business’ transformation efforts. Adopting new technologies such as cloud, automation, Internet of Things (IoT) and edge computing is a way to help achieve this and accelerate agility. And, that means simplifying processes and embracing automation for smaller value, repetitive tasks; helping free up time for more strategic efforts.
Action: Meet with your business leaders and understand the priorities for the organisation over the next 1–3 years; re-evaluate the alignment of infrastructure priorities to deliver on business demands.
2. Deliver As-a-service growth
While consumption-based pricing models have traditionally fallen into the domain of software offerings, options exist for hardware through the form of infrastructure-as-a-service. This includes everything from cloud and storage through to data centres and networks. A move to operational expenditures reduces risk, frees up capital, and increases flexibility for mid-market organisations.
Action: Consider what on-premise infrastructure exists and how you might deliver this as a service to the business. Analyse processes which may be suitable for automation to unlock more time for high value innovation ideas.
To get the most from their IT infrastructure, mid-market organisations should focus on areas like shifting workloads into the cloud. Not only are they extremely efficient, but they can help you optimise operations and cut short-term costs. You also benefit from the knowledge and expertise built up over many years from a cloud provider who can manage the process for you. And, with talent a rare commodity these days, it pays to place areas of your infrastructure into the hands of those who know it best.
3. Embrace network agility
Action: Think about the increasing demands being placed on your network and how you’re going to manage. If your IT infrastructure strategy involves an increasing focus on cloud, then network agility will be critical to help the business in achieving its goals.
We said it before, but we’ll say it again! The network is one of the most crucial components for business strategy and transformation, helping to optimise cloud services, facilitate collaboration tools like video and support business applications to name just a few. And, while increasing the availability of the network will always be on the agenda, network operations will need to run at an increasingly faster pace to meet the forecast for explosive data growth in the coming years.
For those in charge of the network, working with the business as new opportunities in 5G and edge computing arise is crucial. You need a network to not only keep the lights on, but to help your organisation facilitate innovation as these new technologies take centre stage. For example, many mid-market businesses will be considering their cloud strategies, such as the rise of hybrid cloud and its maturity places more demands on the network. Networks must adapt and deliver more to support the management of these evolving needs.
4. Assign your innovation value to productivity benchmarks
Action: Run an audit of the different unified communications and collaboration tools in your organisation to re-consider their alignment to the needs of your business. You might find rationalising the platforms will enable a standardised approach, turbo-charging productivity.
While customer experience will always be a major driver of innovation, enhancing employee productivity is right up there too. McKinsey estimates online collaboration tools and digital workplaces increase productivity by between 20–30 percent. Boosting productivity and a better employee experience will more often than not, have a direct impact on the ability to serve customers better, and faster.
Action: Considering the value of talent from outside of the organisation can often bear fruit in terms of new ideas, perspectives, and approaches into infrastructure innovation.
However, the dramatic increase in the use of unified communications, collaboration and mobility tools presents a real challenge for those in charge of infrastructure. Keeping on top of the many different tools can present real problems, as more and more, employees use these whether IT knows or not. Often, different teams will work in silos, meaning productivity takes a nosedive.
The breadth and depth of capabilities now featured in collaboration tools means mid-market organisations have the ability to run their entire communications systems through platforms like Microsoft Teams. This dramatically streamlines the use of tools being used, while also removing expensive hardware costs from the business too.
5. Ensure performance is empowered by people; not technology
Getting the right skills and capabilities in place is crucial to any innovation agenda. Often, it’s hard to find people with the right combination of deep technology knowledge, commercial insight, communication skills, and creative problem-solving skills to drive innovation initiatives. Often, this can hold innovative projects back due to lack of talent to help implement and manage them.
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