MAR K EVANS

When Mark moved his in­fra­struc­ture to the cloud, he thought IT staff cuts would be in­evitable. But then he had a “Eureka!” mo­ment

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When Mark moved his in­fra­struc­ture to the cloud, he thought IT staff cuts would be in­evitable. But then he had a “Eureka!” mo­ment.

Iwas quick to board the “cloud bus” back when it was all new and ex­cit­ing. Early on, I tasked my team with mov­ing from an in­creas­ingly painful on-premise in­fra­struc­ture into a pri­vate cloud ser­vice of­fered by our WAN provider. All the ar­gu­ments made sense. Us­ing its data cen­tre, and its “N+1 for ev­ery­thing”, I’d save money ver­sus con­stantly re­sourc­ing ca­pac­ity – which was, at best, a fin­ger-in-theair en­deav­our.

I’d worked as global in­fra­struc­ture di­rec­tor for a shipping com­pany prior to join­ing my cur­rent em­ployer (big­ger head count, much big­ger bud­get, more sales­men to deal with) and I’d al­ways found ca­pac­ity plan­ning to be a mess. In­vest­ing hope, faith and money with some­one who’s tasked with sell­ing you ter­abytes of stor­age is never go­ing to end well – and the tools, at the time, were no more than bril­liantly pack­aged toys. I con­sider early mil­len­nium ca­pac­ity plan­ning to be a dire mix of fear and astrol­ogy. “The moon is in the house of Aquar­ius and he wants to save all of his dig­i­tal pho­to­graphs on the NAS box of Pisces – I’d give it fifty gig.”

Cloud of­fered what I’d wanted for years: a means of pay­ing for what you use. What cloud also of­fered was an op­por­tu­nity to re-ap­praise head count. Speak­ing as some­one who in­stalled NetWare 3.11 from 3.5in floppy diskettes back in the day, I’ve al­ways had a care and con­cern for my “sib­lings in arms” in in­fra­struc­ture, but I was find­ing it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to jus­tify their roles in our new en­vi­ron­ment.

Sup­port desk staff could spin up a server and hand it over to de­vel­op­ment folk. The net­work worked for ev­ery­thing and, apart from of­fice-based switches and fire­walls, there seemed very lit­tle for my kin in in­fra­struc­ture to do – the epit­ome of re­dun­dancy.

The real death-knell for purist in­fra­struc­ture peo­ple at RLB came with our early adop­tion of Of­fice 365 and Azure/AWS. We didn’t have to man­age mes­sag­ing. Back­ups could go to a man­aged ser­vice provider (MSP). We took it even fur­ther:

Email Of­fice 365 Stor­age Azure CAD AWS Print­ing MSP Wi-Fi MSP Net­work­ing MSP Tele­phony MSP

We were mov­ing at a rate that was fig­u­ra­tively mov­ing my in­fra­struc­ture peo­ple closer to the exit door. In hind­sight, I’d had a brain­wave that had led me on a com­pletely in­ap­pro­pri­ate path for a while.

One of the def­i­ni­tions I’ve heard for ac­coun­tants is “peo­ple who know the cost of ev­ery­thing – and the value of noth­ing”. Fair or un­fair, that’s for you to de­cide. I, how­ever, knew the cost of the peo­ple in my team and thought I had a per­fect nexus of cost-sav­ing and ser­vice im­prove­ment. I’d re­move “in­fra­struc­ture at a sur­plus” and re­place it with “in­fra­struc­ture as a ser­vice”, with Azure’s sig­nif­i­cantly cheaper stor­age and trans­par­ent Of­fice 365 li­cens­ing for email pro­vi­sion.

Feel­ing some­what sat­is­fied with my­self, I started to plan the most re­spon­si­ble way to di­vest the busi­ness of peo­ple whose roles had been con­sumed by Mi­crosoft. It was at this point that I be­gan to re­flect on what th­ese peo­ple had con­trib­uted to the busi­ness in the past.

It was then that I had my “Eureka!” mo­ment. Even though I wasn’t run­ning naked down the high street like Archimedes, I felt un­com­fort­able. I re­alised how close I’d been to mak­ing a stupid mis­take, one that could have been ex­tremely costly to the busi­ness in terms of value.

My guys had years of busi­ness-spe­cific knowl­edge, which I’d have lost to po­ten­tially en­rich our more leaden-footed (in terms of IT) com­peti­tors in con­struc­tion. I’d have provided our com­peti­tors with the con­sid­er­able ad­van­tage of hav­ing a well-drilled team of pro­fes­sion­als who could bring their new em­ployer up to – and po­ten­tially sur­pass – the com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tages we’d reaped from em­brac­ing the lead­ing edge.

Okay, so re­tain­ing peo­ple and pay­ing them a salary re­moves many ben­e­fits of let­ting them go, in terms of cash sav­ings within the new in­fra­struc­ture. Re­tain­ing peo­ple so that they don’t go on and fur­nish the com­pe­ti­tion with a

“In­vest­ing hope, faith and money with some­one who’s tasked with sell­ing you ter­abytes of data isn’t go­ing to end well”

“IT is head­ing towards a util­ity model. The days of busi­nesses hav­ing to gen­er­ate their own power have largely gone”

po­ten­tially bet­ter-kept level play­ing field is a leap into the un­known.

Is fear of the “What if?” a good driver for de­ci­sion­mak­ing? I don’t think so. If I’d been scared of the “What if?” then we may not have gone to cloud so soon and de­liv­ered true value back into the busi­ness.

The real value of this part of the team was that they un­der­stood our busi­ness, un­der­stood the wider oper­at­ing en­vi­ron­ment, knew all of the key stake­hold­ers, and knew why cer­tain de­ci­sions had been made. Fur­ther­more, they un­der­stood the ra­tio­nale be­hind those de­ci­sions. Why not use that knowl­edge and those ap­ti­tudes to im­prove the IT ser­vice into the busi­ness?

I spoke with the peo­ple con­cerned and we de­cided that IT se­cu­rity could do with fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion. We’d heard whis­pers of new leg­is­la­tion for data pri­vacy from the EU and we fum­bled, like many did, with un­der­stand­ing whether th­ese reg­u­la­tions would ever be in­voked if the UK de­cided to vote to leave the EU. On fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion, we re­alised that busi­nesses such as ours op­er­ate glob­ally, and if the USA was show­ing con­cern about the leg­is­la­tion then it might be worth­while hedg­ing our bets and mak­ing sure that if the UK voted for Brexit, we’d be ready for what­ever shape this “GDPR” would take. At the time of writ­ing, this task is still on­go­ing.

My in­fra­struc­ture man­ager un­der­took many train­ing cour­ses in or­der to pass the ex­ams to en­dorse his years of hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence, and has be­come a more rounded se­cu­rity pro­fes­sional than many of the self-ap­pointed se­cu­rity gu­rus we see on LinkedIn. He has tremen­dously ap­pli­ca­ble, busi­ness-spe­cific knowl­edge of the op­er­a­tions and mo­ti­va­tions of our staff. He is slowly – some might say, in­sid­i­ously – weav­ing IT se­cu­rity into the fab­ric of the busi­ness. There are no short­cuts: the se­cu­rity mes­sage and en­vi­ron­ment is be­ing struc­tured in such a way that it isn’t seen as an im­po­si­tion.

Oth­ers have taken on a more “front of house” role. Our for­mer IT ad­min­is­tra­tor is carv­ing out some­thing of a ca­reer in project man­age­ment and busi­ness anal­y­sis within our data-cap­ture en­vi­ron­ment.

By us­ing th­ese skills and this in­ter­nal knowl­edge, we’re build­ing in a bet­ter po­ten­tial ca­reer path so­lu­tion for peo­ple in IT. I shud­der when I hear peo­ple who are striv­ing to get into IT men­tion that they “want to work with net­works and servers”, be­cause that type of work is go­ing the way of can­dle-mak­ing. I’ve long held the be­lief that busi­ness IT is head­ing towards a util­ity model. The days of busi­nesses need­ing to gen­er­ate their own power have largely gone – and in busi­nesses where there’s a power re­quire­ment, there aren’t that many jobs.

How­ever, I should point out that we aren’t build­ing a ca­reer path for IT peo­ple out of a sense of duty or al­tru­ism. IT is be­ing seen as a ser­vice dif­fer­en­tia­tor within the busi­ness, but with­out the re­quire­ment to write code or in­vest in in­scrutable new busi­ness mod­els. We use the tools that are read­ily avail­able, but we in­tro­duce them in a way to max­imise the im­pact and to im­prove our cus­tomer ser­vice.

How many times have you seen a killer app that looks fan­tas­tic but falls short of clear­ing the gap be­tween per­cep­tion and re­al­ity, be­cause non-IT peo­ple haven’t grasped its po­ten­tial? (Whether that’s a re­sult of a steep learn­ing curve or some­thing their packed work­ing day doesn’t sup­port.) Or, worse still, a “hob­by­ist” IT per­son from within the busi­ness who bran­dishes a new toy that has more se­cu­rity holes than an un­patched Win­dow XP lap­top?

We use our tech­nol­ogy knowl­edge, and our un­der­stand­ing of what our col­leagues need, to try to bridge that gap, or to ex­plain – in the most ap­pro­pri­ate way – that per­haps im­ple­ment­ing Lo­tus SmartSuite isn’t the best way to move busi­ness for­ward in the 21st cen­tury, de­spite the sub­jec­tive opinion that Lo­tus 1-2-3 was “al­ways bet­ter than Ex­cel”.

At the start of the jour­ney into cloud I be­lieved we could save costs purely by switch­ing to a sub­scrip­tion model for data and ser­vices. I, along with many oth­ers, was proved right here. While this is no amaz­ing rev­e­la­tion th­ese days, it was a sug­ges­tion that gave my peers in the in­dus­try pause for thought when we un­der­took the mi­gra­tion sev­eral years ago.

Where I de­vel­oped my man­age­ment prac­tice was to see how IT could be used as a busi­ness pro­tec­tion func­tion, as well as a busi­ness de­vel­op­ment ser­vice. We used the knowl­edge, the “RLB cap­i­tal”, within the team to cut time-to-mar­ket for the busi­ness, and to com­ple­ment our col­leagues in con­struc­tion by eas­ing their path to the use of lead­ing-edge tools – and as a re­sult, to serve our clients bet­ter and aid cus­tomer re­ten­tion through ex­em­plary ser­vice.

The most amus­ing re­flec­tion for me, on how I nearly got some­thing so wrong, is that we’ve built a be­lief in the busi­ness that in­ter­nal IT con­sul­tancy has quan­tifi­able value. As a re­sult, as we pur­sue an in­dus­try-lead­ing Busi­ness In­tel­li­gence of­fer­ing to our clients, we’re adding head count.

Cloud – and my ad­just­ment of the team, de­spite ear­lier in­ten­tions – has changed the per­cep­tion of the team from be­ing an over­head into be­ing a key busi­ness driver. Eureka!

MarkXavierE­vans

Mark is head of IT at Rider Levett Buck­nall (UK), the largest global quan­tity sur­vey­ing prac­tice.

RIGHT Switch­ing to cloud ser­vices meant re­de­ploy­ing “IT staff”, not los­ing them and their knowl­edge to ri­vals

ABOVE RLB pro­vides ser­vices around the world, in­clud­ing cost con­sul­tancy for this strik­ing Lou­vre Abu Dhabi build­ing

Mark.Evans@uk.rlb.com

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