Your IT department is fighting a secret war…here’s how to win it

Alan Stone, Senior IT Director for Microsoft Asia, on the role IT plays in keeping an organization competitive

Alan Stone, Senior IT Director for Microsoft Asia
Alan Stone, Senior IT Director for Microsoft Asia

With technology advancing at a furious pace, CIOs find themselves embattled on several fronts. They race to gain an edge over competing businesses. They combat security threats both internally and externally. All the while, they battle budget constraints.

There are two broad approaches CIOs can take: The defensive approach, and the offensive approach.

Playing defensively means simply defending market positions or reacting to security threats. Eventually, this will lead to being overtaken by other companies willing to take the risks and utilize new technologies to augment their operations.

Organizations among the 59.8 percent of companies in Asia Pacifici still running Windows Server 2003, are clearly taking the defensive approach. On 14 July 2015, the decade-old server operating system runs out of support. When that happens, CIOs will find their company lagging behind in the ability to harness enabling solutions such as the Internet of Things (IoT), big data and mobility.

I find there is only one approach for today’s business environment. And that is to go on the offensive. If a CIO wishes to succeed in terms of how to go to market, then proactive decisions have to be made to adopt new technologies, to innovate and transform their business.

There is an even bigger battle for not just customer mindshare but also the ability to attract and retain talent being played out daily. The role that IT plays in both is undeniable. Customers and employees demand superior experiences and productivity that are enabled only through the adoption and utilization of the latest technology. Playing defensively and choosing not to refresh an organization’s capabilities put companies at risk of delivering suboptimal experiences to its customers. When it comes to employees, they expect that the way they use technology in their personal lives will be supported by the organization they work with. Videoconferencing, social media, bring-your-own-devices and mobility are just some of the capabilities the modern employee expects from his or her employer. Enabling such capabilities would be challenging for organizations using outdated IT infrastructure. It also means the organization will find it harder and harder to hire the right people.

As an IT leader myself, I can tell you that it can be tempting to fall into the trap of thinking and strategizing defensively. There is that tendency to just want to get by with what is available and make it work. But the truth is, without constantly innovating and advancing, companies will lose their competitive edge within the marketplace in more ways than one.

Modernize to win talent, customers
Quite often, the IT department and CIOs find themselves constantly trying to meet higher performance benchmarks with lower budgets. This is especially so in Asia Pacific where a more “cost-sensitive” mind-set prevails.

It is an impossible feat without regularly refreshing the IT ecosystem, particularly when it comes to the servers and server operating system. In my experience, I find many CIOs believing they are alone in facing increasing demands. They adopt an “I will make do” mentality and take drastic measures to modernise only when something breaks

In today’s digital mobile-first, cloud-first world, technology innovation is no longer the sole purview of the IT department. CIOs should forge and strengthen the alliance between the IT department and other business stakeholders.

CIOs should adopt a strategic long-term plan. They should transform the corporate conversation from one where “we need X amount of money to keep the lights on”, to one that instead explores “using this investment now, we can enable a host of benefits later on.” Painting a clear, multi-year view of the benefits arising from regular planned refreshes can go a long way toward securing buy-in from stakeholders. The latter would be more receptive as they stay competitive through technological advancements.

Obtaining buy-in for periodic IT refreshes is half the battle. The next step is to ensure that the IT environment is restructured in a manner that allows the organization to capitalize on disruptive technologies and keep costs down. This typically means acquiring updated server operating systems, new hardware and new software tools to manage policies, the increasing complexity of devices, application and cloud services. Moving to a cloud also enables greater flexibility, scalability and updates to be delivered to your IT environment in a timely manner, improving agility and responsiveness to new developments in the business environment.

A recent IDC whitepaper, entitled “Understanding the Business Value of Migrating to Windows Server 2012”, revealed that the latest server operating systems coupled with newer processors greatly benefited organizations. They were able to enjoy higher computing power, greater reliability, a more stable IT environment, more efficient automation, better mobile management strategies, and perhaps most importantly, the ability to support modern business applications.

Older solutions such as Windows Server 2003 often have difficulty supporting new technology disruptors such as mobility, IoT, big data, and social. These were ranked the top four technology disruptors in a Microsoft Asia Pacific Survey of 291 IT decision-makers comprising medium to large businesses in the region .

Constant and well thought-out refresh cycles are the key to maintaining a company’s competitive edge, especially in a competitive landscape such as Asia. With support for the widely utilized Windows Server 2003 ending soon, the event would serve as a timely opportunity for companies to overhaul their IT infrastructure. It would then be strategic to institute a recurring refresh cycle every three to four years to stay on the forefront of technology and be firmly positioned on the business and talent battlefields.

This story first appeared on Security Asia on July 16, 2015.

i Spiceworks Data, March 2015

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