A better balance

A better balance – Paul Timms, The MCSA Group Operations Director

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It’s not necessary to throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to IT choices, writes Paul Timms.

For cash strapped IT Directors, reducing internal IT resources has been essential over the past couple of years.  Yet despite outsourcing desktop support and moving applications into the cloud, the vast majority of organisations still feel compelled to retain expensive legacy skills in house. While these individuals are responsible for the smooth running of business critical applications, these systems are stable and hardly require full time expertise.

Yet outsourcing support for these applications is far from simple. Most providers do not have the required skills and instead will coerce the organisation into an expensive and destabilising upgrade process.

This is a shoddy practice.

Squeezing Resources
Over the past couple of years, IT Directors have had to squeeze every last penny from the budget. With a freeze on capital expenditure and stakeholders now demanding accountability for every component of IT spend, outsourcing contracts have been renegotiated and organizations have looked ever more closely at the financial pros and cons of cloud computing.

With people, especially expensive IT people, representing one of the biggest corporate costs, there is growing pressure to cut heads. Yet while many internal resources have been cut to the bone, the majority of organisations still have one or two expensive experts on the staff; the indispensable individual responsible for the smooth running of the essential, but typically ageing, key corporate system.

These systems rarely require the attention of a full time employee. But with these legacy skills increasingly tough to find in the open market and most outsourcing/support organisations offering only the most basic and recent skills, organisations have no choice but to retain these costly resources in house.

Legacy Overhead
This requirement is increasingly frustrating IT Directors who, supported by senior management, are increasingly looking to focus on the core business and embrace the hosted/cloud computing model as far as possible to drive down costs and further rationalise internal skills sets.

So just what can be done with these legacy applications running on old HPE, DEC, Compaq, or even IBM kit? They may appear to represent an unacceptable operational cost, but these systems cannot simply be switched off. The applications may be stable and rarely require attention but they are often business critical; they are running key aspects of the manufacturing, distribution or financial process.

Yet turn to the vendor or mainstream outsourcing or support provider for advice and the organisation is likely to find itself required to undertake an expensive and destabilising upgrade process simply to achieve a ‘supportable’ infrastructure.

This strategy may reduce the need for expensive dedicated resources but at what cost? The business impact is huge – from the cost of the upgrade, of both infrastructure and application redesign, to the associated risk. Making this level of investment at a time of budget cuts, simply to retain the status quo rather than add quantifiable business value cannot possibly make sense.

Flexible Access
In an ideal world, any IT Director should jump at the chance to replace the in house head with access to these skills as and when required.  So why are so few companies looking beyond the shallow skills base of traditional third party organisations and exploring the benefits of legacy specialists?

Third party organisations with a track record of providing support across diverse legacy platforms for several decades can offer not only technical expertise but also valuable vertical market insight and knowledge. They can share best practice and, critically, offer such skills in a highly flexible manner, such as regular clinics.

Rather than have a full time expert, organisations can opt for a named individual from the third party to come in for four hours a week, for example, to address and fix specific issues. Critically, with the right organisation, this model can be extended to encompass every aspect of the IT skill set, from desktop services to supporting those key legacy applications, providing the IT Director with a lower cost IT team that also has the right mix of essential skills.

Achieving Balance
The move towards outsourcing and cloud computing is gaining pace as organisations increasingly recognise the value of focusing on the core business. But getting the balance right between retained IT expertise and accessing the right external skills remains a work in progress for many organisations.

Research indicates that, today, about 10% of companies with IT and Telecoms professionals report gaps in their skills. In three years time this will be worse and training requirements will increase by a third. And while this affects every aspect of the IT infrastructure, there is no doubt that as new IT graduates have no grounding in older technology, the access to the skills required to support legacy systems in house will become ever more scarce.

But scarce doesn’t mean extinct. No one should feel pressured into costly and unnecessary upgrades when expert support is still available. As the saying goes, if the system ain’t broke….

ENDS