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Maintain or modernise

Maintain or modernise

Rapid technological developments give organisations tough choices between retaining existing investments or leaping to the next big thing.

As organisations respond to new forms of competition and shifting expectations, they are undergoing fundamental change in their business models and workplace practices. To support these ambitious agendas, CIOs face increasing pressure to make generational change to underlying technology platforms.

Businesses are demanding technologies that support a range of initiatives designed to enhance user experience, improve agility, and increase productivity and ultimately revenue. They are looking for key enablers that can decouple business processes from physical locations, provide increased flexibility to deal with business cycles and support various online activities via multiple channels.

Staff expectations are also influencing technology decisions as employees seek to bring their personal technologies into the workplace and push for a wide range of "work anywhere, any time" options.

Technologies at the forefront of these ­initiatives include mobility, collaboration, social computing, unified communications and cloud computing. While there is plenty of take-up of these technologies, with between 9 per cent (social computing) and 16 per cent (mobile applications) of organisations having already brought in strategies, many others are still considering whether to proceed.

So, with constant pressures on spending, how does a CIO choose between maintaining the current state or modernising to these test technologies? Traditionally, when it comes to adapting to new technologies, organisations have fallen into one of three mindsets :

Early adopters are focused on rapidly achieving business advantage. While they take steps to minimise potential downsides, they adopt a mindset of dealing with unproven technologies and have a willingness to write off failed investments to deal with unpredictable outcomes.

Followers will invest to keep pace with competitors and restrict IT cost growth, but typically only where the costs and risks of adoption are predictable, and the benefits understood. Followers prosper where market pressures are less intense or where business is stable and predictable.

Late adopters hold on to proven, established technologies, are typically cost driven, and focus on squeezing every last dollar from IT. Change is seen as both a cost and a risk, and only when the business is actively suffering can a case be made to modernise.

There is no correct or incorrect "modernisation" mindset. For those still in the "wait and see" camp of potentially implementing new workplace technologies, what are the key challenges and lessons that have emerged?

1. Buyer beware – Some workplace technologies are still immature or unproven in large-scale implementations, resulting in business disruption and extended roll-out times.

2. Impact – Predicting the impact of new ­technologies on corporate networks, system performance and transaction response times has proved difficult and added significant unforeseen cost to some projects.

3. Complexity – Integrating a large number of disparate technologies and systems to achieve seamless interoperability from a user and client perspective has, to date, ­represented the biggest challenge from a technology perspective.

4. Data security – How to secure corporate data on mobile devices that are inherently insecure is challenging for most organisations, particularly as staff increasingly use personal devices for workplace activities. For example, within the healthcare sector, some hospital staff are pushing for use of personal devices for recording patient data in real time. The challenge for their IT departments is the need to change the underlying technology platforms fundamentally, to secure the data and protect against loss.

5. Business change – Extensive business process and workforce management re-engineering is typically required to transform the business delivery model and more fully realise the identified benefits.

6. Managing communications – While the implementing of social networking technologies is relatively simple, controlling user ­messaging and making it meaningful to the business is far more difficult.

7. Return on investment – Particularly in the case of social networking, some mobility ­solutions and collaboration, it is often difficult to calculate your return on investment.

Technology investment decisions are not one-off choices but many decisions made over time, as to which technologies to adopt now and which to hold off or ignore.

Don't fiddle while Rome burns!

Apply the Pareto principle and solve the 20 per cent of problems you are spending 80 per cent of your time on. By judiciously choosing investments and capturing them in a life-cycle management plan, companies can retain control rather than being taken by surprise while their attention is focused on the next big thing. MIS Australia

The author is a research partner with technology advisory and benchmarking firm ITNewcom. Email her at dmclaughlin@itnewcom.com.

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