Business and ICT: Information Overload – and how to get on top of it

The scenario One – You plan to have breakfast meeting with an important business partner on his way to Hong Kong. The flight is delayed and you need to reschedule so he books video conference with you when he arrives in Australia. You wonder if your technology is up to the task…
Two – One of your servers decides to go-slow, threatening the loss of critical data and trying the patience of your staff. The CIO starts explaining about virtualisation and how it can help. Your blood pressure escalates…
Three – You’re pulling together project proposal with team in Dubai. Both teams need to co-ordinate seamlessly while they’re in the field in different countries. Non-stop emails are not the answer…

The stats
A bit like the autonomic nervous system, ICT hums along in the background of business. Like heart rate or respiration, you don’t think of how any of these are doing until they affect your daily performance – likewise with ICT, many businesses don’t take the time to consider their systems until there is problem and when there is, it can be crippling or even fatal.
No longer ‘IT’ now that mobility is such an important criteria, ICT embraces both information and communication technology, with experts identifying New Zealand as contradictorily both sophisticated and immature in its use. It is generally accepted that at the moment, businesses have contracted their spend on ICT but how has this shift occurred and what components are losing out?
Rasika Versleijen-Pradhan, senior analyst – services, IDC New Zealand, found in recent Forecast for Management survey that whereas businesses last year prioritised collaborative technologies and knowledge management, this year they have put front office, for example content management systems (CRM), to the fore of their ICT investment. Systems infrastructure (security, storage, networks and middleware) comes second; back office, for example Enterprise Resource Management (ERM) third and bringing up the rear, last year’s priority – collaborative technologies and knowledge management.
Worryingly, ‘green IT’ has also suffered, somewhat counterproductively as the more energy efficient systems are, the greater the savings to the bottom line. Versleijen-Pradha says: “It’s interesting at the moment – the priority is around cost reduction and Green IT and sustainability has taken slight backdrop.”
She notes that of 254 companies interviewed across New Zealand in IDC’s IT Services Ecosystem Study, 2009 “Green IT scored the lowest on scale of 1-5, it came in at 3.2 (so although still important other areas of focus were more important).
“Green is at the bottom of the list,” she says, “it is so-called social responsibility but when push comes to shove, it’s not priority.”
David Webster, president and managing director of the Australian and New Zealand territories of global software company EMC thinks carbon footprint issues are an important reason to include ICT in business decisions.
“The way I think about it is, it’s smart business. If you can do things more efficiently and effectively then you’re going to save your business money. The reality is that IT consumes power and therefore any business that’s looking at power consumption as line item in profit and loss is going to be concerned about the efficient use of power.
“In today’s world anyone in business should be thinking of power consumption as cost and an impact on our environment. Smart businesses think about power and the associated business costs and the goals should over time be to reduce that. That’s where virtualisation is important, through consolidating servers.”

The solution
For Webster, when handling advanced technology, the important thing is to put your information first and structure your technology around it.
He says: “Information needs to be treated as an asset. Many organisations do not treat information as an asset, they don’t understand the value of it, or understand who in the organisation needs what information, when.”
As he explains, with the rapid growth of information within businesses, it’s important to understand what is critical at any given moment as information could be important for few months and then lose value over time, while other information needs to be accessed continually. The way in which each bit of information is stored, rests on its value.
“The first step in the evolutionary journey (it’s not jump),” says Webster, “is understanding what information is, how it moves around your organisation, what its value is and who values what. Once you know that you can make decisions, like ‘should I move some of my information into the cloud.’ I know the value of it and can make that decision.”
A business currently running without virtualisation may have 100 servers running at 15 percent capacity each – by using virtualisation they could run 25 servers at 100 percent. As Webster says: “Virtualisation is widely adopted technology as it enables you to get the maximum use out of what infrastructure you have”.
Peter Finch, chief information officer (CIO) of Gen-i, describes virtualization as “instead of having physical machine for every application you’re running, you have smaller number of machines and you can move an application from one machine to another without it being tied down.
“It is well known and organisations have been using it to drive costs down and have better business agility. You can literally set up new virtual machine in matter of minutes, have better data recovery capability in virtual environment, there are lower support costs and lower licence costs and for the green issue you have lot less computers and as result, less power consumption.”
For him, while virtualization is still hot, cloud computing, which he refers to as “highly elastic” is hotter still. It seems New Zealand businesses are still to realise this. IDC senior analyst Versleijen-Pradha reports: “In terms of the level of adoption of cloud services in New Zealand, large percentage of respondents (65.9 percent) are not using cloud and also not considering future use. Whilst in Australia, this was only 43.6 percent of respondents. Whilst this seems like very high percentage, it is not so surprising, cloud is still relatively immature in New Zealand as not everyone is familiar with the concept.
“In New Zealand 56.7 percent of respondents believe that cloud will improve the business operating environment, whilst in Australia this number is only 18.2 percent. In Australia it is quite clear to see that cloud is seen as cost saver and cheaper alternative (45.3 percent) as opposed to 20 percent of New Zealand respondents.”
The cloud isn’t as abstract concept as you may think. Many businesses are already using applications such as Salesforce.com. The benefits of cloud computing lie in the fact that you are only paying for what you use which makes it highly flexible.
Finch says that within the past few months “New Zealand Post announced they were moving all their data and email to Google apps.
“One of New Zealand’s iconic corporations has seen the significant savings they can get from buying those services over the cloud.”
But what about the security of your data “out there” – isn’t Google based in America? Finch explains: “Data security and sovereignty (the rights country might have to retrieve or hold onto information that you’ve stored over there) are absolutely the big issues. Right now lot of companies, including the New Zealand Government, are being careful about sending data offshore.
“There are lot of big global players who are offering cloud services. The advantages for businesses are huge. What we’re [Gen-i] saying to local organisations is, yes, you can deal with globals, but if you’re more sensitive about data we give you local New Zealand option.”
Webster also advocates security saying: “I think anytime you ask an organisation to have someone else do it for you then there is always concern. The way that EMC alleviates th

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