For just a moment, consider the following fictitious organization, Widget Warehouse.
Widget Warehouse is making a gross margin of 15 percent and is able to spend five percent of its revenues on IT (you can replace these numbers with your own). The company would like to improve the financial performance of its business and is considering three IT programs to do that, as well as the likely impact on the CIO, CFO and CEO/shareholders.
- Leveraging IT agility to raise revenue by five percent without cutting IT spend – Assuming business costs rise—but that IT costs do not—this will generate an additional 0.23 percent of revenue, boosting gross margin to 15.23 percent. If both business and IT costs do not rise, it will boost gross margin to 20 percent. Most importantly, this would show a dynamic growing business rather than a static one, as seen in the following two scenarios.
- Leveraging improvements in IT agility, reliability and security to cut business costs by five percent (and not cutting IT spend) – This will deliver a four percent improvement in gross margin.
- Cutting IT spending by 20 percent – This will improve gross margin by one percent.
Now, consider the reactions of the Widget Warehouse CIO, CFO and CEO/shareholders to the three scenarios.
- Scenario 1 – The CEO and shareholders will be most interested in this one, seeing not only improved margin, but also a growing business. This will generate the most interest from the CFO as well, and the CIO is now recognized as a contributor to the growth.
- Scenario 2 – This will still be of strong interest to the CFO, but of lesser interest to the CEO and shareholders. The CIO will still be seen in a very positive light, but not necessarily a contributor to growing the business.
- Scenario 3 – It is still likely to be of some interest to the CFO, but of limited interest to the CEO and shareholders. It will more than likely generate a whole heap of pain for the CIO, since a chunk of the cost cutting will involve people and inevitably damage morale (and productivity) in the IT department.
The most appealing scenario to all parties is a combination of scenarios one and two, which can be achieved in parallel.
So, having agreed that Widget Warehouse wants to focus on the first two scenarios, they now face a critical question: “How do we approach it?”
Shifting the Focus of IT Projects
It is widely accepted that the use of cloud computing—public, private and/or hybrid—and the delivery of IT-as-a-Service (ITaaS) should provide benefits on three axes:
- Efficiency – Cost containment and reduction
- Reliability – Reduced outage and improved availability
- Agility – The ability to respond quicker to the needs of the business, customers and market
Using the software-defined datacenter to deliver the enterprise cloud adds a fourth axis, which is security.
Most IT organizations I speak to are always ready to discuss business cases or return on investment (ROI) based on the efficiency axis, and indeed ITaaS has much to offer in that space, but for the purpose of this discussion I will focus on the impact of agility, reliability and security, and how these can be linked to business benefits.
- Reliability – Most organizations can easily measure the loss of business during an unplanned outage. The key here is to ensure you measure your availability in terms of business availability, and not IT services availability. For example, an IT group that is supporting five IT services—one of which is experiencing outages—might consider themselves to be 80 percent available. However, if that one service happens to be authentication and authorization, then it is likely all business services are not available, so IT services are actually 100 percent unavailable. It is therefore vital as a first step to comprehensively map business services to IT services and systems.
The most major impact of service outages on the business is reputation and brand equity. Much has been published on the cost to the Royal Bank of Scotland from their 2012 outage. They’ve admitted that due to decades of IT neglect their systems crashed, leaving millions of customers unable to withdraw cash or pay for goods. What is the risk to your business if during an outage your customers try an alternative…and never return?
Another consideration is not unplanned downtime, but rather overall availability. Most IT departments do not consider planned downtime as having an impact on the business or on IT service reliability, but is it possible that by reducing planned downtime you could increase revenues? For example, you could extend trading hours or re-use infrastructure for new services.
- Security –In addition to the loss of business during a security breach, consider the permanent reputation damage resulting from public disclosure. The 2014 security breaches at SONY will cost the company $35 million in IT repairs in addition to the more intangible, but arguably more serious, harm to their brand’s reputation.
- Agility – While examining reliability and security as the crucial axis, it can seem as though you are focusing on the negative impacts IT can have on the business, whereas the agility axis looks squarely at delivering positive impact and business value. To generate the metrics in this space requires a new form of communication between IT and the business: the conversation must shift away from pure cost pressures on IT.
- By delivering agility, what is the impact IT can have on improving business efficiency (scenario 2)?
- By delivering agile IT, what is the impact on revenues that can result from shorter time-to-market? What is the long-term impact on market share by being first to market? The first player in a market will often maintain a market leadership position, and be an established premier brand long after others enter the market.
Hopefully with this brief discussion I have whet your appetite for refocusing some of your IT transformation effort on not just driving greater efficiency in IT, but in using IT to be able to drive greater efficiency in the business, or even drive the business. This in turn will change the role of IT from being seen as a cost to the business (as it is in most organizations) to being an enabler and vital part of a successful business.
VMware Accelerate Advisory Services can help IT organizations like yours build a roadmap to transform IT into a business enabler and assist in building the business case for change – based not just on the cost of IT, but on the true value IT can contribute to the business.
Sean Harris is a Business Solutions Strategist in EMEA based out of the United Kingdom