Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Understanding the tradeoffs in selecting technology to deploy in an IT system -1

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on July 30, 2011

You are responsible for the information technology deployed at your business, or you are the business owner or chief executive and responsible for everything there. And you find yourself facing a maze of conflicting needs and requirements. On the one hand, your staff needs cutting edge technology if it is to effectively help you to compete in your market space. On the other hand, many of the new and emerging technology options you face, and that your competition is also considering, carry risk management considerations as well as promises of new and expanded functionality – promises of new ways to develop or expand unique value proposition when properly deployed. What should you do?

• Should you embrace cloud computing, and if so, public or private cloud, and for what, and in what ways?
• Should you deploy virtualization solutions, and if so which ones and with what due diligence and security constraints in place?
• Desktop computers have been substantially giving way to laptops and laptops to notebook and tablet computers. And everyone wants to use handhelds. But which ones should your business support, and for what employees, and with what restrictions?
• Information technology continues to evolve and as an incredible pace so even if you already have your answers for any particular technology examples I could cite here, new choices will continue to emerge requiring fresh consideration, appraisal and decision making.

Desktop computers that sit on a desk in your place of business are work computers, even if employees do and will use them for personal emails and other non-business reasons. But they physically stay at work and there is a clear line of demarcation between work and personal use for them. The smaller and more portable an information access point, the more blurred this distinction becomes, where most employees bring their business handhelds home with them, and their personal devices to work with them too – and can find themselves using them interchangeably as far as the workplace/personal use divide might be concerned.

• How do you draw a line between work and private lives for this, and do you?
• And questions like this can become complex even if you do not expect your key staff members to in effect always be on call, as many businesses increasingly do.

I am going to discuss a range of issues in this and following postings, all with a goal of helping you develop a more open-ended, effective policy for what you include, how you include it and how you monitor and benchmark compliance to approved best practices. And I start out by making note of the most important single general principle:

• Approach any new technology or significant update or change in an existing one, with an eye as to how it would or would not fit into a single, flexible information technology policy.
• This means really looking at all of the features that would be offered, and with both functional enhancement and risk generation or reduction factors in mind.
• And it means never willingly falling into the trap of making special case exceptions or ad hoc decisions, because one leads to another and before long you find yourself facing a self-contradictory, inconsistent maze – and with new stakeholders continually approaching you demanding they be allowed exception status too.
• Develop rules and update them to accommodate new circumstances and needs.

For cloud computing the initial analysis and review steps cited above might mean developing policy regarding the obvious details of who will have what access permissions, and whether they would be read-only or not, and how this would be operationally managed. But the devil, as they say is in the details, and here that means understanding and managing information technology services and resources with the seemingly endless number of ways real world users actually use IT resources.

• Considering desktop computers as a territory that has long since been well covered, do you have a policy as to what emailed links should be opened, or what software installed, or by whom or how?
• Do you have internal firewalls and/or other security technology in place for when someone clicks the wrong link and lets in a piece of malware?
• Do all of those desktop computers have UBS ports on them, up-front and readily available? Do you have policies for use of flash drives? Do you have policies in place for use of those computes and their USB ports for synchronizing and updating personal devices?

Here, that MP3 player your executive secretary owns may be clean and reliable – but it may have some malware on it from the last computer she uploaded music tracks through and that may be waiting on her device for a new USB connection to propagate into the right operating system environment through – your work computers and your information technology system.

• But you do not necessarily want to take a technology denial approach as your automatic default, as late technology adaptors never seem to develop any of the adaptation advantages that their competition finds from it.

I am going to follow up on this with a second series installment, there focusing on handhelds and their incorporation into business information technology systems. You can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations.

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