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Outsourcing without losing jobs March 29, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, IT Services, Outsourcing.
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I had the opportunity to spend some time recently with the Chief Executive of a county council. We were talking about the looming spending cuts and what he might be able to achieve through the rationalisation of infrastructure, such as contact centres.

He explained to me that he had eleven premises with call centres handling enquiries from the public. Eleven!

I asked him why he doesn’t just rationalise them all into a single customer service centre. It would mean less property to manage, and without all that real estate overhead he could reduce headcount too.

He explained to me that in his part of the UK, the public sector employs around half of all employed adults. He not only has a mandate to try keeping costs down, but as one of the biggest employers in the region, he has to think of the social consequences of suddenly automating processes and casting hundreds into unemployment.

This is a very peculiar problem that most business leaders fortunately don’t have to face, but even the council leader could be exploring his data centre requirements without an immense impact on jobs.

Every process and system used today requires storage. Those banks of servers used to be lined up in the basement of every office until it became more efficient to use communications lines to large data centres, where the servers could be maintained more efficiently.

Storage is a homogenous kind of product. Apart from differing security considerations, there is not much else that is required other than the ability to store data safely, and to have backup and business continuity plans in place, just in case things go wrong.

Ultimately storage will go to the cloud. The players offering us space to store our company data will be Amazon and Google, but in the meantime there are many organisations – such as the county council – where individual departments still manage their own servers and storage.

Ensuring the enterprise uses a shared storage strategy through a rationalised data centre is one step towards reducing cost and running a smoother operation, but it also gets people ready for the future, a future where storage is on tap.

Workforce going mobile March 22, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Internet, IT Services, Outsourcing.
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The entire workforce is mobile these days. If you don’t believe it then think for a moment about how a typical worker in any professional industry might start the day.

Get up, get breakfast, check the latest news on a smart-phone while eating toast, catch the bus to work listening to the news on the radio whilst browsing the web and checking emails. By the time the worker arrives at the office, all those early emails from Asia are dealt with and he has an update from the media on what is happening in the world that day.

If it still sounds far-fetched or untraditional then take a look around you on your morning commute. Sure, there are still some people with books and newspapers, but there are an increasingly large number of people who are connected the moment they pick up their phone.

This ability to use the web, collect email, and produce documents while on the move has never been so easy or pervasive – these devices are not issued by NASA, they are the iPhones and Android devices available on the High Street.

This always-on ability flies in the face of organisations that ban social networks inside the office. Which office worker faced with a social network ban never uses a social network? They just use their phone instead.

At present, the implications for the always-connected workforce are only starting to be understood, but they spread wider than just creating the opportunity to check email on a commute.

Some changes might be:

  • Employees are generally using higher-specification equipment now than the official kit issued by the company. Will this change the technology function of many companies so they just offer a basic infrastructure, a platform to connect to with bulletproof security? The IT department, as we know it, will be dead.
  • Commuting patterns may change entirely as employees are more seamlessly available 9 to 5 without being in a fixed location.
  • The fabric of many cities may change entirely as workers desert their core and accept a longer commute once or twice a week.

The humble smartphone and the freedom it offers to knowledge workers could change work and societies as fundamentally as the railways shaped Victorian society.

Switching to the cloud March 15, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Hardware, IT Services, Outsourcing.
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The cloud causes a great deal of confusion.

There is little consensus over what the term really describes. Data centre vendors will tell you how you can buy storage from the cloud, with servers switched on and off effortlessly and remotely. Software vendors will tell you that it is all about access to centralised software via the web, allowing you to use complex software without installing or maintaining a single package. Security vendors will tell you that it is an accident waiting to happen.

In many ways, the cloud is really a bit like the computer system represented in Hollywood blockbuster ‘the matrix’ – though without the Neo sunglasses.

The concept is that services should be accessible remotely without the customer needing to understand or care about the exact resource required to deliver it. It should also be possible to pay for only the services you use – for example, just paying for the storage you actually use rather than paying for a server and paying someone to maintain it.

The point is that you don’t need to understand the cloud as a new business concept to use it because consumers inherently understand how it works. When I switch on a power socket at home, I expect electricity to flow. I have no idea how many people worked in the power company to ensure that happened, but it happens and I pay only for the power I use.

When I turn on a tap, I get water and I similarly have little understanding of how much effort goes into ensuring that this tap produces fresh water, but it does. I also pay only for what I use. Apply these concepts from the home into the world of business and suddenly it looks a bit silly to buy banks of servers that are redundant 99% of the time, tying up capital in the equipment and needing to spend on facilities to house it all and people to maintain them. Or buying software that needs to be installed, maintained, upgraded, and paid for whether users are actually using it or not.

When the business users or technology services start thinking about the cloud in the same way they think about their utilities at home, then they will understand not only what it is, but also the immense potential.