Posted by: S R Balasubramanian
CIO and business continuity, complex architecture, standardization, vendor management challenges
Many organizations have heterogeneous set-ups with respect to the hardware installed, software deployed, or processes adopted. The reasons could be many. For instance, different CIOs manning the function over a period of time may have created an environment that they were comfortable with or brought in their favorite components. A new CIO wanting to bring about a change may like to do something different. Large organizations, which have diverse products and are well spread through their various divisions, may have different power centers wanting to take decisions based on what suits them. In merger and acquisition cases, organizations inherit units that have different IT environments. Therefore, we often come across cases where companies have variety of platforms that they have to deal with.
Consequences of heterogeneity
Dealing with a variety of systems is sometimes a situation that we may want to avoid. While individual systems provide solutions that are closer to what units or the users want, this approach often poses problems for organizations as they struggle running and maintaining different sets of platforms. Let us look at some of these problems:
- Companies have to deal with multiple vendors making it difficult to juggle around trying to find out the vendor who provided the particular set of solution.
- They lose track of equipment and software whose warranty periods are over or those that are due for AMC renewal as different products / vendors have their own cycles of warranty/ renewal periods.
- They lose the power to negotiate based on the volume of business as the procurement is dispersed over a large number of vendors.
- It is a nightmare trying to build expertise on various platforms that the organization owns and operates.
- Exchange of knowledge and experience become difficult as different units run different systems.
Areas that need standardization
1. Hardware: I have seen companies struggle with hardware bought from various vendors, for example, servers procured from IBM, HP, Sun, and of different vintages. These may be with different business units but sometimes in the same data center. They then have to dabble with multiple operating systems making it so much more difficult for their staff to manage. As software packages have different versions for each operating environment, system administrators have to specify and designate servers with a certain operating system for each package. They are also unable to make use of technologies like virtualization, optimization tools, etc. Same is the story when people buy storage systems or network equipment from different vendors making monitoring so much more difficult.
2. Software: As far as possible, organizations should use a common software platform for the same application in various units and not have different software for any of the reasons stated above. For example, a company that I was associated with had three ERPs bought from different vendors. They already had Oracle Apps running when another business unit decided that SAP was best-suited to their line of business while the HR Dept decided to procure PeopleSoft for HR related work. As expected, the company suffered problems of integration and of consolidated reporting to the management.
3. Processes: The third element is methods and processes that are used throughout the organization. Best practices speak of standardization so that the entire organization works in a controlled fashion. Methods need to be well laid down and defined so that everyone understands it in the same way. It is best to have a few consultants and service providers who are empaneled after proper evaluation so that the business receives quality assistance on the services front.
While standardization is good, too much of it could be detrimental; it may result in bureaucracy and make the system rigid. The case being made out here is not for standardization alone but for reducing heterogeneity as well, i.e. moving into some kind of order, away from chaos.