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IT tactics

While 2017 is ending and 2018 is beckoning, it is a good time for Information Technology (IT) managers and executives to scrutinise their existing infrastructure.

Recent columns have advised on areas to do with IT housekeeping and starting the New Year effectively. In this column, I want to highlight some strategic areas to consider and review. Aim for efficiency in your technology as well as cost benefit to your organisation.

You should already be very clear that there is very little separation between your “business” and your “IT”. One cannot succeed without the other and this merging of disciplines will increase exponentially over the year.

Most importantly—ensure that your executive board is aware of this—if necessary, make the case forcefully at the next board meeting. Use this opportunity to highlight some of the high value ways IT can enable and accelerate business objectives.

Be careful of locking in to the wrong technology. In the past, there was some advantage in standardising your technology around a single vendor such as SAP or Oracle. However, with cloud computing and open source now serious commercial solutions contenders—be wary of this tactic. You may end up with a significant investment in a platform and architecture that is expensive to maintain, inflexible and no longer supported.

I am aware that there are many larger organisations in country that are precisely in this situation – and have to fly in very expensive consultants and buy specialised hardware to resolve sometimes very small issues. Make it your business to know what is available on the market—if not sure—bring in a consultant to help you review your options.

When you do this, ensure that your vendors and any new technology you procure is tried and tested. Avoid experimenting with untested technology or “briefcase” vendors, with a view to being perceived as “ahead of the game”.

Technological mystique is used often by so called (and bad) IT professionals and often vendors to confuse executive management into committing themselves to technology that ends up nothing more than a cash cow for vendors.

Think carefully about flexibility and integration of your technology. Mobile and social connectivity, and anticipated technological advances in the coming year (IOT, Big Data and others), should be an essential pre-requisite for assessment to any new system you are considering. Avoid systems that only offer integration at a high price.

Many ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems in use in Malawi do just this. My personal opinion is that whilst an ERP system is definitely a step up from bespoke historic systems, and is supposed to offer tested best practice based on global industry specific functionality; it tends not to be flexible and often ties companies down to specific vendors.

Being able to quickly and efficiently tailor certain business functions to meet changing local market regulations or requirements becomes an expensive and time consuming project—and reduces the company’s ability to gain competitive advantage when an opportunity presents itself.

Look instead at cross platform integration in the cloud using recent applications such as Microsoft Azure. Build in flexibility to be able to respond to anticipated technological advances in 2018.

With existing systems, now is the time to check all housekeeping issues. Verify system and user backups are working fine—to be really sure—simulate a disaster and look at how long it takes to get your system back online. Clean up your user directory, initiate a data and email archiving process across the network.

Test and verify hardware—you should already have an IT asset list that can be referred to. Hardware and network checks are extremely important in this age of frequent and unexpected power outages. And of course—review your systems downtime register for the year.

In a phrase, take advantage of this time in the New Year to: Revisit, Review and Report. You will not regret the time spent doing this.

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