"IT solutions that bring easily defined financial, operational and technical benefits to the enterprise," is the mantra of IT vendors when educating their channel partners on how to sell their particular offerings. So why, when qualification discussions commence, is there so much focus on the acute technical aspects of a particular product or a regurgitation of the obvious?
I was asked recently, in a virtual desktop qualification meeting, whether it was worth considering any technology other than VMware and Citrix. This question was motivated by a lack of knowledge of what is available. Interestingly, the decision being made was based upon the information supplied by the vendors with a vested interest in the outcome, not an independent assessment of the actual technical need. So, although VMware and Citrix compete aggressively with each other, there is a clear benefit to both in keeping other vendor offerings hidden from view. In many cases, those offerings could provide a reliable technical solution that ease operational headaches at a price that is acceptable.
Those with a real technical interest in virtualisation technologies will have probably heard of (and follow) the work of Brian Madden. His recent launch of the Virtual Reality Check provides an excellent insight into the technical considerations of the main virtualisation offerings. I am sure, in time, this resource will gain the recognition it deserves. This still leaves a gap, however, between the technical performance of products/solutions and the business needs of the organisation that a solution will serve.
To marry the abundance of technical resources to the needs of a business, three key areas need to be addressed: finance, operations and IT. The tricky part is not IT, though, since the technical elements of the decision making sit squarely in the middle of the IT department's comfort zone.
Cost or investment
Introducing a new technology will require a purchase. Whether that purchase is a cost or investment will depend on how accurately the solution meets the original financial objectives. Often, those are decided from ROI papers and documents produced by the vendor themselves. The financial metrics used may differ from the ones used within the business.
Helpful hint: Create your own ROI comparison with your own data or data from an independent source. Figures vary considerably from vendor to vendor, with each obviously wanting to position their offering as the most cost-effective. For example, power usage in a Dell server can vary depending on whether that information is supplied by Dell or HP. A spreadsheet labelled with cost items your management team understands will remove misunderstandings and ease this element of the decision making process.
Where do your customers fit in?
The data centre is ultimately there to provide services for paying customers. They may potentially benefit from better performing portals or quicker response to queries from staff, but the company's customers do not care if the data centre has the latest and greatest performing technical solution. Simply put, they want to be served by a competitively priced, competent and efficient company.
Helpful hint: Find the customer benefits for the solution being proposed; for example, if your company serves its customers over the Internet and a new solution will bring increased or protected uptime. This is a clear benefit, as customers are being offered a more reliable service.
Users are a vital link
As users are often the link between the customer and the company, improvements to the user IT experience should translate to an improved customer experience, too.
Helpful hint: Find the user benefits for the solution being proposed. For example, improved system uptime and database application response times for a call centre operative will directly improve the customer experience as well as reduce the pressure and/or frustration on the operative themselves.
Your IT team
Your IT team is not immune from the cost-cutting measures being experienced by other departments. Newly introduced technologies will be expected to bring efficiencies. The less focused your team is on repairing or administering, the more it can be focused on developing and progressing more beneficial solutions.
Helpful hint: Be clear on where the solution will bring efficiencies to your team and what they will use that time for. Releasing highly skilled engineers away from supporting roles and into systems development will bring even more benefit to your business.
Consider local suppliers
Local computer resellers (or value-added resellers, as they like to be called.) with the appropriate accreditations can add considerable value to the decision-making process. By having trained engineering and access to vendors via their accreditation schemes, an unbiased approach to find the best solution can be taken.
Helpful hint: Talk to your local accredited reseller. Vendor sites have directories giving details of their reseller partners, their accreditations and contact details. Use them and you will be pleasantly surprised.
Benchmark your benefits
Much is made of the benefits an organisation will gain when they are considering a solution. These are often formerly documented, with measurements and results from proof of concepts being extensively used in the decision-making process. After the solution is installed, however, those same metrics tend to get forgotten and a new set is created to suit a newer technology.
Helpful hint: Agree on a set of metrics that are relevant before and after implementation. By reporting against these metrics, non-IT disciplines within an organisation can continue to see the positive effects of your decision-making.
To summarise, with vendors offering more desirable technical features as each product or update is released, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep focused on the areas that your business will really count on. Widening the reality check to include areas of the business outside IT can only enhance the quality of the whole process.
Andrew Cross is the sales director at reseller Sol-Tec and a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk. He has donated his fee for this article to Oxford Radcliffe Hospital's Heart Centre Campaign.