When the document company Xerox implemented its Change for Growth programme - a company-wide initiative to prepare for the opportunities and challenges posed by the digital revolution. A key part of the scheme was to align its products with its various vertical markets. The programme succeeded, but with needless casualties along the way. CEO Rick Thoman resigned due to criticism over the mounting costs and the time it was taking to implement.
What was true for Xerox in the late 90s is true for businesses today - they have to change and keep up with todays ever evolving commercial landscape. This is why enterprises today structure themselves around their business processes as opposed to the past when most would have been regimented along departmental lines.
Managers have raised concerns about this cultural change. Chief among them is the difficulty to maintain a dialogue between individuals in different departments and still maintain the smooth running of the business.
This inevitably leads to a large backlog of work orders for the IT department who cannot handle the volume of requests for network provisioning. Many users are compelled to break policy and configure the network for their own ad hoc use. The integrity of the network is therefore jeopardised.
Basically, users require the tools to ensure that communication across existing structures are smooth and without interruption. The implementation of an Intelligent Infrastructure Management Architecture could encourage this cultural change and bring about a more stable culture within organisations
The most obvious benefits of Intelligent Infrastructure Management (IIM) are the savings in time, resources and manpower in provisioning services. Normally, a network systems engineer would require an intimate knowledge of a buildings networking infrastructure to work out which switch port relates to which panel outlet.
Another important impact of IIM is that it will make it virtually impossible for users to reconfigure their own system and when they try, the IT department will automatically know. Thus IIM will allow you to bring in enforceable policies that make your system more robust.
The intelligence gathered from the IIM architecture can also reap benefits for business. For example, the regulations and legislation which businesses have to adhere to, such as The European Data Protection Directive, Basel II and Sarbanes Oxley, emphasise the importance of data control and integrity.
This cannot be achieved without securing and understanding the underlying physical architecture. Organisations need to practice, what lawyers refer to as, due diligence - confidence that it is complying with, to the best of its ability, data control, security and reliability. Thus IIM becomes a trusted source of information.
Additionally, the intelligence from the network can simplify the auditing and tracking of an enterprises IT assets by detecting the type of hardware and software the users on its network have. Ordinarily, this would be difficult as users move around an organisation, but because IIM dynamically detects where users are, this becomes one less headache to deal with.
Top down business changes often fail because the advantages are not evident to the rank-and-file employees who are left to deal with the chaos that changes in business practice can create; but when a user can raise a ticket and get an IT work order expedited quickly, this advantage would persuade staff to trust the IT department to avoid this turmoil.
Businesses will then have the confidence to adapt to change if their staff are provided with the tools to do the job. Intelligent Infrastructure Management provides these tools and could avoid the communication glitches which organsational upheavals can generate.
Example 1 Implementing a new IT project
Speed is very important when implementing any new IT project. The faster it can be brought on stream, the greater the return on the investment.
This is certainly true for enterprise wide projects, such as customer relationship management or disaster recovery. Provisioning the network can often take several weeks for these cumbersome projects. With IIM, the process can be cut down to literally hours.
Additionally, with the ability to look at the hardware, issues such as ensuring that the hardware is compatible is quickly pin-pointed and taken care of.
Example 2 Exhibitions & Conferences
Provisioning new users and providing new services for existing users can be a real chore. However, imagine if you had to commision thousands of workgroups that would churn-over on a weekly basis at a rate thats off-the-scale for example, a large conference or exhibition venue like the NEC in Birmingham; or Hannover Messe in Germany, which is host to Cebit.
All the ports and the panel outlets would have to be decommissioned on the Friday and the process would have to begin again on the following Monday. With IIM, it can be achieved at the desk and dynamically, simply and without error.
Example 3 Mergers and Acquisitions
Businesses occasionally merge or acquire other businesses; or spend a great deal of time and resources fending off being acquired by a competitor. Often, the planning of these campaigns is fought behind closed doors bringing together a team of outside consultants, internal business strategists and other specialists.
Therefore, very fast commissioning of new telephone lines, the speedy transfer of existing telephone lines and the provisioning of other networking services is essential (also known as adds and moves).
Thus bringing together these diverse professionals into a single work group is becomes a simple process. The team members may not even need to be based in the same location if it is deployed companywide.
How IIM Works
Relating an organisations network topology to the actual building plan is usually a manual process. The difficulty with these manual processes is that they are time consuming, complex and unreliable. For example, the network engineer may have to physically locate the panel outlet floor-by-floor; and office-by-office.
A manual record is then made and this is where errors usually creep in. With the amount of new networks services being commissioned increasing, this system can break down.
With IIM, user provisioning is all done at the desktop. The switch ports are labelled as are the voice ports and these labels are applied to the sources.
When a ticket is raised with the IT department to provision a voice or LAN service to a particular desk, IIM will begin working in the background to calculate all the patching that is required to enable the service to bleed down into the desk. However complex, it is done in seconds. A work order is then distributed to the technicians that would do the patching.
In the cabinet, LED indicators would flash guiding him or her to the correct ports. Once the technician has completed the job, the work order is automatically closed.
Rick Marshall is Managing Director of Comunica Limited--a networking and communications infrastructure specialist, enabling companies across Europe to achieve their business potential.Comunica combines recognised technical expertise with practical business knowledge in design, implementation, support and outsourcing requirements to create high quality, integrated solutions which maximise ROI.