The Elephant In The (Server) Room

What have we done? We’ve turned our backs on IT. We’ve let our best people become little more than maintenance technicians.

We’ve let insecurity sweet-talk us into in-house hardware and software solutions that are out-of-date and inelegant. It’s time we were honest about our IT problem. Let’s start in government server rooms.

Everything is expensive here, CapEx business model and all. We invested tax dollars in IT systems that slow us down; that keep us divided; that can’t keep up with the rapid advances of cloud technology; and the constant fixes ensure we never stop spending.

Our data is held hostage by brick and mortar; difficult to access or share with other agencies who need it. And when something breaks down in this server room, the organisation shuts down. Brought to its knees when the resident technology experts leave the building.

There is no innovation here. No standardisation across other agencies. When employees crave relief, they whip out their smartphones and join their preferred public cloud.

At this ministry, in this server room, everything is blocked. Everything is slow. Just ask any employee who doesn’t work in IT.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In a sector known for soul-crushing bureaucracy, cloud computing can bring about a significant paradigm shift. State enterprise iGovTT has rightly been leading the effort to consolidate server footprints but much more can be achieved with cloud and virtualisation infrastructure and a renewed commitment to e-Government. Especially with a cloud service that lets you build hybrid solutions using both private cloud and your own datacenter. First, consider the cost of inaction.

Cloud computing reduces costs

Cloud technology moves government from a capital expenditure model to an operational expenditure model, paring down spending on legacy information technology systems and replacing that with a system where you pay for ICT the way you pay for electricity. This reduces the cost of IT to individual ministries and agencies already strained for cash.

In the U.S. and elsewhere, government agencies have embraced shared IT services for just this reason: to improve efficiencies and the provision of services to citizens. Apart from the cost savings, shared IT also breaks down silos that cripple inter-agency collaboration, ushering in unprecedented levels of cooperation.

It’s not just a government problem. All over the private sector we need to hit the reset button on corporate IT.

Too many businesses have been slow to enable location independence for employees. Given traffic and myriad issues affecting workforce productivity in Trinidad and Tobago, C-suite executives should pursue transformational technologies that allow their people to work from anywhere, at any time, even from their own devices, without compromising security.

This will lower costs and improve employee morale by making work enjoyable again. Younger employees born into a hyper-connected world will naturally be frustrated not being able to use ICT with the freedom they are used to. Might this be the cause of high turnover?

This switch to a culture of workshifting — people completing tasks on time and within budget from anywhere — has the potential for more gains as real estate and other costs plummet. There’s more:

Cloud as driver of innovation

This is where the cloud shines. As a catalyst for innovation, whether you’re in government or the private sector.

Finance Minister’s Larry Howai’s announcement in his 2014 Budget presentation of a TT$50 million innovation fund is welcome news. But money by itself does not drive innovation — empowering people with the right tools does.

Are we serious about improving our score on the competitiveness index? It’s time we embraced the cloud. The cloud is a backdrop for our ideas. The spark needed for higher productivity and skills development, moving us from technology consumers to technology creators. And these changes must happen in private businesses as well as the public sector. Or our competitiveness score will not budge.

Major surveys find that leading companies experience massive breakthroughs in innovation as their cloud adoption increases.

In this environment, our IT people will function in entirely new roles. As brokers of the kind of private and public cloud services provided by Teleios, not glorified maintenance techs.

When government as a platform shows up, I expect a whole suite of apps and services, never before considered, to show up with it. The laptop programme comes to mind. Prone to hardware and software faults that require exorbitant sums for repair, this programme would benefit from a fully virtualised cloud solution, with 24/7 access for the thousands of secondary students who will use its assignments, class labs and SBAs every day.

When the enterprise leverages the possibilities inherent in cloud, big companies will be as agile as startups, delivering new services to customers faster. Of course, there is potentially more success here for small businesses, which have less difficulty dismantling bad IT culture or avoiding it altogether.

Agile startups. Big business doing innovative things and moving fast. And government that works better. There are clear implications here for economic development and inward foreign direct investment.

It’s transformational stuff, and by no means easy. But first, let’s resolve to dealing with that elephant.