Archive for the ‘Jennifer Norman’ Category

Disaster recovery and the mobile office

April 27, 2012

As we are all aware, today’s working culture has moved on from the traditional old 9 to 5 office work to a new concept where people are working flexible hours from flexible locations. As a consequence, both employers and employees expect more – in particular, the ability to work seamlessly from any device and from any location.

Technology advancements in telephony, collaboration tools, virtualisation, security and application and desktop delivery have enabled the ‘mobile office’ concept to be embraced faster than a speeding freight train. Adoption is also driven by the many benefits achievable through this solution – for instance, basing some staff at home can be used to reduce building and office related costs.

Relocating employees to work from their own desks using their own utilities can not only provide many financial benefits, but also allow avoiding issues such as transportation strikes and weather disasters, or the much-anticipated chaos during the Olympics and Paralympics.

But more strategically, when it comes to disaster recovery and business continuity planning, more and more companies are choosing to utilise the mobile or home office concept as a significant and vital recovery tactic. Dedicated workplace recovery services can be costly, and placing technology services at a designated workplace recovery suite will have an additional financial impact.

Similarly, if a company has multiple offices and the continuity plan states that a number of staff must relocate, for example, from the London office to the Birmingham office, then that number desks must be either kept available, which is costly, or the existing staff displaced, with a loss of function or productivity. Then, there is also the matter of a number of PCs to configure as well as the setting up of telephones and other equipment.

Basing or rotating technical support or business support functions at home can be a huge advantage when faced with a business continuity scenario. Home-based workers are less likely to be affected by denial of access issues such as high profile terrorist targets or threats, major city power failures, office fires or flooding. The first members of staff ready and waiting for services to be brought online to be able to work during an invocation are the home-based employees.

It is not all easy and straightforward, though: all devices used by mobile and home workers – mainly laptops, smartphones and tablets – have to be managed properly and securely by the company.

Policies, technology and management tools must be in place to block users from saving or transferring harmful data onto devices, and also to maintain client confidentiality and adhere to Data Protection regulations as well as contractual obligations to customers, whilst still allowing staff to seamlessly access applications and data stored within the corporate network.

The tools already exist to support businesses to remotely manage, secure or wipe devices, remotely activate device services, and to create and manage their own security policies – whether those policies are corporate ‘end-user acceptable use’ policies, or technology enforcing policies such as disallowing ‘Copy & Paste’ between devices or disabling printing or screen capture.

Fortunately, thanks to new technologies and industry best practices, the tools to achieve business continuity and to make a full recovery after a serious incident are all quite easily available. If the company’s disaster recovery and business continuity plan covers the mobile office service as well as any physical offices, the chances of a successful recovery and return to ‘business as usual’ are vastly improved. Moreover, there may be an advantage to be won over competitors going through the same issues, as well as reputational and credibility gains.

The key to any mobile office solution is resiliency and planning. It is vital that considerable thought, planning and design for the mobile office service is placed at the forefront of any disaster recovery environment and business continuity plan, to provide resiliency and contingency for the mobile and home-based workers in the event of technology failure, office inaccessibility or other unplanned incidents, as these employees may be the key to providing rapid continuation of business services in the most productive, seamless and cost-effective manner.

Jennifer Norman, Technical Consultant

This article was written for Contingency Today:

http://www.contingencytoday.com/online_article/Disaster-recovery-and-the-mobile-office/3464

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From in-house to consultancy: moving to the ‘dark side’

November 23, 2011

There are many exciting directions a career path can take when one works in the IT field. This is not exclusive to skill development or career advancements within the same company or field. Many IT people with in-house experience at some point choose to ‘move to the dark side’ and embrace the world of consulting. It can be a positive change for a Service Desk-bound professional to finally be able to get to the clients directly without all the layers of sales people, and be able to make good use of the inside knowledge they acquired by advising companies in different fields and with different environments on what is best for them.

Moving to consultancy is a choice that more and more IT professionals are making, while other professions are slowly becoming less popular. According to the research paper ‘Technology Insights 2011’ published by e-skills UK, there were as many as 149,000 ‘IT Strategy and Planning’ professionals in the UK in 2010. This category consists of professionals who provide advice on the effective utilisation of information technology in order to solve business problems or to enhance the effectiveness of business functions, and in particular computer and software consultants. This sector has an average growth of 2.22% per annum and is expected to grow by another 29,800 people by 2019, with 178,900 professionals working as IT consultants in the UK. Whereas the IT Strategy and Planning field has enjoyed a growth of 15% since 2001, jobs like computer engineers and database assistants on the other hand have decreased, the latter category by a striking -34%. It is evident that the more technical roles are suffering from the increased use of automation software, remote support and best practice processes that allow less skilled and therefore cheaper staff to take the place of qualified engineers without losing efficiency. So it is no surprise that more strategic roles are winning ground and many techies are making the choice to use their skills in the role of advisers.

While moving to a consultancy role can be a very positive choice for an IT professional from a career point of view, it might however also face the person with new challenges – in particular, the negative prejudice they could encounter when approaching clients. Consultants are often seen as salespeople who want to trick companies into buying their services, perhaps long projects that they don’t really need, and overcharge them when they could do the same work themselves, for less. This gives way to many issues. It is difficult for consultants to get hold of business heads or get them to listen to their proposals, and when they do manage to have a meeting, they need to be very well-prepared and find the right balance between cost and quality, where they do not undersell or oversell their services. Finally, they have greater responsibility with regards to the outcome than they had in their in-house role, so it is important that their plan is feasible and effective and that they check and monitor constantly to be sure that everything is going as expected, making any necessary correction along the way.

It is not all bad, of course. At the top of the ‘positives’ list, there is the fact that consultants get to see many different environments, rather than just a few in their career lifespan. This allows them to build a greater, wider knowledge and experience base and improve their professional skills. But it also helps to avoid the feeling of stagnancy, keeping their level of enthusiasm high as they can enjoy working on a variety of projects.

A former in-house professional may also have some advantages over consultants who do not have that kind of background: having experienced ‘the other side’ helps them understand what clients want and, especially, don’t want from a consultancy, so that they can deliver a better service and even identify new work opportunities. They know and understand how things work inside organisations – the communication issues between business and IT, the difficulty in justifying IT projects to the CFO or the blaming game when a project doesn’t go as predicted.

Balancing all the positive and negative sides of this move, one thing is certain: these kinds of professionals have an edge over those without an in-house background, and can therefore be a valued acquisition for a consultancy firm as well as a resourceful advisor for any company in need of IT improvements. And if taken advantage of appropriately, work success and personal satisfaction are natural consequences.

 

 

Jennifer Norman, Technical Consultant

The tricky business of justifying IT expenditure

October 20, 2011

How to prioritise IT projects and budget spend?

As a result of the recent financial crisis, the constant fear of a double dip recession or, at the very least, an uncertain and unstable economic climate where long-term commitments are not convenient any more has led organisations to become more careful with where they spend their money and what they want for it. This means that it is now even more difficult for the IT department to convince Financial Directors to invest in their projects or assign a bigger budget to them – the finances always seem to be needed elsewhere as a priority. And even when the business does concede a budget to IT projects, it normally covers the bottom line – hardware or software that is urgently in need of replacement – while Service Management is kept at the bottom of the priority list.

But if this can initially make sense from a practical point of view, it may have a negative outcome if not backed by the appropriate Best Practice processes and instead of saving the company money, might result in added unforeseen costs which could have been avoided with a smarter budget allocation. Take a move from Windows XP or Vista to Windows 7 for example, operation which many organisations have been undertaking this year. Although it is still a Windows Operating System, there are many differences in the new version for which some of the applications used by the company, especially in-house software designed for that specific organisation, might not work at all. If the appropriate Change Management process is adopted and the issue is dealt with in a timely manner, which includes adapting or changing the application before all the desktops across the organisation are updated, continuity can be guaranteed. But if this is not the case, users will find themselves unable to work and clients unable to use the company’s services – with financial and reputational loss as a result.

A Financial Director can understand the importance of having processes in place, as they have their own procedures to follow in their work. But to understand the value of processes within IT, and therefore of putting money towards improving the way the IT department carries out its functions, their view has to shift to a new concept of IT as a ‘service to the business’ – where every other department in the company is their client and will benefit from improvements to the service they provide.

In any case, figures published by Gartner suggest investment in IT is increasing more than expected: IT expenditure is predicted to grow by 7.1% this year, which is higher than the 5.6% previously believed. Just two years ago, the growth was -4.8: organisations are either taking risks again, desperately in need of replacing old systems and devices, or investing in new technology believing it will save them money in the future. Computer hardware is at the top of the list for expenditure with a growth of 11.7%, although it has decreased from the previous year where it reached 12.1% growth. Software expenditure has instead increased from a growth of 8.4% in 2010 to 9.5% in 2011. Finally, IT Services has more than doubled its growth rate: if in 2010 it grew by 3.1%, in 2011 this is up to 6.6%

These figures speak for themselves: not only Financial Directors are spending on IT again, they are changing their priorities: software, including Service Management applications, is becoming more important than shiny new hardware; more importantly, the use of services such as consultancy has increased. Buying ‘knowledge’ and ‘expertise’ in just the right doses needed for their projects and seeking guidance to carry them out in the best possible way is the new winning strategy for many organisations.

Businesses have perhaps become smarter in the way they invest their budget, finding new ways of reaching cost-efficiency: mature Best Practice processes, guidance from external experts and treating IT as a service to the organisation being at the top of the list. In this way, they get a good ROI – they can enjoy an improved IT service and, as a result, a better chance to increase their business success.

Jennifer Norman, Technical Consultant

This article appears on Director of Finance Online: http://www.dofonline.co.uk/content/view/5739/115/