Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and public cloud platforms offer pay-as-you-go means to access computing power and storage capability, as well as taking some of the headaches around managing IT infrastructures in-house. But, while centralising how critical business data is managed can provide huge total cost of ownership efficiencies, does it come at the cost of the service availability and uptime the business depends on?
Dave Russell, VP of Product Strategy at Veeam, a privately held US-based information technology company owned by Insight Partners, explains what the old approach would entail:
“When it came to backing up the data from SaaS applications like Office 365, for example, historically the approach has been to ‘set and forget’, relying on the built-in data protection capabilities offered by public cloud platforms. But when things like accidental deletion, ransomware and insider threats potentially wreak havoc, businesses need greater peace of mind that the entire array of data they’re producing and relying on every day is protected”.
Russell suggests a disaster recovery tool is needed. One that works across all of the environments a business might use to store their data. According to Russell, even as functions have become more centralised, many organisations might make use of hybrid cloud infrastructures to manage their data and keep systems running. If not managed properly, he suggests, this can create blind spots in exactly where their data is being kept, creating opportunities for breaches or losses to occur.
“This is why discussions around centralising IT should not only consider cost – the capability to respond to disasters, whether malicious or otherwise, must also be top priority. If a business makes a shift over to the public cloud as part of their centralisation, look carefully at where the data protection responsibility lies. Formulate a clear plan for an outage, data breach or even accidental deletion. Driving efficiencies within IT is a noble cause, but it’s all for nothing if it means availability takes a hit and the business can’t serve its customers,” he added.
Centralisation by no means a straightforward process
Ash Finnegan is an award-winning Digital Transformation Officer at Conga, who also joined BizClikMedia’s Tech, AI & Cyber Live event last year. Finnegan suggests that IT centralisation is complex and can make or break an organisation.
“There are often many teams, processes and systems involved. If an IT leader rushes a transformation programme of this kind, it can have the opposite effect, stifling innovation, resulting in serious operational complexity and inefficiencies,” she said.
“Technology does not need to be ground-breaking, integrating systems and streamlining processes should be the first priority – ensuring data management and workflows are properly structured and fully optimised,” said Finnegan.
According to Finnegan, all data needs to be accounted for across the entire business cycle and properly structured before leaders consider adding any ‘radical’ technology or making serious structural changes to their organisations.
Gabriel Kerner, Vice President at Telco Systems, a US-based telecommunications equipment company, agrees, suggesting that everything from edge and cloud to on-prem deployments all need to sync and communicate so they deliver true value.
“Think of a central platform as the hub that holds all the processes. Without it, managing the network IT operation becomes too complex, involves multiple limbs and you may lose control of some, leading to rising costs and security and regulatory oversights.”
Kerner suggests that the move to a centralised approach comes with a culture change. If organisations have multiple branches that are more used to siloed working, Kerner believes it's imperative that central resources understand the needs and nuances, so they can evolve processes in ways that continue to drive performance for the wider enterprise.
“Centralised software-based management platforms act as a single control point to all workflows across the enterprise. They are a powerful tool that provide automation, transparency and greater control which optimises performance,” said Kerner.
Improving cybersecurity and considering risk level
George Waller is EVP and co-founder of StrikeForce Technologies, a next-gen cyber, privacy and data protection solutions provider for consumers, corporations and government agencies. According to Waller, when choosing a platform for your organisation, it is imperative that cyber security is your main priority.
“While almost every platform offers some level of security these days, the key is finding the right mix of features that will ensure the highest levels of protection. Some “must-have” cyber security features that your organisation should be looking for include encrypted audio and video, meeting and user authentication which includes one-time passcodes, biometrics, two-factor, multi-factor, and/or out-of-band authentication, as well as endpoint protection of the camera, microphone, speakers, keyboard and clipboard,” said Waller.
As high-profile cyber attacks become the new norm, Waller insists it is imperative for all organisations to take a closer look at the virtual communications tools being used to ensure total organisational safety and security.
Aaron Baillo, CISO at the University of Oklahoma, suggests that centralising reduces complexity, duplication, and the amount that has to be monitored: “If it was up to CISOs of the world, we'd lock everything down and there'd only be one option for everything! That would be our zen environment. But that doesn't help the business. That's where it starts to become an art form. How much risk is the organisation willing to carry? That's where you model your baselines,” he said.
Ash Finnegan suggests that with any transformation programme, there is some level of risk involved, as most companies aspire to be disrupters. Leaders pick a technology and implement it at speed, with no real idea of how it will improve their services or operations, or unify their systems.
“Leaders need to identify clear business goals and review their current operational model to identify where a particular technology would be best suited and how IT centralisation will benefit their organisation,” she suggests.
IT leaders must find out what the real business drivers are, given the complexity of integrating different systems and the sheer scale of such digital change programmes. These projects tend to be time-consuming and shouldn’t be rushed.
Finnegan suggests leaders take a step back: “By reviewing every stage of their operational cycle – from foundation (data transparency and business logic) to full system integration – leaders can take their business to a truly intelligent state, where they are actually using all of the data at their disposal to make strategic decisions to allow for further business growth. At this point, IT centralisation can begin to add real value on the digital transformation journey, providing greater operational visibility, business and data intelligence and the ability to be more agile and adaptable.”
The decentralised approach
For the past 20 years, data teams have typically focused on collecting data from across the enterprise and storing this information centrally in either a data warehouse, data lake, or repository, according to Ryan Moore, Head of Data and Analytics at Aiimi, a creative tech company that specialises in artificial intelligence (AI) and data:
“While this centralised approach has its benefits, such as increased accessibility, as well as traditional data modelling and reporting capabilities, it also moves data away from its natural source and from the teams who need to quickly derive insights relevant to their bespoke requirements.”
Moore suggests that rather than re-architecting infrastructure to align with a centralised data strategy, an alternative is to adopt a decentralised approach — such as a data mesh — that interconnects all information, including structured and unstructured data, across the enterprise and enables the self-servicing of data and analytics capabilities for each business domain.
“By moving to a data mesh model, in which data is organised and owned by each business domain, bespoke data products that conform to standardised data principles can be delivered with ease. Teams can also scale their data requirements independently, delivering increased business agility and value,” says Moore.
To centralise or decentralise?
Martin Molloy, Partner, CIO Advisory at consultancy KPMG UK, says in recent times, decentralisation has also started to happen naturally. As technology has become more accessible through Cloud, there has been greater adoption of technology outside of IT than ever before. This used to be referred to as “shadow” IT but in reality, Molloy suggests it is just businesses using technology to solve problems.
“The reality is, this is never a binary decision. Most clients we work with rarely have a completely centralised or decentralised model, there is almost always a hybrid somewhere along the spectrum,” he said.