Tim Walker is managing director of Aura Technology, which provides proactive strategic IT consultancy, managed services and support to mid-market companies across the south. He shares his expert opinion on how companies should consider navigating a strategic IT review…
It’s the start of a new year and many mid-market businesses will be looking at the effectiveness of their IT infrastructure with a fresh and discerning pair of eyes. Having personally conducted and also been involved in a number of strategic IT reviews over the course of the past few years, I thought it was worth sharing some tips on what I think works well, in the context of what I think many businesses are looking to achieve.
Most reviews of an IT environment are initiated in response to some sort of compelling event, such as a systems outage, a data breach, concerns over personnel, or issues with an incumbent supplier. Our experience is that most incumbent IT suppliers and in-house IT teams are not doing what is required to effectively secure their customers’ environments.
The most successful strategic reviews of IT are successful because careful consideration is given to the chosen consultancy organisation undertaking the work.
The scope of a review should cover three key areas: findings, risk analysis and recommendations. Findings should provide an in-depth analysis of the infrastructure, including local and wide-area networks, server infrastructure, back-up and business continuity arrangements. This all-encompassing research exercise will also cover existing strategy, policies, support arrangements for users and establishing their views of the current set-up and future requirements.
Risk analysis involves an easy-to-understand benchmarking of each area of the scope of your review, which is often rated using a Red, Amber, Green (RAG) colour code, showing the comparison of your IT with the company’s peer group – namely companies of a similar size in a similar sector to the organisation. Ideally, such a RAG should show where you are now on each area assessed, and show where you will be after an agreed period – the clear intention being that the colour code improves markedly over this period.
The final, and perhaps the most important element, will cover recommendations. Each recommendation should be justified as to why it is being recommended, and will normally be broken down by section of the scope of the review – ie separate recommendations for server infrastructure, IT support arrangements.
Here are my Top 10 considerations for a strategic IT review to ensure it achieves the outcomes you require:
1 Strategy – it is key that any review starts by understanding your organisation’s objectives. It is impossible to align a technology strategy to an organisation without first having understood in some detail its direction of travel.
2 Cost – a review is typically chargeable. If the work is being given away for free or heavily discounted, it is probably not going to the level of detail you will need.
3 Independence – when was the last time the supplier recommended something other than just a variation of its own/preferred product set? Check this – for a review to be most valuable in the business world, it needs to be genuinely independent. So many IT companies have built their own private hosting environments, and their recommendations are biased towards filling up that hosting platform, rather than what is in the best interests of the customer.
4 Format – is the strategic IT review going to be delivered back to you in the right format for you? Do you really need a long, wordy report document? Agree the right format for you to spend your time efficiently and really understand the output.
5 Board – it is key that such a review has Board involvement and sponsorship from the outset. This means that the results/recommendations will be aligned to your business goals.
6 Method – how will the review be conducted? Will it be on-site or remotely undertaken, or a combination of the two? How much time will be required of personnel in your organisation, and for what?
7 Interviews – for a review to have most impact, it will need to involve some one-to-one interviews with users of the IT along with, where relevant, some focus groups. This helps understand what users most need to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.
8 Information – what supporting information will you be provided with? Have a good understanding of additional information on the existing IT environment you will be provided with.
9 Timescale – how long will a review take, and what are the contingencies involved in its preparation? Is there for example, information required from third parties, such as existing suppliers of IT services?
10 Follow Up – what is the feedback loop process, and the ongoing management of the engagement with your organisation to ensure that the recommendations are successfully implemented?
I hope that whatever you are doing with your organisation’s IT in 2019 that this guide is of some use and prompts some useful thoughts in this area.
Global leader primed for growth after strategic review
Aura began working with Spinlock a year ago as part of a three-year agreement and its strategic review has led to a transformation of the company’s IT environment.
An award-winning global company designing and manufacturing sail control devices and personal safety equipment, Spinlock was looking at its IT systems to not only improve efficiency, but also grow as a business.
Because of the global nature of Spinlock’s business, system reliability is crucial – IT downtime is expensive and potentially damaging to the firm’s reputation for excellence.
The company required an organisation that would improve its existing IT infrastructure and minimise the chances of it ever letting them down. The company required high-quality IT systems that could be managed remotely and keep the business moving forward as a global leader.
Aura’s support model began with a powerful onboarding project, conducting a full strategic review of Spinlock’s IT systems and identifying key areas that required improvement. This involved ongoing, proactive partnership with Spinlock to assess its current and future needs and align solutions that perfectly matched the business plan.
Aura’s proactive teams were quickly able to implement some short and long-term changes that increased the performance of Spinlock’s IT systems, removing bottlenecks to improve speeds and significantly reducing downtime.
Aura identified the need for more resilient and secure back-up systems and successfully implemented a decommissioning process on elements that were not fit for purpose.
Thanks to a highly strategic and collaborative relationship with Aura, Spinlock is now equipped with a resilient IT system that is easier to maintain and monitor and completely scalable as the company grows.
Chris Hill, chief executive of Spinlock, said: “Compared to what we’ve had in place before, Aura is much more aligned to our way of thinking. The focus is on constant improvement – ensuring the IT system is stable and ready for growth.
“Working with Aura has made a big difference to the business and their positive, proactive approach to managed services really is a breath of fresh air. Aura’s specialists are encouraging and challenging us to make sure we review and assess what our needs are going forward.
“We are more efficient as a business and have to think less about the potential for delays and incident resolution. Enabling us to focus on what we can change next will help our business grow even further.
“Working with Aura has completely shifted the way we think about IT infrastructure.”
Aura expands after client wins
Rapidly-growing IT services provider Aura Technology has expanded into new offices and launched a recruitment drive following a series of client wins.
Aura has created a modern and flexible workspace at Southampton’s Ocean Village as it looks to create 40 jobs for account managers, technical engineers and support staff over the next two years.
Tim Walker, managing director of Aura, said: “Our move to Ocean Village reflects our success so far and we’ve worked hard to create an environment that meets our needs as we continue to grow.
“The Southampton office complements our London operation, giving us two strategic locations from which to service our existing clients and continue our expansion.”
Backed by a team of technology professionals with decades of experience, Aura has won a number of new clients including Vail Williams, Spinlock, Inspiration Marine Group, law firm Humphries Kerstetter, and many more since taking occupation of the Ocean Village base.
Aura works at senior level with businesses with mainly between 50 and 500 IT users to develop and implement IT strategies that are aligned to business plans and goals.
Walker added: “We identified a gap in the market and we know clients appreciate the way we work, delivering at a strategic level to transform IT services.”