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Applications that deliver business value

Dave Gosling of Premier Global Services argues that IT and the business functions must work more effectively together to produce an efficient more productive organisation.

In order for a business to be run both efficiently and productively, the IT and the business functions must work hand-in-hand. The problem is that in many businesses, the role of the CIO and their IT department is seen as providing a support function to the rest of the organisation. By many, IT is not seen as strategic, but merely as a function that facilitates business and to an extent this is true.

However, in reality, the CIO and their IT department plays a vital role in driving the company forward. One thing is incontrovertible; today a company's success is inextricably linked to the success of its IT department. This success is based on the CIO providing the businesses with the infrastructure and applications it needs to become more efficient and more productive.

With the increasing influence of IT on strategic business decisions, there is a new generation of CIOs coming through who are not just technical 'whizzes', but have a solid understanding of the business and what it needs to remain competitive. In addition, these CIOs are making IT purchasing decisions strategically, looking at what is going to improve efficiency and productivity, how they can free up more of their own valuable time and resource, yet work to the budgets they have agreed. The CIOs are less interested in controlling all things IT and more concerned about providing a service that fully supports the growth and objectives of the business.

To achieve their objectives, businesses are now dependent on a vast array of technologies to survive. This is not just due to ever increasing regulations surrounding compliance but also the need for business continuity measures and pressures to safeguard the environment. There is also the need to be able to communicate with a wide range of audiences, based across the world, at any time, using multiple devices, on a variety of networks.

The CIO's challenges do not end at meeting these demands, but they also need to maintain and manage legacy systems that keep increasing in both scale and complexity. Furthermore continuous improvement requires that the right technology is implemented and this requires investment and specific skills to maintain and manage it on a daily basis, these may not be readily available in-house.

Hence, the CIO has to be smart about the way he or she manages and provides IT to the rest of the business. In addition, they need to ask themselves if they have the expertise and capacity to provide all the different applications that the business needs to remain successful and competitive. The answer may well lie in on-demand hosted solutions.

The first step that the CIO has to take when considering working with hosted service providers is which IT functions can be ''outsourced. The obvious way to address this is to look at which functions are business critical and which are critical to getting business done. It is this latter category that best suits the hosted model. This could include storage and back-up to more important communication technologies. The hosted application and service model is not only quick to get set-up due to their web based provisioning, but they are also very easy to manage. Strict SLA's can be implemented along with ensuring there is the latest and best technology and 24/7 customer support.

Through the use of hosted on-demand communication solutions, the IT department can provide the company with access to a wide range of applications that can fully support the business needs though an ASP model without having any impact on the performance of the IT infrastructure. In addition, going down this hosted service model can eliminate the need for expensive investments in new technologies, implementations and expertise. Offering the full range of communication, technologies these solutions enable enterprises to communicate with all of their constituents with all available modalities, including email, fax, voice, SMS, web and audio conferencing and mobile technologies.

Hosted on-demand communication solutions and applications are not just about adding stand-alone technologies. They are geared to provide a unified communication solution that enables the business to be smart about the way they communicate and interact with all their stakeholders. The decision to adopt these technologies has to come from the CIO as it is a strategic one. The ability to manage communication to stakeholders based on their individual preferences is now a necessity for maximising the reach of every department, whether they are customer facing such as marketing, customer service and collections to those more involved with internal communications from HR to finance. This is not just about adding functionality. This is about the IT department providing technology solutions that make those departments more efficient and productive in what they do.

Potentially there are huge financial benefits to going down the hosted route. Often many of the services and applications need a level of expertise to run and manage, such as Fax2Mail and multi-channel marketing mechanisms. To provide these services in-house, companies will need to buy-in the latest technology and expertise to ensure it all runs properly. Through the hosted model, companies can find expert providers who have the latest technology, the relevant experience, knowledge and the resources to ensure that it all runs perfectly. Robust SLAs will ensure quality and reliability of service.

By working with expert partners to provide these on-demand communication solutions and applications, the CIO can not only manage to keep costs low, but can free up resource and ensure that the addition of new applications doesn't impact on the network performance as a whole.

The other key benefit they can gain by going down the on-demand model is that they empower the employees to use, access and manage their own use of these applications. Each employee can have their own conference call number or have access to a portal to set up their own web conference or use the multi-channel marketing applications. By giving access to the employees to run their own communications, the CIO can free up the time of their IT teams to get on with the job of managing the networks and improving its efficiency.

Costs maybe more easily managed with a full breakdown of all usage of these applications and by whom. They are then able to work with the CFO and other business heads to make qualified decisions as to which departments will need more IT support or investment.

The role and perception of the CIO is evolving and they must now start to see themselves as more strategic. The IT function needs to not only support the business but help drive growth, productivity and efficiency. The strategic use of hosted on-demand communication services alongside in-house networked applications provides CIOs with the ammunition they need to meet the demands of the business whilst giving them the time and resource to help deliver strategy that support the organisations goals.

The author

Dave Gosling, is Head of Sales at Premier Global Services. (ITadviser, Issue 57, Spring 2009)



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