After facing a number of unprecedented challenges in the past 18 months, a large number of businesses have begun to deliver growth again in 2010. However, they should not overlook the lessons that were learnt about planning for the worst, says Kcom's Daemonn Brody
Discussions about the green shoots of recovery are exciting for businesses, representing a new year with new opportunities to recover, innovate and grow. After two years of cost cutting, reduced customer spending, and a lack of credit for investment, businesses have a reason to feel proud of their perseverance.
But underlying all optimism about the coming year must be a deep understanding that despite indications of a more favourable economy, companies must remain resilient. Like the polar explorer who ventures forward over thin ice, a lack of contingency for an unexpected fall could prove fatal. Businesses looking to report a positive 2010 have so far continued to seek ways to cut costs, freeing up budget for activities that will drive revenues - particularly those that will not incur unnecessary risk.
Many companies are looking to their Web and IT platforms to extend their reach and efficiency, seeking to engage with more customers, drive more business to their Web sites and create their own innovative applications. Their aim is often to create closer connections between their customers and staff, helping to develop competitive advantage at a time where return trade may keep the business profitable. Organisations are really starting to see the difference that strategic use of IT can make to their business plans for the coming year.
Any discussions of IT that take place at a board level will invariably be focused on the "glamorous" applications and systems that improve the way the company operates. However, supporting all this innovation are technologies that can make an enormous impact while sitting quietly behind the scenes.
Managed hosting is a perfect example of this. It's not something that will necessarily even be noticed by the majority of the workforce, and yet it can provide an efficient way of managing IT Infrastructure growth, deliver resilient services and, perhaps most crucially in the coming year, provide the flexibility to meet changing business requirements. What's more, it can prove to be a valuable enabler for the showpiece IT tools being deployed within the business.
While new applications may be capturing the imagination in terms of their ability to stimulate change, a lot of budget is in reality directed towards essential infrastructure. This is needed to address the burgeoning requirements for data storage, to ensure the business has sufficient processing power in its data centre, and to secure critical data through the creation of backups. For example, most organisations probably focus their IT spending on traditional investments such as upgrading or extending the number of physical servers. A lot of this equipment requires considerable capital expenditure, which ultimately reduces the pool for the business-enabling tools through which IT delivers most value.
Managed hosting can address challenges such as these without the capex spend, delivering flexible and scalable solutions, while taking care of worries about racks and data rooms. Thanks to virtualisation and "cloud" technology, servers become highly available, resilient and can grow flexibly with the business, yet power consumption and operational costs are reduced, and the organisation benefits from a lower carbon footprint. Ensuring that this infrastructure is covered leaves IT teams free to focus on alignment with business strategy.
In addition to this cost effectiveness, managed hosting can be an essential factor in developing business resilience. Disaster recovery sounds like a pretty dramatic thing to be considering. However, it is something that all businesses should be thinking about as part of their IT strategy. Imagine having endured the turbulence of the last two years, but then failing in 2010 because of something that should be easily avoidable. Being brought down not by the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression, but instead by a server failure, would be an unbearable irony. As research and analysis company Quocirca has astutely advised, "IT failure is a risk most do not want to contemplate."
Ensuring that mission-critical data is backed up on a regular basis, and stored at a separate location, could mean the difference between an organisation coming through an unplanned incident such as the Buncefield explosion that took place in Hertfordshire, UK in December 2005, or not. Engaging with a managed hosting provider is a simple response to this risk. Irrespective of the size of the business, the economies of scale provided by the professional hosting facilities owned by a managed hosting provider mean that businesses will find a service that meets their needs.
This last point is key: meeting the needs of the organisation with a tailored solution means the service is delivered and managed in a way that complements the company's way of working. A solution should never add complexity to the way you work. Often the greatest risk of this happening occurs when there are too many providers involved in the solution. Service Level Agreements (SLAs) can help ensure that everything runs smoothly, and that a company understands how they will be looked after by the service provider, but these need to cover all elements of the service.
The optimal solution for managed hosting will therefore be one where a single provider can deliver end-to-end management of the network, the technology, the data storage and the relationship with you. Such a scenario brings the efficiencies of consolidation, and the fundamental benefit that the service provider is ultimately responsible for one thing: delivering the service that the company needs to achieve its business objectives. Managed hosting and disaster recovery strategies will not guarantee the continuation of a milder economic climate in 2010, but deciding to invest in such solutions might be what carries the company into 2011.
Daemonn Brody is head of Hosting at Kcom, part of the KCOM Group