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Making your business driver and technology coexist

You may cringe when you hear the term 'business driver,' but understanding the technology component within that jargon will make your job easier.

The term business driver may be a common management buzzword that makes many technologists cringe, but the idea behind the jargon and how it relates to technology is of paramount importance in the context of how organizations do business today.

In a nutshell, a business driver is simply some element necessary to support the successful function of a business process.

For example, a business driver to increase sales may be to decrease time between cold calls in a call center. Since there is a direct correlation between the number of calls and the number of sales made per day, it stands to reason more calls should equal more sales.

Decreasing downtime between calls is a business driver. Modern call centers, which often rely on vast back-end databases and complex unified communications systems, will likely turn to technology to provide the means to meet the business driver's practical requirements. Technology, then, is a vehicle that promotes the success of the business process. It is no more than a tool for the business, and not an end unto itself.

Don't get caught up in technology for technology's sake

Network administrators, IT managers and CIOs are often caught up with technology for technology's sake and miss this point almost entirely. New or exotic technology is certainly interesting and important to investigate, but a serious IT professional must start with the business driver first, and then identify what technology can meet the requirements. Often, the reverse is the case.

Network administrators, IT managers and CIOs are often caught up with technology for technology's sake and miss this point almost entirely.

Consider a manufacturing company that creates some widget in great number. The goal is to create as many widgets as possible. Workers labor on the factory floor using traditional machines and rarely, if ever, sit at a computer to consume information. The back-end office has only a dozen administrative and clerical staff working at their desks to handle invoices, shipping and payroll. In this hypothetical scenario, there is very likely no need for an IT manager to pursue deploying the latest 802.11ac wireless technology. There is no networking business driver that suggests higher throughput, greater client capacity or using primarily the 5 GHz band would increase the number of widgets manufactured per day.

On the other hand, consider if the same manufacturing company discovered new automated machinery that would increase daily widget production dramatically. Because of the facility's design, though, network cables cannot be run to each new machine; instead, each machine must take its commands via a wireless radio frequency signal. However, the machines themselves create significant interference in the 2.4 GHz band, causing serious concern with stable production.

In this alternate scenario, the technology business driver to increase widget production requires implementing a wireless network using the 5 GHz band in order to use the new automated machines and increase widget production.

Wow factor doesn't pay the bills

In sound IT management, technology is the manifestation of the business driver, and not an end unto itself.

Technologies today that are sometimes deployed for the sake of the technology itself span a wide range of services, such as desktop video collaboration devices, internal chat software, 802.11ac wireless and 100 Gbps networking. Though these technologies certainly have their place and can meet very specific drivers, they are commonly deployed because of the wow factor they provide.

Desktop video endpoints, for example, seem like the future, but very often, end users close the shutter on their desktop video phone in order to maintain some semblance of privacy and control. In many cases, they provide nothing at all to the business process.

Chat clients may indeed be the perfect solution to enable internal communication among workers in certain organizations, but in others, tens of thousands of dollars will be spent on hardware, software licensing and many hours of professional services in order to have idle servers taking up space in the data center.

While 802.11ac wireless is certainly important technology to be aware of, a major wireless network overhaul simply to move to the new standard may not provide any added benefit to any business process whatsoever -- making the investment a great waste of money from a business perspective.

Finally, 100 Gbps networking is completely unnecessary for the majority of networks, and the enormous cost to implement it is therefore an incredible misuse of resources.

For the network engineer or ambitious IT manager, interesting technologies, such as jaw-dropping bandwidth in the data center, new methods for server load balancing and the latest methods for optimizing the WAN, are exciting to work with. These are the things technologists look forward to doing and enjoy experimenting with; however, no amount of interest in a technology should overrule the business drivers of an organization.

In a primarily information-based economy, technology will play a vital role in the success of an organization in any sector, but technology isn't the ultimate answer. It's simply a tool that we can use to serve the business process and turn ideas into reality.

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This was last published in June 2016

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What are some of the technologies that, in retrospect, you deployed too quickly at your organization?
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Without exposing particular examples, I can say that sometimes hasty decisions were about "toys" that some people were eager to play with. This is not only about programmers' hype with new technologies. Business, accounting, and other departments sometimes fall into some shiny promises and push for expensive purchases ending up on the shelf.
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Totally agree with AlbertGareev. Happens all the time at my organization as well. The worse is when we purchase an expensive tool/platform to replace something that is existing. The existing solution is usually heavily integrated into our systems, meaning that we end up supporting both tools for years, when the new shiny thing was supposed to have an "easy" implementation. 
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