The huge cost of box-hugging IT
Digital transformation has become a core goal for many enterprises around the world. But true digital transformation is much easier to talk about than to achieve. One prime reason for this is that there is no software or box anymore through which technology is run. This is an inherent part of digital transformation that companies and individuals find scary, and it presents a huge change in the way businesses operate.
Salespeople no longer have a physical object to sell. Additionally, subscription services are confusing to purchasing and procurement departments. There are questions about where the capital expenses are, and a misunderstanding that the expenses will mainly be on the operating front rather than on hardware. But clinging to the “need” for a box is preventing companies from experiencing the benefits of the cloud and freeing themselves from physical infrastructure.
I say this with respect, knowing how hard it is to change decades-old practices. It’s time for people to let go of their fears. Moving to the cloud actually drives down costs in the long term and makes things easier to use. Overcoming this fear, though, requires strategy and patience: companies need to show employees what their jobs will look like in the future.
Clinging to the boxes
Based on my experience, there are three main reasons people cling to boxes, all of which feed into one another:
- Inertia. “The way things have always been done” holds huge sway over the way businesses, and indeed all humans in all spheres of life, operate. Change, and the fear that comes with it, presents challenges. It’s always easier to keep things as they are — but it doesn’t mean that’s the right decision.
- Control. With hardware, if something goes wrong, companies can at least attempt to fix the problem on the physical device. With the cloud, a resolution is not always so clear-cut. But it’s a myth that companies using the cloud don’t have complete control over the underlying infrastructure. In fact, if companies leverage cloud services wisely, they actually have more control than they do over a box, as they can control the behavior of cloud APIs with more automation and monitoring of the environment. Additionally, with the cloud, there’s no updating of legacy infrastructure to achieve this type of control and gain new capabilities. Updates occur much more quickly in the cloud and companies should recognize that they end up with less responsibility in the cloud when it comes to maintenance.
- Fear about skills in dealing with the cloud plays into the previous point about control. Employees have to learn a new set of skills to make the cloud work well. They have the certifications for their known universe of boxes and hardware and are uncomfortable with having to change their financial model from one in which capital expenses dominate to one where operating expenses are at the fore. But having to evolve, adapt, and learn new skills is something that technology necessitates, and if fears about curating new skills are impeding digital transformation, companies should be aware they’re being held back.
The impact of box hugging
All this discussion of inertia, control, and fear lead us to a central question: what does box hugging do to the business?
The greatest impact that box hugging has on companies is cost. When companies cling to hardware, IT continues to be a huge financial sinkhole. It requires an enormous human effort and financial resources to maintain the underlying plumbing of a hardware-based infrastructure.
Additionally, this focus on maintenance means that companies are not having conversations about transformation within the business. They’re too preoccupied just keeping the status quo in place. This leads to a situation where the cost of technology is divorced from the value it provides to the business. It should be obvious that such a focus greatly impedes any attempt at digital transformation.
Signs a company Is hugging its boxes
For those companies ready to engage in digital transformation, gaining self-awareness is key. The only way digital transformation can happen is if businesses recognize that what they are doing isn’t working now and won’t work in the future, and they have to move away from their boxes toward a digital-based tomorrow.
There are always clear signs a company can look for when it's ready to recognize that it's clinging to boxes. If conversations in the business are not focused on transformation, but rather on the cost to maintain physical infrastructure, that’s a problem. If transformation is being slowed because of delays in hardware acquisition and data center expansion, that’s a problem as well. And if IT says that there aren’t sufficient resources to drive transformation, that’s one final sign that hardware is impeding growth.
But there are more than just deficit-based reasons to leverage the cloud to drive digital transformation and let go of boxes. The cloud provides numerous benefits and enhanced capabilities that boxes simply can’t match, such as:
- Greater visibility and more control. Companies can exert extensive control with the type of automation and monitoring I mentioned earlier, which leads to more visibility of their data/traffic flows.
- IT can become a strategic partner with the business. Instead of just keeping the lights on, IT can provide tangible value to the business. The time IT staff spent on maintaining legacy infrastructure can be devoted to new initiatives specifically geared toward promoting business value. For instance, a business doesn’t get value from someone patching a firewall, but it does from having that person educate others in the business on how to use the cloud and improve business processes. IT becomes a partner in the cloud era, collaborating with the business on what’s most important, not just infrastructure.
The before and after
Getting rid of boxes can be truly liberating for businesses. Living in a box-hugging world can make a company feel like it’s trying to swim upstream with weights attached to its ankles. Companies spend all their time just trying to make sure the hardware they have functions properly instead of being able to envision growth initiatives and invest in the future. Maintenance cannot be a full-time job in a company that has experienced digital transformation.
With a cloud-based architecture, companies:
- Have visibility into their networks and metrics that they can use to see what is cost-effective and what is not, as well as where staff is spending time
- Spend more time on business issues
- Have fewer boxes overall to maintain and worry about
- Understand their IT investments better
- Have less shadow IT because users are getting the benefits they want
- See IT expenses aligned to larger business objectives
The impact of these benefits cannot be understated. That’s why I believe so strongly that it’s time for companies to overcome their fears about getting rid of hardware and embrace a world in which they can fully leverage the cloud and achieve digital transformation.
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Dan Shelton is Zscaler director of product management