The real costs of owning the IT landscape

IT realy hit hard, this time


This might be a good analogy: CTO is a landscape artist. There is this rather lovey named discipline called: Landscape architecture. Thus CTO might be seen as an artist of his organization’s IT landscape. Among other duties, forever pruning and grafting and taking out the IT weed. And that garden grows (weed including), 24 x 7, 365 days per year.

Manage the IT costs, before they manage you

This post might contain some pieces of information that might come handy to more than a few CxO ‘s right now. Especially if the said CxO “share” given the responsibility to “own” the IT landscape in some medium or large organization. Approx 200  seats onward, complexity depending.

In the context of that situation, and perhaps because of this post, I might be called a bit of a pessimist. The one calling himself a realist.


 When IT Really hits hard

Therefore, I am talking to you the CTO or CIO. Basically IT is absolutely necessary and IT is not cheap.  My first little advice?

Be sure you know what you own.

Where is the end of your IT kingdom? Now beware. it is not practically possible, these days, not to own “something” tangible that is not IT-related and is the business asset. Everything with a plug is IT “asset” if you ask the board. So yes, you “own” it all. Problems including.

I hope I am making myself clear here.

If in doubt about “someting” on the technological landscape of your organization, consider you own it.

What about these modern, virtual business icons you read about?  Even if your own clever IT management model has provided for completely virtual medium-sized business (aka SMB1 ), that actually works, which is (let’s be honest) unlikely, someone has to own the licensees, take care of IT Services, SLA’s and procedures in place, implement and plan the compliance (which costs money), and so on and on. Yup, you own that too.

The table below is not about the SMB side of the industry. It is about enterprises with underlying big expensive IT. IT is as big as it can get in the context of  “everything IT” that one large corporation will have in place. A typical corporation that (as any other global corporation today) uses a combination of in-house developed and external IT solutions.

Combination of legacy and new. Combination of (usually) older on-premises IT, and brand new, private or hybrid cloud IT.

That is the landscape you own.

Through the life cycle of every modern corporation a lot of these new/old combinations, called “solutions”, have been left around as results of many past socio-techno-political compromises.  Therefore, now you might be inheriting the whole minefield of them.

Expensive “mission-critical solutions” combining old and new. Coexisting in precarious IT balance, that has to be “pruned and grafted” and “watered regularly” just like some orchard which must never stop yielding the IT fruit.  Because, as soon as you ask, “everything” depends on it.

To clarify the economic context  I have developed a little table. Columns are stages in the lifetime of the IT solution. Rows are IT context.  This same table can be applied to a single project or to a whole of the IT landscape you are responsible for.

And each cell in this table means real money. Capital (CAPEX) + Operational Expenditure (OPEX) that activity in each of the cells will inevitably generate in reality.

As an example: “Testing/Infrastructure” cell means new infrastructure has been procured (CAPEX) and now the team made and deployed for that purpose, is going to formally test it (OPEX).

As we said already columns in this table do represent procedural steps of (organization) IT services. From Development to “Recovery Position”. Which is a separate data center where a redundant copy of the primary data center is gathering dust and waiting for the primary to go out of service for whichever reason.

Yes, there are some clever solutions which can avoid this recovery position “dust-gathering”. Dreaded by your CFO. But. Very often the company board has not made up their collective mind yet when and how to implement that fundamental change. So 3 little: “tick, tick, tick”-s. All the three cells in that “Recovery Position” column are added to the costs.

Development Testing UAT Operational

The above table is rather useful. It is at the same time IT landscape structure and the structure of the IT cost possible. Projects are scattered on that table.

Not every cell in the table will be significant for each project, for each and every particular IT-related project activity. Neither every project will have IT requirements that will cover all these columns and rows. But whenever and wherever any of these cells come into existence for a project, be prepared to spot it early, see it clearly and to act preemptively.

Do not just take the global “board room” view on your IT costs. Each of these cells can “explode from zero”, if not managed on time. You probably are not the luckiest CTO/CIO that ever was, thus you “own” the divine right to oversee the full set of 18 of these cells. On the company level. I have just formalized it for you so you can juggle with all the 18 balls in the air.

For the key terminology, you might feel well educated but nevertheless I have prepared that too. For a basic explanation of key terminology please follow the links below.

  • C = CAPEX
  • O = OPEX
  • R = REVEX
    • money that a company spends on activities that are directly related to making sales in a particular period.
    • This might be called “marketing” but every marketing campaign does require some IT resources, these days.

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