Is the “system neglect” time bomb ticking?

Posted on 26 Sep 2013 by The Manufacturer

Without the aid of hindsight, few of us in business would have believed the pace of technological advance in computing. But are we keeping up with all the changes asks Andrew Mills, Account Manager at ERP software vendor Javelin.

Andrew Mills, Javelin

In less than a working lifetime our paper-based systems and processes have migrated onto machines that have become ever faster, smaller and with seemingly endless memory.

Remember how we willingly embraced the initial implementations and installations? Unfortunately, time has now probably eroded those teams, meaning that system administration falls, at best, to only a few, and in most instances to just a lone guru. Add this to an ageing I.T. platform and software issues, and you’re well on the way to encountering a “business critical” problem. In other words, a “System Neglect” time bomb.

The conundrum as to why software is often ignored is heightened by the fact that we budget and spend money relatively easily on certain things. This can be new machine tools, training, and accreditations. Energy saving and environmental compliance is also a high priority. Behind all this, a “Server/PC Network” and/or “Business Control Systems” limps on to critical failure or inevitable incompatibility issues. At this point we are aghast at the cost to upgrade and can’t believe the complexity that this situation has created.

In our home life we tend to keep up with the latest technology and equipment. We wouldn’t be without the latest gadgets at our fingertips, would we? It appears that as individuals we have adapted to the speed of change, and have accepted that this change isn’t cheap. However, I doubt that many of us attach these costs to a plan, or budget, but nevertheless, we get the gadgets. Why then do we become selective when we go to work in our businesses?

We may be excused in the past, regarding understanding how fast things change. But as far as the future is concerned we now have a good idea of the pace and scope of technological change. From the early days of DOS based systems around the 1990’s, through to today’s MS SQL type servers it would not be unreasonable to have had at least three major operating platform upgrades. The same could be said for release of new software versions. They are probably more numerous, but will mirror the changes in operating platforms. This all combines with relatively predictable costs to form the basis for a budgeted “Business System Maintenance Plan.”

And another bit of the conundrum: there is also a reluctance to accept third party software costs. I believe this is a conflict created between home computing and business needs. At home there is always the latest software bundle on offer, or some form of free version available. This is seldom the case when we are at work, but our mindset is formed and this cost is seen as additional and not necessary. This all adds to the cost shock of an upgrade proposal. This shock can be all that is required to stall any system maintenance initiative.

However, if the “System Neglect” time bomb is counting down in your business, action is required. This is not going to be easy and it is going to cost. Engage with all your relevant providers for IT and software and get provisional quotations and operating specification. This is a business shock point! I would like to wager that the words “we can buy a new system for that money” are uttered at this point. There is a danger that this statement will distract you into protracted alternative solution evaluations. This will be in the interests of cost cutting but has the potential to stall the initiative and consume valuable time and resources. This is from personal experience folly unless you are totally certain that a new business system direction is required. Using the time bomb analogy remember, it is counting down and your business primed it. In light of this it is unlikely that you have the resources to do from scratch what you have already neglected to do over a reasonably long period.

There are plenty of positives, though. Server platforms are available for all sizes of business and purse. For SMEs these are relatively cheap and do come with bundled software – and, yes, with free options. If your business control software provider is still operating and you still use the product after all these years then my point is made. It most probably will also have been developed around core functionality so the look and feel will be inherently generic. Bespoke programming, if it is desirable, may well be standard by now, but if it isn’t, why not try a standard upgrade installation? Do not be special…look to standardise processes.

At quite an early stage of my working life I was made aware of a saying: “If you stand still you will by definition go backwards.” Now that I am older with a more varied life experience this has a greater meaning to me. A classic example of this in business is “System Neglect”. What do we do if our phones, laptops, cycles, golf clubs, running gear, and appliances become out dated? We review, seek the help of experts, formulate a budget and go for it.

The neglect of our business platforms and systems is no different but the potential consequences are on a different scale. What business would not benefit from a new engine and a budgeted plan of forward maintenance and renewal?