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  1. Technology Alignment and What It Means for Your Business

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    Do you think of IT as an expense to be managed, or as a way to achieve company goals? If the former, it’s time to adjust your thinking.

    You may be familiar with the concept of strategic alignment, which means that all elements of an organization are arranged optimally to achieve company goals. Similarly, technology alignment means that your organization is actively using IT to achieve measurable company objectives like improved finances or competitiveness in the market – rather than upgrading IT only when you have no other choice.

    The opposite of technology alignment is a situation in which a company has expensive IT solutions that not only don’t move the company forward, but actually hinder the company from reaching its goals. In its simplest form, this could be computers that constantly freeze up, or a network that’s down too often. But it can also include things like an organization buying a solution that’s too complicated and time-consuming for what its needs actually are.

    Barriers to technology alignment:

    What gets in the way of technology alignment? There are a variety of factors, internal and external. Here are some of the most common:

    Failure to understand the technology. All too often, decisions are made with little true understanding of how the technology works. In that scenario, it can almost be impossible to come away with the best solution — you risk buying a solution that is too complex for your needs, or one you’ll quickly outgrow or in some other way is inadequate.

    Budget. Sometimes companies fail to invest adequately in technology, either because they can’t afford it or don’t recognize the value of it. Other times, leadership feels that the company has invested so much in an old system that they’re reluctant to abandon it for something new.

    Failure to include IT as part of strategic planning. As an organization’s strategic plan evolves, its technology needs change too. If those who are responsible for technology aren’t included in discussions about the company’s overall strategic direction, they will be unable to plan and adapt accordingly. It’s not fair to expect your IT department to have the right solution for the company if they don’t fully understand where the company is going.

    Rapid evolution of technology. Technology changes fast, and it can be hard for organizations to keep up — especially for smaller businesses that don’t have a dedicated IT department or professional in-house. A related problem is that some businesses can be reluctant to invest in new technology for fear that it will quickly become outdated, won’t work, or will be incompatible with current systems.

    The human factor. Value comes from the way IT is used in the business. So to realize the maximum benefit, it’s also important that everyone in the business uses available IT tools to their full potential. This may require an alteration in the way work is done, which means complete cooperation and buy-in from employees is necessary. Overcoming push back from employees and getting them to fully utilize a new technology is sometimes much more challenging than simply implementing it.

    How to achieve technology alignment

    Again, your company’s overall strategy should drive the IT strategic plans – sometimes business/technology alignment is even called “convergence,” indicating how closely the two should relate. Here are some steps you can take toward achieving technology alignment.

    Involve IT in strategic planning. If your company has a Chief Information Officer or IT department, they should be involved in strategic planning – both to provide input relating to IT trends and future needs, and to be able to adapt the company’s IT plans as the company’s strategy changes.

    Make sure that communication is clear. All too often company leadership and the IT department don’t understand each others’ needs and/or proposed solutions. The CIO can help by framing technology in terms of how it will solve problems or enable growth – that is, how it will help the organization meet its goals — rather than IT-centric terms.

    Assess your current technology alignment, and re-assess regularly. Technology alignment should regularly be assessed and deficient areas identified, so that the company strategy can include a path to improvement.

    Take the human factor into account.  If an organizational change is required in order to realize the maximum benefit from a new technology, you will have to get buy-in and cooperation from your employees. Anticipate and think through this challenge, and create a formal training plan to help your employees get the most out of it as you implement the new technology.

    Get expert advice. If your business isn’t large enough to have a CIO or dedicated IT department, you may be unsure what the future holds for IT and how you might need to prepare. Be sure your vendor is prepared to provide expert guidance in this area.

    DQE Communications partners with organizations of all sizes to help ensure the greatest possible business/technology alignment that suites your organizations’ need now, and has the ability to grow with you in the future. Contact us today to start customizing your strategic network plans!

  2. The Importance of Planning for IT Upgrades

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    The best way to protect your IT investment is to project and monitor your activity and vendor upgrade releases. Staying up-to-date will provide you with reliable connectivity and performance, maximize uptime and deliver the benefit of the increased bandwidth, when you need it.

    How do you know when you will need to update your bandwidth?

    By monitoring your activity over time, you will be able to spot your usage trends and be able to predict growth. For example, by monitoring your bandwidth traffic over each quarter, you will most likely see an increase in traffic as more and more information and data is exchanged. Thereby, letting the past predict the future, you can project, based on your current growth and usage rates, how much additional bandwidth you will need in the coming months. Through proactive monitoring, you can plan to upgrade your bandwidth ahead of time and avoid any performance issues or slow-downs of your Internet traffic.

    However, through monitoring, you may see times when your traffic surges and you need increased bandwidth only during these times. These surges may be due to either high traffic or transfer of large volumes of data, both requiring a large amount of bandwidth. At other times, you may see that you require only an average amount of bandwidth.

    In this case, you may want to consider changing to DQE Communications’ Bandwidth-on-Demand Services. With Bandwidth-on-Demand, you can scale your bandwidth using DQE’s easy to use online web portal known as the Customer Control Center (CCC). By adjusting bandwidth in real time as you need it keeps you from purchasing large quantities of bandwidth for periodic spikes in usage.

    To learn more about monitoring your bandwidth usage to see trending over time and how DQE provides these services and their Customer Control Center, go to http://www.dqecom.com/control_center.php

    The other main aspect of planning for IT upgrades, is to consider the frequency of upgrades to your network equipment. Network equipment includes both hardware and configuration software that make your network run, for example, firewalls, routers and switches, which are usually provided by manufacturers such as Juniper®, Cisco® and so forth.

    In this case, the equipment has operating systems that will require upgrades during the “life” of the equipment. The life being as long as the company continues to support a certain version (just as Microsoft® no longer supports Windows 95® and requires that you upgrade to a newer version in order to receive support). The same applies to network companies and equipment.

    Typically with network equipment, there are both major and minor releases and they usually occur on a pre-defined release cycle. Knowing this release cycle and the type of upgrade can help you plan accordingly. Minor releases occur between major ones and usually contain bug fixes that have been found since the last major release. By subscribing to vendor updates you can access a list documenting the issues that were found and fixed. With minor releases, you can determine if the issue applies to your network devices. For example, if it is a feature you use or it fixes a security hole exposed in your architecture and configuration, then you would want to upgrade. However, when neither is the case, you can opt to wait to install the minor release.

    With a major release, it is a significant feature update and is usually on a schedule such as every quarter or three times a year. In this case, the release notes will describe the new features, list features or issues that are fixed in the release and list the issues that are known but not fixed with this particular release. This information will help you determine if you need to install this release (which is usually encouraged with major releases).

    When you choose to install, you need to schedule a maintenance “window” for the install which should be a time of very-low traffic.

    AT DQE Communications, a quarterly update process is in place where dates are announced to customers one month in advance. Likewise, periodic maintenance notices are announced two weeks in advance. Even though core devices and data center systems are fully redundant and use In Service Software Updates (ISSU) processes, which enable upgrades with no downtime, DQE only runs the upgrades in low usage periods from 11:00 pm to 5:00 AM on weekends.

    For more information about DQE’s many services and solutions, visit our Solutions page.

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