Three Resolutions for Storage 2008 (Part 1 of 2)

Why relationship selling must stop

Forget the Bull versus Bear debate among economists you were reading this time last year. By all accounts, 2008 promises to be a challenging year with recession a possibility, and inflation a more certain possibility. In sharp contrast to January 2007, everyone agrees that the economy is slowing and 'that it will take a while before we see any improvement.

In response, corporate CAPEX and OPEX budgets are tightening -- including allocations for IT. "Do more with less" will become more than a mantra: it will become an edict. The definition of an effective CIO will include "one who can cut operational costs 10 to 15 percent while improving service levels by two to three times current performance."

At the same time, new legal and regulatory requirements, especially those about information privacy and security, are on the immediate horizon. Several bills currently before the Congress reflect the outrage shown by consumers/voters at the almost weekly disclosures of private information in 2007 by organizations entrusted with their data. Candidates running for election (or reelection) this year want to hang their hats on the passage of stricter information protection mandates.

Developing a business continuity capability is also gaining precedence on the front office agenda, as it always does in a period of economic and political turmoil. A logical corollary to scaling back on new purchasing is a perceived need to protect what you have, to reduce downtime, and to embrace common-sense approaches to building resiliency into day-to-day operations. This explains why disaster recovery is experiencing a renaissance in the trade press and in the marketing messages of most vendors today.

Greening IT operations will also move from a "nice to have" in 2007 to a "need to have" in 2008 as power costs accelerate and choke points in the electrical distribution grid become more pronounced. Conditions are worsening in the northeast corridor and in northern and southern California; the National Electrical Reliability Committee (NERC) expects additional chokepoints to begin appearing this year.

You can expect carbon credit legislation in 2008 and watch what PG&E is doing with tech vendors in California, certifying the "green-ness" of various data hosting platforms. Their program is likely to become a boilerplate for legislators.

To date, only Copan Systems has received a nod from PG&E for its greener storage value proposition, but my conversations with PG&E on this issue have yielded a promise by the company to articulate a formal process by which other platforms, including tape and optical, can be approved for similar energy credits by the company. We will shortly be reporting on the formalized PG&E review procedure here.

Resolution 1: We Will End the Front Office/Back Office Rift

This year will mark the beginning of a period that tests the mettle of both the business managers and the IT bosses in most companies. Added to the technical challenges of their jobs will be the need to resolve the rift between the front and back offices that has become all too commonplace in the contemporary corporate milieu. This is perhaps the greatest challenge that most organizations face: changing perceptions of what the "suits" and the "nerds" do for a living and rediscovering sensible ways to partner in order to become more competitive and to pull corporate profits out of the proverbial slump.

Resolutions for 2008 must begin with a commitment to mend the front office/back office rift and to build a combined business and technology brain trust in the organization to address common problems.

Over the past few years, decisions about technology -- especially storage -- have been made predominantly by the front office. Vendors became expert at "relationship selling" -- cozying up to the CEO, COO, or CFO and making the sale at that level, often without consulting the IT department at all. The result has been the deployment of technology that the company didn't really need and that became obsolete before the company, to use the vendor's words, "grew into it."

This chasm between front and back office planners and operators has produced catastrophic waste in most large corporations I visited over the past year, not to mention disgruntled and demoralized professionals within IT departments that have seen, among other things, the CIO's office fitted with a revolving door.

At a major automotive company late last year, an independent storage assessment revealed that less than 30TBs of the 300TB Fibre Channel SAN that the front office purchased from its preferred vendor was actually hosting useful business data. The IT department is now catching the blame for the abysmal capacity utilization inefficiency of the infrastructure they did not and would not have purchased had they been given a vote. This is not an isolated example.

What is urgently needed is for companies to form strategic committees, comprised of both business and IT professionals, that will develop a solid and reasonable understanding of the business problems that need to be addressed by appropriate technology. Only in this way can we properly vet proposed vendor "solutions" before investing in them.

This is certainly a much more effective approach than depending on vendor's recommendations (or those of his paid analysts) as the basis of corporate IT strategy. We need to keep in mind that the vendors' top line growth is more important to them than is our top line growth, regardless of the marketing rhetoric.

In other words, "relationship selling" needs to go. The best relationships are those based on truth and reason, not on slick marketing brochures, ten-year-old stock performance data, and free tickets to sports events. In the final analysis, the front and back office share more in common (their jobs and paychecks, for example) than do the front office and the vendors. These common interests need to become the foundation for all future IT strategy.

Creating new modalities for front and back office cooperation will require hard work. ITIL, CoBIT, and other methodologies can help, but they cannot substitute for common sense, mutual respect, and concerted action and innovation. Innovation is key to making IT matter to the business' bottom line, but the source of innovation must issue from the company itself and should not be guided by the vendor community's idea of the next big thing.

Bottom line: the first resolution for 2008 must be for business and IT to find new ways to work together to solve shared business problems with innovative technology strategies. Vendors and analysts have only a limited role to play in this effort: only you know what your problems are and only you can define the appropriate technology requirements for addressing them.

Next week I'll conclude my recommended resolutions with two important focal points for IT this year.Your feedback is important. Please feel free to e-mail me at jtoigo@toigopartners.com.

About the Author

Jon William Toigo is chairman of The Data Management Institute, the CEO of data management consulting and research firm Toigo Partners International, as well as a contributing editor to Enterprise Systems and its Storage Strategies columnist. Mr. Toigo is the author of 14 books, including Disaster Recovery Planning, 3rd Edition, and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management, both from Prentice Hall.