With companies becoming increasingly reliant on the successful integration of converged information and communications technology systems, the design, installation and maintenance of networking and other basic infrastructure is rapidly becoming a critical issue for senior executives who are held accountable for compliance, governance and risk management in terms of their fiduciary duties.

This is the view of Jan Hamman, senior manager at Interconnect Systems, one of South Africa’s most established and largest independent providers of network infrastructure solutions.

Hamman says the underlying infrastructure that he is referring to is used to support IT, telecommunications and the supply and distribution of energy used for lighting, climate control and other applications including access and security systems in all corporate facilities.

“Because this underlying infrastructure is a relatively inexpensive, generally reliable and a virtually unseen component of the entire application and operational environment, it is often taken for granted and subjected to wide-spread abuse and neglect,” he says.

Hamman points out that while networking, electrical distribution and the design and installation of other infrastructure requirements such as data centres or server rooms are undertaken with great care and attention to detail when they are first set up, rapid and sometimes dramatic changes in the company’s day-to-day business environment demands that this infrastructure be changed or adapted to meet these needs.

“It is, for example, not uncommon for major changes to be undertaken within a server room in order to cope with additional capacity requirements, major upgrades to existing systems, or the installation of new or additional connectivity points or power sources to cope with the increasing pace of convergence in terms of voice, data and other access solutions.

“These changes are often carried out under extreme time constraints by IT technicians who can sometimes ignore the impact of their work on the foundational infrastructure of the environment in which the server room is housed,” says Hamman.

“In many instances the overall integrity of the server room can also be undermined by ‘fixes’ or ‘patches’ that are almost inevitably instituted by staff without consultation or the support of infrastructure experts.

“Left undetected these and other changes represent a material potential risk to the business in terms of audit compliance (corporate governance), disaster and business continuity management, system performance and reliability, occupational health and safety and security,” he says.

Hamman says the reticulation and distribution of electricity from the primary point of supply by a municipal authority or Eskom throughout an office block is often subjected to rapid and unplanned changes.

“Changes are often carried out to accommodate the relocation or movement of staff within the facility or for the installation of additional appliances or equipment such as workstations, office automation, water coolers, coffee machines and so on.

“These changes inevitably affect every aspect of the basic electrical distribution infrastructure – from the primary source of power at the distribution board into the rest of the facility, including plug points, lights, switches and other power sources.

“Left unchecked these changes represent a material potential risk to the business in terms of health, safety and security as well as excessive energy consumption due to overloading and electrical interference that may impact on the performance of other electrical and digital devices,” Hamman says.

He adds that these changes are often carried out on an ad-hoc basis by unqualified personnel or by a variety of different suppliers that may use varying standards that are not fully documented or recognised.

“Exposures to factors such as the health and safety of staff, the possibility of fire caused by short circuits in faulty installations and the erratic performance of systems and equipment need to be taken very seriously by senior executives who are held accountable for these issues in a company,” says Hamman.

To address what Hamman describes as “one of the most critical but unseen risks faced by” medium to large corporates and enterprises in South Africa Interconnect Systems has launched an infrastructure compliance, governance and risk management service.

The service is focused on networking infrastructure, server rooms and electrical reticulation and distribution and is provided by a highly-skilled, fully-qualified independent team that assists clients to eliminate risks such as accidental death, fire, loss of production and wastage due to excessive energy consumption.