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On hindsight, consolidation and getting the most out of IT

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Inspired by a TED Talk on simplifying life, I recently set out to declutter my house, writes Martin Walshaw, senior engineer at F5 Networks.
I wasn’t even halfway through and had already gathered a mountain of devices and gadgets – worth thousands of rands – that my family no longer uses. Six cameras, seven gaming consoles, two media centres and a collection of tablets and Kindles, all collecting dust.
As consumers, we’re driven by a need for instant gratification. We want the latest iPhone even though it has the same features and functionality as the previous generation, albeit it in a thinner, faster form.
We tend to buy things for a specific purpose – a camera to take photographs, or a media player to connect to the TV – because it’s novel. And yet we already have devices that perform these functions – a smartphone and gaming console, respectively.
It’s the same in IT.
We hear a buzzword or identify a problem and immediately buy a device to fix that problem, even though there’s a good possibility that the functionality we need is integrated into something we already have – we just haven’t used it for that purpose yet.

Less is more
Each time we buy a new device, we need to invest our time learning how to use it and invest money in maintaining and insuring it. In business, this adds wasteful expenditure to the operational budget that could have been used in more important areas.
The reality is that businesses don’t need tons of devices to run and protect their IT environments. By investing in a few devices with multiple functionalities, businesses can drastically simplify their environments and infrastructure and save money they would have spent on skills development and maintenance.
But this requires a change in mind-set. Rather than rushing out to buy the latest device that promises to fix a new security problem, IT managers should take a step back and evaluate whether they already have a solution. If not, they will at least be buying for the right reasons and not on impulse.
It then becomes a matter of researching their options and choosing a device that has multiple functionalities, even if they don’t plan on using a specific functionality in the near term – they might need it one day.
By consolidating their solutions, businesses are effectively future-proofing their networks and saving money over the long term.

Before you upgrade …
One might argue that a bundled solution, or a device that performs many functions, is packed with solutions you may never need. While this is true in some instances, it goes back to researching your options and selecting a vendor that offers the most value for your spend.
A device provided by an application delivery vendor, for example, should give businesses the option of delivering software in the cloud or as a service. Even if the business is not yet in the cloud, it might be considering a cloud strategy and will then already have cloud functionality built into its network rather than having to buy a new device when it needs it.
Essentially, businesses should be thinking about the future – and not just immediate needs – when purchasing any device.

When it’s time to move on
We can’t sweat our assets forever, of course. At some stage, vendors will end support for a certain product, forcing customers to buy a new device. But the newer model should be infinitely better – and offer additional features and functionality – than the older generation device. You should feel like you could never go back to your old device once you’ve used the new one. It’s similar to VHS and DVDs/Blu-ray – the latter offers better quality and is more convenient and reliable than its predecessor.
But until a vendor can show clear value in switching to a new device, why change if the one you already have does everything you need it to do – and the vendor still supports it? Sure, the newer model might offer faster throughput but then it becomes a question of whether you need that extra speed or if you are satisfied with your current speed.
I got a little depressed looking at the mountain of gadgets my family had collected over the years and thought about the holiday we could have taken with that money instead. I guess it’s true what they say about hindsight: It’s always very easy to second guess after the fact.