Thursday, August 25, 2016

Connecting Your World

Imagine that you lead the technology functions as CIO or Head of IT for a global business.  Your operations extend across four continents, all with different regional and logistical problems.  As you might expect, the company is going to look to you to ensure that business in every country is empowered with the same IT resources - networking, applications, phones (telecom), and systems.  How do you go about ensuring that the technological needs of all your company's employees are met? 

Let's take the scenario a little further.  Up until today your company has operated solely within the United States. Due to a large acquisition, the company has, overnight, inherited operations in Europe, South America, and Africa.

As might be expected, there are many answers to this question, all of which will have some merit.  The interesting thing is that this scenario is not really new or esoteric.  It happens all the time, especially when an influx in business capital opens up all sorts of new opportunities for previously static companies.  More than one CIO has been faced with the mandate to extend the IT portfolio of a U.S.-based company into regions where the leadership has no experience or business contacts.

The answer to the question, "What to do?" can derived from a return to basics.  In order to deliver IT services to multiple locations across the globe the "price of entry" or starting point is the conception and formation of a worldwide network (WAN).  This structure is the backbone required to connect your IT services and functions to all locations.  Without a foundational network, almost no IT services can be provisioned or delivered.  Yet, this return to basics can be a very painful journey for even the most season IT veterans.  Why?  Because providing network services is completely dependent upon the ability to delivery raw Internet bandwidth to any location.  With the advances in Internet service and availability in many cities most people (IT folks included) believe that this progress is a universal occurrence.  The facts are that while cities are easy to network, most of the United States and the rest of the world are still rural.  Outside the city environment, Internet service availability is far from being a given.  Telecommunications service, be it phones, cellular, or Internet bandwidth, is handled much differently in rural areas and is almost always provided by committee.  In other words, in the countryside the number of potential telecom companies who participate in delivering service is much, much greater than a city dweller would expect.

This juncture is where many CIOs make a fundamental yet very avoidable mistake.  By understanding that bandwidth is key, the CIO and staff quite often set about establishing Internet service coverage by entering into contracts with local telecom and bandwidth providers.  Initially this doesn't seem like a bad idea because each contract signed represents progress.  However, in areas that are more rural or remote, contract negotiation becomes more problematic.  Take for example just the State of Texas (USA).  In Texas there are just about 26,000 telecom providers.  If your company has field operations that are spread out in many rural areas, you could be facing the prospect of managing dozens if not hundreds of contracts for just one State!  

Now imagine facing the same prospect in a foreign country - different laws, different language, foreign business practices and cultures.  How are you going to manage all of those aspects when you are very likely facing time pressures to bring up and extend your IT systems - yesterday?  The problem becomes quite daunting indeed.  So what is the solution?

The answer comes not from better contract management skills but from telecom aggregation.  Many years ago global companies realized what a nightmare it could be if they had to engage each and every provider across the world in order to stand up a global network.  This problem was initially posed to the giant telecommunications providers of the time - AT&T, GlobalCom, BT, NTT, DT.  These giants began to offer services where they would offer to deal with each telecom provider on the behalf of the business customer.  Through aggregation a company could establish a 1:1 relationship with a telecom giant who would handle, on behalf of that company, all of the contracts across all the geographical region.  Talk about true one-stop-shopping!

Over the progression of several decades many other aggregating companies have stepped into the competitive arena.  It has been just such as company (Masergy) that has helped me solve the problems of establishing and maintaining a highly dynamic, changing global network over the years.

Remember that you don't have to do it yourself.  Aggregating services can be incredible resources to use if you ever find yourself in charge of operating a global IT shop.  There are many from which to choose so always do your homework to ensure that you find the right fit.  But once you do, hand over the heavy lifting to the experts so that you can focus on the truly important tasks of being a global IT leader.

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