Shared services by stealth

A colleague (Huw Gulliver) was talking to me the other day and he was recalling the “good old days” when we got things done by talking to each other and realising that doing things together just made plain sense. In some situations the idea was so strong that the business case was easy to make and it was then easy to secure external funding to do it – the Welsh Video Network being a case in point; in other cases it was more a case of sharing expertise and working collaboratively together to just get things done. At other times the funding was there, we just had to work together to deliver the solution – the Metropolitan Area Networks of North and South Wales being good examples.

What these projects did however was to encourage IT staff in different institutions to work together towards a common goal in their joint interest. This is the thought I’m seeding/reminding you of today. It’s not a great revolutionary thought, but it’s one that has to be shared because in times of gloom and doom the natural tendancy is to look inwards and think about preservation, rather than think imaginatively (outside the box) and progressively. So that’s where the “big idea” that Huw shared with me comes in.

What if all the institutions in Wales were to share rackspace as a policy rather than thinking of a mega data centre type initiative. You would get disaster recovery on the cheap. In the good old days we used to look for sites that ran the same hardware/software to provide such a service, and very few such schemes actually worked. The beauty of this idea is that the hardware is owned by the home, not the hosting, institution; you’re just borrowing rack space. The electricity charges are offset by you hosting for someone else. The network charges are insignificant, given our exceptional wide area network in Wales. All you need to do is move kit around. Here comes the trick!

Starting from this point, which is self-interest business continuity, you can so easily ramp it up to be off-site data storage with those sites that have the capacity providing additional rack-space at a cost far less than could be found commercially. The trouble with traditional shared service initiatives is that the first step – “giving it all away” – seems so scarey. Doing it this way lets you review your decisions and options every step of the way.

Think about it!

Open Source as a Shared Service

What makes you distinct in your service offering? It can’t be the delivery of the best payroll package? It can’t be the best deployed word processing package? It could be how we take some building blocks and deploy them in a totally innovative way!

It used to be exciting in IT Services. It may still be exciting in Aberystwyth & Bangor where local software development was the model of service delivery for many years (one feels their geographic location had something to do with that however). Perhaps we’re approaching the dawn of a new age where open source code plus cloud computing apis plus most importantly widely available consumer mobile computing devices can be developed into innovative and differentiating service offerings.

Might it be possible that our IT Services departments return to their roots and develop and share code for mobile computing platforms that are then developed further by others into differentiating applications?

Think of it. The time is right. The economics point in this direction. The political agenda (shared services) points in this direction. The technological environment (viz. iPhones and SmartPhones) with application delivery platforms enables this. The move is towards the universal availabilty of consumer computing device and away from the corporate workstation BUT shared code development for these devices points towards a possible future.