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What's Going On

If you ask any computer professional with grey hair they will likely agree that the IT industry is living proof of the truth in the old maxim that the more things change the more they stay the same. Over their careers they will tell you they have witnessed the rebirth of many things. A usual favourite is how management keeps fluctuating between centralising and decentralising the control of IT systems.

On the one hand organisations recognise that centralisation can facilitate integration and standardisation. Conversely, they see that decentralisation leads to empowerment where staff is more responsible for their own destinies.

In this era of flatter management structures decentralisation seems to be the preferred option. The result is that network management is increasingly becoming an area of concern. This challenge is compounded by the increasing diversity of IT equipment CIOs find within their networks.

Communications is taking an increasing proportion of the IT budget. IDC's "Forecast for Management" survey revealed that three years ago networking comprised around 11.8 per cent of the IT budget. This has steadily risen each year and is now 12.29 per cent. Moreover, IT budgets as a percentage of turnover have also increased so networking is now getting a bigger portion of a bigger IT budget pie.

When asked to nominate their top 10 major challenges over the next 18 months "Forecast for Management" respondents identified managing distributed data as their ninth biggest chore. Some 13.63 per cent of CIOs included it among their three major challenges; a 321 per cent growth between the 1996 and 1997 surveys. The only issue with higher growth (357 per cent) between these periods was managing multiple vendors and suppliers; perhaps another indicator of the decentralised and diverse nature of modern Australian IT departments.

Survey recipients were provided with seven options and asked to identify which was the most suitable description of their organisation's computer network.

Nearly 53 per cent of respondents indicated that their organisation's network consisted of LANs linked over a WAN with multiple serial links. The danger of course in this distribution is that information and its management can get fragmented. IS is asked to support the labyrinth of links and connections, and at the same time consolidate these networks and their associated data.

In fact, Computer Economics Inc in its August 1996 newsletter titled "Align your IT investments with payback expectations" established a matrix that tried to identify the potential return on investment of various technology investments. Of the 16 technologies reviewed, network integration was classified as the highest on the scale of importance while on the payback scale it was fourth behind data integration, EDI and automated "lights-out" operations.

Earlier this year network management was an InTEP management group topic.

The session's speaker had learned the hard way that user expectations for a network management system are usually unrealistic. For example, many users expect a complete enterprise management system from day one, which can - not surprisingly - dim their delight in the initial network management system. And since the network was constantly evolving, the goal of providing a comprehensive network management system was a moving target, said the speaker.

Nevertheless, the speaker reported that their network management system was achieving a return on investment. It was forewarning them of potential problems before they impacted on time-critical operations. As such, the network management system was gradually addressing the original implementation goals of the speaker's organisation. Still, given the nature of IT, it wouldn't be surprising if, when the objective is reached, the organisation decides to centralise IT.

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