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IT philosophy: Do no harm

Mar 22, 20043 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsVPN

As a result of studying philosophy in college, I tend to make unusual connections. Recently while reading a book by the Dalai Lama, I came across a passage that said the essence of his teachings is to help others if possible, and if that is not possible, at least do no harm. And while Tibetan Buddhism and technology have little in common, this passage also can be considered the essence of business technology.

The goal of any business is to increase profitability. A profitable company creates jobs, purchases more equipment from vendors and adds overall value to a community. Any business tool – whether it is in technology, manufacturing or office service – needs to enhance a company’s revenue stream or at the least do no harm.

Technology is a valuable tool for enhancing the bottom line, but it also can affect the profit margin negatively. Business technologists have to do a thorough financial and risk analysis to determine the true value of a technology, for more often than not there is more than meets the eye.

A good example of this is DSL. Many companies are researching DSL and DSL-based VPNs as alternatives to costly dedicated circuits. DSL-based VPNs can eliminate the need for dedicated point-to-point or frame relay circuits, which reduces overall communication costs. In many cases DSL-based VPNs can reduce network costs by 20% to 30%.

At first glance, this would appear to meet the goal of enhancing a company’s profitability. However, this is a case in which business technologists need to look beyond the numbers and consider the risk. Although DSL costs less than dedicated circuits, that lower cost carries with it a lower service level. Most DSL providers have a minimum mean time to repair (MTTR) of 24 to 48 hours. And often this is only Monday through Friday. An outage on Thursday afternoon might not be resolved until Tuesday.

So while DSL can reduce network costs, it also presents a risk to the revenue stream. An outage on Thursday can result in five days of disruption to the revenue stream, which can more than eliminate any network cost savings. Additionally, five days of downtime during a busy season can be financially devastating. Granted, the risk can be reduced by providing dial or ISDN backup, but the combined cost might reduce savings to a level that is not financially justifiable. Business technologists need to consider if the potential risk is worth the perceived value.

DSL-based VPNs can be the network of choice for locations that generate little if any revenue, where they can “do no harm.” However, the risk of impacting the revenue stream needs to be considered before migrating a site from any dedicated connectivity that carries a four-hour MTTR.

DSL is not the only technology that needs to be analyzed. Any network, systems or application technology that has the potential to affect a company’s revenue stream needs to be evaluated thoroughly to ensure it enhances profitability or at least does no harm.