Social. Mobile. Cloud. It’s hard to spend much time with technologists these days without hearing about these hot trends in technology for business.
Because of technology’s evolution, employees want to use their own devices for both work and personal use. Their devices are usually newer and more capable than corporate technology, with its longer depreciation and support cycles. Additionally, as hiring contractors and consultants becomes more commonplace, providing them with standard technology gets increasingly costly. Let’s assume we can successfully navigate the new complexities of security, application compatibility and permitted-use policy. Should the CFO care that the information-technology organization is no longer buying laptops, printers and phones every three years or so — and tablets every other year?
More and more of what used to be done in house by the IT organization can now be provided as a managed service, including infrastructure, platform, software or business outcome. This is seen by industry analysts and service providers as the future provisioning model for business technology capabilities. But moving from on-premise capital investment cycles to capacity based, pay-as-you-go pricing (and eventually to outcome-based pricing) has some potential advantages and some potential disadvantages, too.
Buying as much as possible as a service reduces capital budgets and, with the right degree and granularity of instrumentation, aligns what the organization pays more closely with what it uses. Getting technology assets off the balance sheet can be a good thing, although depreciation and amortization timing factors will influence when the best time to move will be. Although technology costs tend to fall on a per-unit basis, we always are adding capacity, speed or power, and budgets seldom track down as fast or at all. Service providers have levels of scale, utilization and engineering talent that individual enterprises cannot usually achieve. In many areas of technology, these factors can drive down service costs by a significant amount and the company can avoid many of the disruptions and risks associated with both periodic refresh cycles for on-premise equipment and the operational perils of obsolete technologies.
For the CFO, here are some questions to ask and concerns to consider:
First, does the business have a good handle on what IT assets it currently has, what it paid for them and when they will be fully depreciated? This might seem a silly question in an age of enterprise resource planning-based asset tracking systems, but there are still many businesses that don’t do this well or at all. I once saw a CFO faced with an $80 million writedown for a mixture of obsolete and new but unused equipment that had accumulated in odd corners and closets all over the business. The question is worth asking.