Technology is a huge investment for any organization at any scale. Many organizations are happy to invest in a new piece of technology, whether it’s custom or commercial-off-the-shelf. Investing in the support and maintenance of that technology is typically much less appealing; the value is simply less tangible and more difficult for people focused on their bottom line to accept.
Would you buy a car and never change the oil, replace or rotate the tires? Obviously, skipping those routine maintenance activities would cause problems that far exceed the cost of those activities. Technology is no different — without adequate maintenance and attention, the cost of issues caused by neglect can be astronomical to your organization.
This basic principle has spurred the growth of the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, and even these products are priced so you’re still paying for support and maintenance as a part of your license (whether you realize it or not). You simply cannot escape the necessity of investing in support.
Operating a business in 2019 is dependent on uptime, stability, and continuous development of your software.
When your business grows, so too must your technology investment.
I once observed a product stakeholder bemoan the fact that they needed to optimize certain SQL queries and add additional resources to their database environment to accommodate certain reports causing performance issues. Two years after the initial release of the application, the data being processed and stored by the system had scaled by approximately 400% with no meaningful infrastructure upgrades or optimization efforts.
He wanted to know why they had to invest money just to have the system function the same way that it did at launch. In his mind, he was spending money “just to maintain a status quo”, and that was not acceptable.
A Little Perspective
Facebook’s first server cost them $85/month. Now they’re spending approximately $1.5 billion annually in hosting and infrastructure costs. With additional infrastructure comes the need for additional:
- System Admins
- Database Admins
- Support Developers
- Tier 1 and Tier 2 Support Analysts
- IT Ops processes including Incident Management, Change Management, Release Management, etc.
Facebook could not provide a stable product without this investment and consequently would not have a stable user-base to profit from.
Return on Investment
Unfortunately, the stakeholder referenced earlier declined to optimize queries or allocate additional resources to the database. Their technology budget prioritized new feature development rather than the maintenance and non-functional improvement of the existing system.
Several months later they had a total site outage due to the database performance issues, and at least one major customer of theirs threatened to walk. Fortunately, their technology partner was able to quickly implement solutions prepared months prior and brought their systems back online. They gained nothing by delaying the inevitable, and it cost them a breach in trust with their customers.
The value in good operational support and maintenance should be obvious, but many organizations still marginalize or outright neglect it, inevitably to their detriment. Support means different things to different organizations — for some, it might just mean a jack-of-all-trades System Admin performing occasional infrastructure updates and optimization, responding to tickets from users, and working with a developer to ensure deployments are successful.
For others, it might mean teams of System Admins (specialized into functional areas), Database Admins, Process Managers, Developers, QA, Architects, Network Engineers, Helpdesk Analysts, Business Analysts, etc. all working cohesively together under well documented and enforced ITIL and/or DevOps processes.
Ultimately, what IT Support should mean for any organization is doing what is necessary with sufficiently allocated resources to proactively protect their technology investment (and by extension their business) from risk.