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To shed light on the intricacies and strategies behind effective IT optimization – a criticality for businesses aiming to enhance efficiency, reduce costs, and drive innovation – I’m chatting with industry experts in our Q&A series on IT optimization.

Today, my conversation with Gareth Humphreys, Group CEO of Solution Performance Group, will offer insights into how organizations can maximize their IT investments for optimal performance. 

Thank you so much for chatting with me! Want to share a bit about your background?

I grew up just outside Belfast, a city that’s way more interesting than I gave it credit for during my early years. I hated school and couldn’t wait to leave, especially after surviving a major car accident in my first year of high school (in which I lost my Mum and almost my Dad, too). That made me question everything in terms of how the world works. I’d always wanted to be a journalist, but media studies at the local college (e.g., Polytechnic for those older readers!) didn’t flick my switch either, and I quit after just six months. At 16, I hadn’t really considered the consequences of being unemployed and unemployable, so I ended up on the dole. 

Frustrated with me lying around the house and going nowhere, my Dad suggested I do ‘something with computers,’ seeing as I’d spent my entire childhood in front of one (starting with the good old Sinclair ZX Spectrum). That led me to IT City and Guilds at a local training center, and I blasted through the one-year course in 16 weeks, so they hired me to support other students through it. That was my first proper job in the IT industry.

I set up Solution Performance Group (SPG) with my fellow founders to provide an ecosystem of digital transformation, resourcing, and software subsidiaries. With offices in Newcastle and Leeds, SPG works across the public and private sectors, and its clients include emergency services, government departments, and social housing organizations. 

Let’s talk about how to optimize IT resources. How do you assess the current state of your IT infrastructure? What metrics do you use to measure its efficiency?

I’m always intrigued by the general indifference to infrastructure performance. I guess this is because, for years, the ever-expanding layers of complexity and legacy made it too difficult for technology teams/departments to understand exactly what was going on ‘under the bonnet,’ but the reality is that nowadays, we have access to so much data and so many solutions that there’s no excuse. This is especially true if your business or organization relies upon IT to solve your customers’ problems, which, let’s face it, is mostly the case. 

We assess the state of the infrastructure by taking a baseline snapshot of performance, end-user experience/response time, capacity, security, and everything in between – right down to the code execution level – using forensic monitoring tooling, which we run in real-time. Cost optimization is another crucial component of the efficiency equation that can be unlocked using utilization versus spend metrics, a popular one with the CFOs.

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What security measures are in place to safeguard your IT infrastructure while optimizing its performance?

There are lots of layers that make up the security and performance cake. In rare circumstances, these can be mutually exclusive and require compromise (usually on performance, given the criticality of security). For most enterprises, though, there are some basic ingredients to consider, including those that we’ve deployed here including: 

That’s not all, though—it’s also essential to encrypt data at rest, in motion, and during processing where possible, with data backed up both on-site and in a geographically separate location. And to my earlier point, with the amount of data available to us all nowadays, it’s important to implement security information and event management to aggregate log data, identify deviations from the norm, and recommend corrective actions.

How do you identify the skill sets and competencies required for your IT team to effectively manage and optimize resources?

This is really tough because the level of expertise required to discuss these hugely complex topics in depth requires a special kind of person. The first competency, then, is attention to detail and an almost maniacal drive to find the root cause of a problem. 

There can be so much data coming at you that processing it without becoming overwhelmed is essential, as is a sense of urgency to respond to the ever-changing landscape and ensure peak optimization is maintained.

Skill-wise, it depends on the environment, but a low-level understanding of how the major cloud platforms work, are sized, configured, and billed is important too. The optimization of resources is a discipline in itself – it’s not ‘just’ a helpdesk job anymore.

What strategies do you use to foster professional development and continuous learning within your IT team?

This has been a learning experience because not everyone wants to continually learn when they could be doing other things with their time. I understand that, but I also think that if you want to progress and get better at anything, you need to put in the practice to get there. 

We set aside a dedicated, ringfenced training budget for everyone, but the problem is that not everyone wants to use it. We’ve found that healthy, respectful competition helps, as does tying incentives to training completed or accreditations attained.

However, you need a few continual learners on the team to set the tone, standards, and expectations for everyone else—the pace-setters, if you like.

Can you share examples of how cross-functional collaboration has contributed to resource optimization in your IT department?

Earlier this year, we established a brand-new software development function by transferring a team into SPG from another organisation. At first, our intention was for the new team to continue to deliver first-class software for our clients.

Still, as the year progressed, it became clear that the new team members and our existing infrastructure engineering colleagues were beginning to collaborate unprompted. Having observed some of the complex problems they’ve solved together, we’re more sure than ever that fostering this cross-function collaboration pays dividends for everyone: the individuals themselves, the teams, and, of course, our clients.

Being able to tackle a new problem head-on and accelerate the remediation effort, given the complementary skills of our teams, has driven huge efficiencies end to end, and it’s a way of working that I highly recommend everyone consider.

How do you identify bottlenecks or inefficiencies in your IT processes that might hinder resource optimization?

This is pretty straightforward: reduce the number of steps in each process, test, and iterate quickly and regularly. When it comes to optimizing and refining a process, there's no substitute for reps.

How do you ensure that your IT processes are aligned with business objectives and contribute to overall organizational efficiency?

This is where the value of architecture comes into its own. You need enterprise and solution architecture at the core of the operational and IT functions, respectively, working in harmony with the business and each other. By taking the overarching business strategy, goals, and KPIs and ensuring the business processes and underlying technology are aligned, you stand a much better chance of spotting optimization and efficiency opportunities. 

This sounds like – and is – a huge undertaking that can only truly be achieved with years of practice and effort, but it’s how the best and most successful enterprises operate. You don’t need to get to nirvana on day one; start small, iterate often, validate as you go, and have a goal. Oh, and make sure you know what the baseline is. 

What are your top tips for optimizing IT resources through infrastructure, people, and processes?

Tip 1: Visibility

It's got to be about data visibility and visibility in general. You can't optimize what you can't see, so you need to understand what's going on under the bonnet, what's happening in the cloud environment, and what's happening end to end. Otherwise, you can't address the inefficiencies. 

Closed loop automation is also key! Allow the system to take control, set the parameters, set the desired outcome, and let the system do it. That's the whole point of automation! Beware, though, that spending too much time tweaking the parameters elongates the process. So, allow the system to do what it's supposed to and automate as much as possible. There are lots of different things that you can solve with technology by doing so.

Tip 2: Shorten your feedback loops

See if and where a process breaks down. Then stop, make the change, rerun the process, and continue to iterate and refine in smaller chunks.

Also, feature bloat: it's often the case that you don't need half of the features out there. So just boil it down to the core capabilities you *really* need and only buy the solution that fits the purpose. All those additional features require implementation, customization, training of people, and ultimately, time, money, and effort for little to no return.

Tip 3: DevOps, SecOps, DevSecOps, FinOps...it's all just CloudOps

Stop building silos of very specialist teams that only do one thing, especially if your organization is a relatively modest size. Instead, create one team and get everyone trained and delivering multiple capabilities. That's the best way to optimize the people side of any technology function.

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Katie Sanders
By Katie Sanders

As a data-driven content strategist, editor, writer, and community steward, Katie helps technical leaders win at work. Her 14 years of experience in the tech space makes her well-rounded to provide technical audiences with expert insights and practical advice through Q&As, Thought Leadership, Ebooks, etc.