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Stall the sprawl: How to reduce your growing IT footprint

Article 17/07/2023 Read time: min
By: Patrick White and Simos Hadjiyiannis

Unreliable, inefficient IT infrastructures plague companies across industries. Often, leaders are so focused on driving innovation, they’re unable to prioritize the rationalization and consolidation of their IT infrastructure.

As a result, their IT operations are inefficient, the environments are unstable, and they’re costly to run. What’s worse, most leaders are unaware of how their growing IT footprint—or “IT sprawl,” as we call it—is negatively impacting their business operations and customer relationships.

So, how do you know if your company suffers from IT sprawl, and what can you do to treat this IT ailment?

Let’s explore.

How to identify if your IT footprint is overgrown  

We’ve worked in global IT for over 20 years in multiple industries. Across all industries, We’ve consistently seen six signs that a company faces IT sprawl: 

  1. Integration problems: Too many variations, technologies, and services trying to integrate into one cohesive system will create a massive and inefficient IT sprawl.
  2. Difficulty finding the right talent: The ongoing IT skills gap is well documented. Meanwhile, one of the hallmarks of IT sprawl is the variety and complexity of an organization’s IT systems. These combined challenges can make it especially hard to find people with the specialized skills required to manage the various systems effectively.
  3. Complicated maintenance agreements: Too many products or systems in the environment can cause confusion and lead to repeated contract revisions to account for new infrastructure. 
  4. Ever-growing cost: The IT cost per person will likely be too high if the IT footprint is too great. These costs will vary widely depending on the industry. For example, IT cost for an oil company will be different from a call center company. It’s important for leaders to understand what the benchmark is for their specific industry.
  5. Low utilization and siloed data storage: Servers and infrastructure may be underutilized by the teams using them. Too many varying environments, applications, and platforms cause massive inefficiency and overlapping capabilities. Siloed data storage is also one of the biggest examples of IT sprawl. All these factors are indicative of a clear need for consolidation.
  6. Shadow IT: Shadow IT occurs when IT assets and systems are introduced and managed by non-IT personnel. For example, an engineering team may install and manage their own application server without IT’s awareness. These situations exacerbate IT sprawl and introduce security, availability, reliability, and other risks to the company.

Many of these signs and symptoms are the direct results of mergers and acquisitions (M&A), decentralized IT departments, and shifting CIO priorities. A company with numerous M&A will result in added IT that has likely not been organized or consolidated accordingly. 

Similarly, a company with decentralized IT could be managed across different regions, functions, and offices, making governance or management of the infrastructure very challenging. Additionally, when a CIO doesn’t have a concrete strategy or the priorities keep changing, a company’s IT sprawl grows unnecessarily.

Preparation is key when addressing your IT footprint

We’ve worked with many companies that have been able to free up physical spaces and create more flexibility by working to shrink their IT footprints. Before you begin, it’s important to do the discovery, inventory, and communication work:

  • Build for the future of your business: For example, you may think it’s important to refresh certain locations, but the business may already know those 200 offices are going away in the future. To make the proper IT decisions, we must know both what the business is using now and what it plans to use in the future.
  • Be cognizant of end-user IT usage: Know how users apply the IT and what can and can’t be moved to avoid disturbing ongoing business. For example, if you choose to move a server 3,000 miles away and that server is used hundreds of times a day, you’ve just significantly slowed down business for the end user.
  • Prioritize rationalization: A company can’t achieve progress without rationalization. Before a company creates automation, it must recognize what and how IT is used.
  • Communicate plans with all stakeholders: Some groups within the organization may still be using the “old” apps, and any movement from those will impact their business if they’re unaware. The company must inform and achieve buy-in with all stakeholders throughout the process.
  • Expect complex technical requirements: There are complex technical pieces of work in all phases. Technical leads must be involved in all phases from day one to ensure the business is not making decisions that will ultimately negatively impact the company.
One important thing to watch out for is making sure that both IT and business leaders understand that initial and ongoing investment will be needed to reap benefits down the road.

Customer use case

We recently worked with a global infrastructure company that was facing significant risk, outages, and business impact due to servers that had reached end-of-support status. We worked with this company to refresh, consolidate, and virtualize their physical and virtual servers and storage worldwide. Throughout the project, we’ve performed data center and office infrastructure discovery and deployed new virtualized hosts and clusters, eliminating as many physical servers as possible.

The implementation is still ongoing, but the company is already experiencing a significant reduction in outages across sites, automated incident troubleshooting, a reduction in network latency with local egress through Palo Alto Prisma, network enterprise routing technologies standardization, and global standard configuration verified by automatic compliance checks.

Five steps to shrink your IT footprint

Leveraging our success with this customer, I suggest the following workflow to shrink your IT footprint:

  • Step 1 – Discovery: Perform discovery, as detailed above, to create an IT inventory of servers, storage, applications, and services.
  • Step 2 – Analyze: Analyze your inventory, capacity, age, utilization, and performance.
  • Step 3 – Review: Review analysis findings with your users to identify opportunities for application and service rationalization, consolidation, and decommissioning.
  • Step 4 – Create: Create a design, cost case, and plan. This plan should include a modern, rationalized, and consolidated IT infrastructure and capacity for any new capabilities and services.
  • Step 5 - Execute: Execute a plan to rebuild, migrate, decommission, modernize, and centralize your IT infrastructure.

One important thing to watch out for is making sure that both IT and business leaders understand that initial and ongoing investment will be needed to reap benefits down the road. For example, ongoing investments can include new hardware, remediation labor, and refresh activities. Additionally, it may require changes in user behavior—for example, eliminating pockets of shadow IT.

A healthy IT footprint

Whether it’s M&A, divestitures, or digital transformation, companies are constantly changing. Through consolidation, optimization, and rationalization of your IT infrastructure, you can create both efficiency and resiliency — which will free up time and budget to focus on innovation that better serves your customers and your business.

Patrick White is Vice President at Kyndryl

Simos Hadjiyiannis is Director and Chief Architect at Kyndryl