Elegant Solutions for Demanding Problems

May 1, 2018 | Business, Competition, Productivity | 0 comments


The quality of being pleasingly ingenious and simple; neatness

—Oxford Dictionary

Many businesses succeed by chasing after the next success. They grow organically—trying to follow markets and customer needs, branching into new lines of business, and introducing new products and services in trying to address these needs.

This makes sense early in a business’ lifecycle, but it gets difficult as the enterprise grows and matures. Companies eventually lose sight of their strengths and core. They have a hard time knowing what is driving their profits. They incur “opportunity costs”—putting effort and resources into areas that are less profitable than others. They end up lacking strategic focus and lose sight of their competitors.

At some point, all successful businesses end up doing a strategic and environmental scan to determine what they should focus on, and what they should shed or outsource. This is a process of finding “Elegance“; by revising their business plan to make it simple and neat, they also improves profitability and please their owners, shareholders, and customers.

The use of technology—particularly information technology—within business should also exhibit Elegance. Yet, we can all think of companies where technological elegance was absent or in sort supply:

  • One organization stored its documents on a shared drive with no defined structure or controls on who could create new directories or add files to those directories. The shared space grew by 1,000,000 records a year. Employees could not search or retrieve any files produced by other teams or departments unless they knew the exact location of the  document they needed. Years of collective work by the entire staff took up petabytes of storage but was effectively unavailable to support the business’ needs.
  • One business went out and bought the latest technology with each growth wave. As a result, their office had integrate four different networking protocols for all their workstations. Managing this complexity made it difficult to manage further growth in the company. As well, the business accepted that key component failures could shut down the entire office for multiple days; it was just not cost-effective to provide a fault tolerant solution for such a complex environment.
  • One small business relied on tutoring software for all its after-school clients. The software was housed on a single server in the office’s utility room and had a weekly backup scheduled to a tape drive. However, there was no backup server, and no regular monitoring or alarming when the server experienced any sort of hardware failure. It was a case of “out of sight, out of mind.” A system failure would require a new server to be ordered, delivered, and configured with recovered data that could be up to a week old—if the backup tape was recoverable. This was a huge reputational risk to the business, that it had not previously identified.

Elegance within information technology has at least five characteristics:

  1. Elegance is designed with the business’ strategic plan in mind. A technology that needs to be replaced every two years because the business has outgrown it was not an elegant solution.
  2. Elegance is fault tolerant; a failure of a component does not invoke a failure of the business. The status quo is the elegant option only if the cost of doing nothing is less than the cost of preventing the failure.
  3. Elegance reduced complexity in managing the environment. Environments that require obscure or specialized knowledge or personnel, or involve complicated troubleshooting flowcharts, or worse—have no documentation to support the environment at all, are not elegant solutions.
  4. While initial cost of an Elegant solution may be higher, total cost of ownership will be lower. Elegant solutions often involve a larger amount of up-front analysis and research. In many cases, this analysis can point out other deficiencies in the organization’s technology architecture. This in turn can lead to a more all-encompassing solution to address a larger problem set. One benefit of this approach is a technology mix that will support the business going forward at a much lower operating cost than “impulse shopping” for products off the shelf.
  5. Future changes or enhancements should be easy to implement with Elegance. Elegant solutions mean that solutions are scalable as the business grows and easy to adjust as new business directions are pursued.

In comparison, Elegant approaches to technology can help businesses grow without missing a beat.

One of Atlas’ clients is a fast growing consulting firm. Early on, they knew they needed integrated email and calendar for all their partners and they had some other wish lists for the future—like shared file storage. An scalable solution to the email and calendar problem also supported a shared document system for a small additional cost per user and a few hours of configuration work.

Custom designed software for another client addressed the initial need. But as is often the case, the client began to ask if the software could be expanded to meet additional needs. Because the need was thoroughly analyzed from the start, and the software was well designed and documented, the changes only involved a couple of lines of code and were tested and put into production within a week.

If you’re part of a growing business and you’re afraid your IT systems are not keeping up, talk to Atlas Solutions about finding elegant solutions to your demanding problems.

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