IT Refresh is Overrated

I have to admit my headline is a little tongue in cheek but please hear me out. 

With the rapid approach of Windows Server 2003 end of support on July 14, the noise around refresh can be deafening. I’d bet many people have already tuned out or have grown weary of hearing about it. They’ve listened to the incessant arguments about increased risks of security breaches, issues around compatibility, and estimates of costly repair bills should something go wrong.

While it’s true all of these things will leave a business vulnerable and less productive, it appears that’s just not enough for many companies to make a shift. 

Microsoft Canada estimates that 40% of its install base is running Windows Server 2003, illustrating Canadian companies’ conservatism when it comes to major changes to their infrastructure.  I’d suggest that in this current economic environment, being conservative in the adoption of new technology is leaving us vulnerable to an attack that could have a far reaching impact.

But let’s set that aside for the time being. You’ll be pleased to know I’m not going to talk about all the common reasons for refreshing your hardware and software including security, productivity, downtime, and support costs.  All these issues are important and valid, however I’ve no doubt we will hear a great deal about all of them in the weeks leading up to July 14.

Instead I offer you a slightly different perspective.

In a previous post I wrote about a global marketplace that is getting more competitive. Canadian companies are, and will be, facing off against larger enterprises located around the world. Competition is no longer from across the street or in the neighboring town. Canadian trade agreements have been signed or updated with numerous countries or economic regions globally including the European Union, China, Korea, and Chile. While these agreements signal opportunities for businesses to gain access to new markets, they also herald the risk of increased domestic competition.

To continue to succeed, businesses will have to find more efficient ways of doing whatever they need to get done.  This means pushing beyond their traditional comfort zone towards greater innovation.  This push will undoubtedly be enabled by advances in technology to support productivity gains.

As companies consider what it will take to succeed into the future, I believe you need to look at the people you have working for your company. Are these the employees who can drive your company forward? Are they future leaders or innovators who can help you compete against global powerhouses?

Here’s where an important impetus to refresh your technology begins to take shape.

The employees of Generation Y and Generation C, also known as the connected generation, want to work for progressive, leading-edge companies and are shying away from large, stodgy traditional businesses or governments.  Being perceived as dated will limit your recruitment options as the top candidates chose the firms that are progressive in all areas of their business.

I’ve seen statistics indicating that 75% of the workforce will be made up of Generation Y workers by 2025. They are already sending ripples of change throughout corporate cultures and have started to cause a shift in employment expectations. These employees aren’t attracted to big blue chip firms, and in fact only 7% of millennials currently work for Fortune 500 companies.  Instead, they are attracted to the fun, dynamic, and flexible environments touted by start-ups.

The time has never been better to decide if you are going to continue to rinse and repeat, content to stick with the status quo, or if you are ready to embrace a shift that could take your business to the next level and at the same time position yourself to become more attractive to the next generation of employees.

So let’s talk a little about the opportunity here: In my experience from the UK, and I would argue it is similar in any market, new opportunities are realized first by small- and medium-sized businesses. They are more nimble and typically they are in a better position to make a significant change more quickly.  Since they are also closest to their customers and their local community, they can shift gears more rapidly to respond to changes they are seeing in their local market and benefit from offering solutions first that meet an emerging need.

SMBs are also in a strong position to navigate and overcome barriers to adoption of new technology since they don’t have that massive install base that requires a huge investment to change. In other words, they don’t have a mountain of technology to climb in order to deliver that completely new environment, but it takes vision and leadership willing to make a fundamental shift that will yield future dividends.

The stark truth is that millennials are attracted to and have already adopted the latest technology. They don’t want to take a step backward when they head into the workplace.  The technologies they will use and the environment they will be working in are already being factored into their decision about whether or not to accept a new position.

How do you think your workplace would be viewed by these future employees?  It goes without saying that we need to equip people to get their jobs done without worrying about the speed of the technology they’re using.  No one wants delays caused by technology that is aging, slowing them down, and preventing them from doing what they need to get done.  Today’s employees are looking for more: more freedom, more flexibility, and more opportunities. But the drive to provide more is accelerating a parallel requirement for increased security to keep sensitive data safe.

I’d offer these final thoughts: In addition to the security and productivity reasons, companies challenged to find talent should consider a PC refresh strategy as a tool to attract the best and brightest of the next generation.

Technology can be an enabler to fundamentally transform your workplace but you need a solid foundation on which to build.  A side benefit is that it will also help deliver the top talent to your door.