Are your clients hoarders?

Thanks to network TV, most of us are pretty familiar with the horrors of personal hoarding — houses packed so full of unneeded junk that inhabitants can barely breathe, let alone live normal lives. No one wants to be a hoarder.

But hoarding doesn’t only happen at home. It also occurs, albeit in a less dramatic way, in plenty of organizations that keep unnecessary IT hardware and software around even when it’s of little use to them anymore.

It’s often much harder (and less fun) to migrate and decommission an old server than to set up a new one. It’s simpler to add a network switch on top of old ones than to rebuild routing paths from scratch. It’s tempting to keep old ports open when they’re no longer in active use, just in case someone needs them later.

We’re not saying that staff at companies affected by IT hoarding suffer from deep psychological issues that only a TV shrink can cure! On the contrary, at many organizations, IT hoarding is a natural consequence of mergers, upgrades, changes in staff, and other common occurrences that contribute to redundancy or excess complexity in IT infrastructure.

The cost of IT hoarding

But whatever the cause, IT hoarding has a negative impact. IT hoarding means a company’s IT administrators are surrounded by more devices and software systems than they need or can handle. Hoarding creates avoidable security risks, places unnecessary demands on IT time, and bloats operating costs.

Fortunately, IT hoarding is easy to address by identifying that systems that are needed and getting rid of the rest.

Sometimes cleaning house is hard, especially for organizations that have grown attached to legacy hardware or software. But by following some basic guidelines, you can help your clients keep their IT infrastructure lean, mean, and optimally efficient — while at the same time reducing the complexity you have to work with in providing services to them.

How to fight it

Here are some tips for curbing IT hoarding habits.

  1. Document the network
  2. One of the main causes of IT hoarding is a simple lack of information about what’s on the network. After years of mergers, staff turnover, and changes in IT support providers, chances are good that an organization will find itself with at least some hardware or software that’s been long forgotten in a literal or figurative dusty corner.

    If older systems are known to exist but aren’t fully understood, the default in-house response can be to keep everything around and online, out of fear that shutting something off will have negative, unpredictable consequences.

    Either way, you can provide huge value by mapping and doing a full inventory of the network. (Good software can make this a snap.) The insight you gain will make it easy to identify which systems are no longer needed and can be cut loose.

  3. Upgrade to industry-standard protocols and APIs
  4. If a business is keeping old systems around because it can’t come to grips with shutting them off, it’s probably also running outdated or non-standard protocols and APIs. This increases complexity and mental clutter, not to mention security vulnerabilities.

    Better to shut down legacy services and replace them with modern, standardized alternatives. Saying goodbye to the protocols and APIs the in-house admins have known and loved for years might be tough, but it’s a good way to keep infrastructure management efficient and cost-effective.

  5. Know when to replace systems, not update them
  6. It’s usually easier, from both a cost and time perspective, to upgrade existing apps and devices than it is to replace the systems entirely. In many situations, it would be crazy to scrap everything and rebuild from the ground up.

    That said, to avoid IT hoarding, it’s important to identify the times when it makes more sense to implement a new system instead of expanding an existing one.

    If adding new functionality to current services means pushing far beyond the limits of what the systems were originally designed to do, it’s probably wiser to adopt a new solution altogether. If you don’t, you’ll add more and more complexity and layers to the services already in place, leading to diminishing returns on productivity and management headaches.

    Of course, whenever you upgrade to a new system, be sure to decommission the old one. Some people call this “chopping the tail,” which means you’re continually cutting off the end as you move forward.

  7. Take advantage of the cloud — wisely
  8. The cloud can be a great solution for cutting back on IT hoarding. By outsourcing services to the cloud, organizations can make their on-premises operations much simpler and clutter-free. That’s why pitching cloud solutions to clients is often very effective.

    But make it clear to clients that simply moving services into the cloud doesn’t necessarily solve IT hoarding problems. Sometimes it’s no more effective than offloading the clutter in a hoarder’s house to a storage unit, where it’s out of sight but no less tangled, disorganized, or messy. A server that has outlived its purpose is useless and distracting whether it runs in the cloud or a local server room.

    So pitch the cloud as an opportunity for clients to simplify by moving parts of their infrastructure off-premises, yes. But also pitch it as a way to reduce unnecessary clutter by decommissioning outdated resources as the migration happens.

  9. Centralize your network management platform
  10. Adopt a centralized network management platform that works with whatever gear and systems your clients have, and is able to integrate with the rest of your tools, like ticketing systems and helpdesk software, to create a streamlined workflow.

    From helping you map and monitor inventory to minimizing administrative tasks, a good operations platform is an integral part of reducing IT complexity and hoarding.