- 31 January 2011 11:30
Chaos happens – so transform those file transfer systems!
By John Lee, Regional Sales, Pacific, Axway
IT executives never consciously decide to create chaos and sub-optimisation in their file transfer environments. But chaos happens anyway, as systems evolve.
Technology, customer requirements, regulatory and trading partner mandates all move and change so fast that, too often, a ‘strategic’ investment merely provides for the latest challenge.
If CIOs could rebuild their internal file transfer infrastructure from scratch, using 20/20 hindsight, they would surely do things differently. They would no doubt eliminate the fractured systems that failed to meet the ‘best of breed’ promise, instead becoming a patchwork of legacy connectivity, file, messaging, and integration technologies – all with little or no visibility.
Forrester Research believes that 9 in 10 businesses are either planning or executing an overall infrastructure consolidation, including file transfer consolidation. The three primary objectives are to reduce cost; reduce complexity and risk; and improve file transfer service to internal and external customers.
Consolidation of IT infrastructures, including file transfer infrastructures, is popular because, on paper, the benefits are fantastic. It demands fewer data centres, less expense for power and cooling, fewer servers, less software to maintain, and potentially fewer people necessary to make it all run. Unfortunately, paper calculations often omit to consider how consolidation will impact the customer.
Customers want improved service, a better experience and more value. They require business partners to take on burdens their own IT teams cannot meet, and they expect minimal impact on their businesses.
File transfer infrastructure consolidation efforts that occur at the edge of an enterprise bring a tremendous opportunity. Done right, file transfer consolidation has the potential to reduce costs and improve service to customers, deepening customer investment and building a new era of ‘co-innovation’. Poorly planned and implemented, it can drive away customers. Because profitability is the key factor in measuring an organisation, it makes sense that IT should be required to cut its share of expenses. Usually IT knows what can be cut: years of mergers, acquisitions and strategic investments have created redundancies in nearly all areas, including file transfer infrastructure.
How many file transfer ‘gateways’ ?
Most companies acquired a customer-facing file transfer gateway years ago, either a simple file relay or mail boxing system, or something more complex. All was fine until a new file transfer standard popped up, such as EDIINT (ASx); then a large customer wanted you to accommodate the new standard. You called your vendor for an upgrade, but they weren’t ready. This gap forced you to invest in gateway number X+1, or perhaps even turn to unmanaged and unsecured FTP-based solutions.
Since then, you’ve merged with another company and consolidated IT organisations into a central shared service. So now you run a variety of expensive file transfer solutions that require a large team with special (expensive) skills to run various disparate gateways. Worse, the central ‘front door’ is now an open bazaar with fractured customer management and security — forcing you to invest in expensive custom development and ‘workarounds’ in order to meet internal and external standards.
To go from one system to another, you may be using a third system to capture, store and transform files — an expensive equation. You may also have multiple disaster recovery solutions. The cumulative cost impact is clear.
Years ago, value added networks (VANs) were the primary method of collaboration between organisations, including transferring files. Then, along came the Internet. VANs remain, with secure industry standard protocols and robust and reliable gateways. Since they are customer-facing technology, most have been left alone. This is bad news for your customers, who could provide data movement services to their own customers for a lot less.
The immediate cost benefit of consolidating customer-facing file transfer technologies lies in the hard costs:
• Fewer servers • Reduced software maintenance and annual upgrades • Reduced data centre (inclusive) charges • Fewer employees required to operate file transfer infrastructures and applications • Lower specific variable costs, such as VAN charges Reduce complexity and risk
Risk management and risk avoidance are hot topics from a data security perspective (encryption, access control and transport security), as well as a data analysis perspective (single view of the customer). Risk is a natural by-product of IT complexity. Every additional method of file transfer adds connections, lifecycle management (security patches & upgrades) and potential network changes. These are all points of risk for either an audit or service failure.
Other points of risk are access- and policy-related. How do your systems account for who can send what type of data to whom? Have you implemented programmatic solutions that protect your company and customers from accidental or malicious data leaks? And how do you provide for internal customers’ need to interact with external customers in an unstructured or ad hoc way? Is that ad hoc solution ‘secured’ with encryption or access control?
All customers seek improvements in quality and service, such as guaranteed file delivery and robust data security. They also want new services, such as self-service provisioning, file flow creation, transaction searches and event-driven alerts. As a result, it’s important to add incremental service value to the business when budgeted and/or defined projects create these opportunities.
Today’s business involves critical interaction patterns: human-to-human, business-to-business, and system-to-system. Smart integration of these patterns makes a business more agile and customer-responsive. A consolidated file transfer infrastructure enables enterprises to integrate and control their key business interactions now, and quickly adapt when new interaction patterns emerge.
Now What? Because of the established connections between organisations, and the way processes on both sides of the connection are embedded in the connection itself, any file transfer infrastructure consolidation requires a delicate touch. You can’t make changes to established methods of file transfer without understanding what data flows over these connections, on what schedule, and with what kind of impact to other processing dependencies. And you have to understand and account for how file transfer infrastructure consolidation may impact the customer and their processing dependencies- not to mention accounting for your customer’s proficiency at making required IT changes. Many smaller customers or trading partners may be unable to implement required changes due to fragility in their own systems. Axway recommends the following consolidation methodology: Inventory – Define – Engage - Architect. The Axway IDEA model helps IT organisations assess, analyse and plan for the impact of file transfer infrastructure consolidation efforts on their trading community.
Inventory The Inventory process is similar to an ITIL-defined consolidation. This step involves answering questions like:
• What file transfer technologies do you currently use? • What do they accomplish for the business? • Why are they there? • How long have they been there, and what else are they connected to?
A thorough inventory that captures the current file transfer landscape is mandatory for successfully architecting and realising a consolidated file transfer infrastructure.
Define This step is more business than technical in nature. Questions should include:
• What is the business impact of planned changes to the established file transfer connection or flow? • Can that impact be measured in dollars (like a transaction) or by some other key performance indicator? • Is there a consolidation of file transfer flows that paints a larger picture for decision support? Or is the file transfer connection a discrete one with a simple yes/no outcome?
The Define step will help to craft the return on investment (ROI) of a file transfer infrastructure consolidation process by better understanding both revenue impact and potential transactional or aggregate risk.
Engage Decisions to consolidate the file transfer infrastructure may need to involve the customer. Some customers may embrace a more managed file transfer methodology that offers increased security and end-to-end visibility. But others may be nervous, and feel you are attempting to fix something they believe isn’t broken. Involving customers in the process, and addressing and allaying their concerns up front, is critical.
Architect Only after you understand the existing transfer technology, what it means to the business, and what it means to your customers or trading community, can you intelligently architect your new solution. Completing the above three steps ensures that you will meet all current requirements as well as building a scalable, ‘forward-compatible’ file transfer infrastructure agile enough to meet business needs for years to come. What Type of Solution?
Ideally, the right managed file transfer (MFT) solution is one that supports today’s requirements and budgets, while offering the capacity to adapt to newrequirements, both known and unknown. Whether your file transfer requirements are simple or complex, the following elements should be part of a consolidated solution:
• Policy-driven: robust policy management enables you to use technology to protect the business. • Modular: don’t buy unnecessary functionality, but be able to acquire and integrate it easily when you need it. • Transparent: a level of visibility that enables you to track, report and present data movement events generated from all applications. • End-to-End: control the flow of a ‘package’ (file or message) from the point of production to the point of consumption. • Complete: a forward-compatible solution that can support all types of data movement (between systems, businesses and people) and transaction types. • Reliable: doing business the way you, your customers and partners do business, 24x7. • Flexible: available in the delivery vehicle that best suits your business, customers, and partners: on-premise, appliance, virtual or cloud.
How Do I Migrate?
Consolidating file transfer infrastructures requires a plan. If you aren’t careful and focus only on ‘low-hanging fruit’, you may create additional costs and risks instead of reducing them.
There are a number of industry-defined IT planning and management methodologies, but all require a steady and experienced hand to deliver the project on time and within budget. Often, real value is derived from both the file transfer infrastructure consolidation itself, and the business process re-engineering that occurs with new capabilities and a clean slate. A migration partner well versed in both technology and operations can bring this value to reality through a comprehensive, intelligently designed and well-executed file transfer infrastructure consolidation plan.
For more information: Marketing, Axway Australia. Tel: +61. 02 9956 4555 Web: email@example.com