The essence of mission-critical IT

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Schuberg Philis
Jun 23, 2021 · 8 min read
03 AR20 The Essence Of Missioncritical IT van

The question behind the question—that’s where the real problem is typically found. And often you even have to look a little deeper: into the core of the primary business process. Understanding every aspect of such usually hidden issues and translating them into the best-fitting IT is the domain where Schuberg Philis operates. Our experts always address the underlying business challenge with solutions that are relevant, honest, scalable, and maintainable.

It’s not hard to tell the difference between regular and mission-critical IT: something is mission-critical if the CEO or CIO wants to get a call in the middle of the night in case of a problem. It’s IT that goes beyond the support of optional processes and that directly enables the primary operations. And that kind of IT, which sustains the core business, simply has to work.

A bank’s customers should always be able to check their balance or make a transaction. The IT at energy companies, (air)ports, and logistics providers cannot be allowed to fail. And in many sectors companies have to comply with increasingly strict laws and regulations. The mission-critical IT behind all of this comes in many different flavors. For example, the transaction system at a bank has to be operational 24/7, while a system for traders in the energy industry needs to function flawlessly especially during office hours.

But although the execution of the IT behind such primary processes may differ, it is always mission-critical. This requires a specific form of expertise that Schuberg Philis excels at. By understanding the context, by knowing the problem behind the problem, we can deliver the optimal solution. Which lets everyone sleep at night.

The question behind the question

A problem encountered by many CIOs, CTOs, and other IT managers is that some part of the IT is not under control—there are outages, the performance is subpar, or there is some other problem related to technology. But the real urgency only becomes clear when you start asking questions about the business impact.

In reality, the IT problem at the surface often obscures challenges that remain hidden unless you keep asking questions. If a client wants an application to perform better, you first need to find out why it’s so important. Depending on the answers, the engineers can then identify the right solution.

A traditional SLA might include agreements about the uptime for a system. But that IT-centered focus fails to tackle the essential. Based on information about the business process, Schuberg Philis will outline a worst-case scenario, with an application failing at the worst possible moment. Based on that business context, you can then make realistic agreements about the required service availability of the solution. That availability should be founded on a bespoke solution instead of a monthly agreed average percentage.

Probing deeper can also deliver other insights. For example, you might normally want to schedule maintenance to a mission-critical system for power plants to take place at night. But after talking to the plant operations managers, it might become clear that the early afternoon is a much better moment. At that time, all the energy for the day has already been registered, and there is no pressure yet from the need for nighttime capacity.

So what really matters is a thorough understanding of a customer’s business, far beyond the IT challenge. Don’t work based on assumptions, but do what is really needed—for maximum impact and optimal results.

Focus on the business process

In practice, for financial or relational reasons, companies often choose an IT solution that doesn’t optimally fit their needs. But if you start by examining the business process, it will become clear which processes need to be supported, who the stakeholders are, and where things might go wrong.

The planning system of the Dutch Pilotage Service is essentially important for the execution of their legally mandated responsibility: safely piloting every ship into and out of its harbor. To let our engineers fully grasp this core mission-critical process, they personally joined the pilot on a shift—both by helicopter and in the tender. The knowledge and experience that this generated helped us optimally accommodate the Pilotage Service’s needs.

In another example, in the process of setting up the new Argenta savings and mortgage bank, Schuberg Philis was closely involved in the design of the business processes, right from the start. In such situations our engineers are often asked why they’re always so curious about everything. After all, sometimes people are in a hurry and the customer simply wants an operational system to get things running as soon as possible. But mission-critical IT professionals always want to understand the business on a higher level, because without that context, they cannot deliver the best-fitting solution.

A decade or two ago, the function of IT was purely to support the company processes. But technology has now become part of the core of every activity. That’s why you have to start with the business, and only then think about the IT.

Fit-for-purpose IT

Things used to be either mission-critical or not. But that line has now been blurred. By dividing the IT infrastructure into components, you can set priorities for their design and support. Every element in the service provided is assigned a specific value: more or less mission-critical.

A company’s primary process is influenced by many factors, both technical and human. That’s why, to optimize support, we never lose sight of how everything is connected across the supply chain. In some cases, our contribution will involve developing new software . We do this through micro-releases, which guarantees fast load times and a high degree of agility and operational safety.

For example: in the development of a new bank, standardized software is available for money transfers, while another package is used to run ATM withdrawals. Those two streams come together somewhere in the business process—but there is no software yet to link the two applications together. In such a case, our engineers will closely inspect the process as well as the requirements for security and compliance. And then they find a way to fill in the blanks and build up the system.

In most cases, the end result will be a mix & match solution, incorporating both purchased standard components and bespoke additions developed in-house. The balance will depend in part on how innovative and distinctive a customer wants to be. The end result is always “fit-for-purpose” IT, developed in collaboration with key business stakeholders and the people use the solution in their day-to-day work.

Honest solutions

Schuberg Philis will always provide fitting solutions that help customers move ahead. That honesty is fundamentally important. Our incentives are always aligned with the customer’s business goals, guaranteeing fit-for-purpose solutions that deliver real value for money. There are no additional markups and no hidden agenda to increase the hours spent in order to meet a sales quota. Quite the contrary: what matters most is scalability and long-term maintainability.

As we have our own software developers, our own data engineers, and our own innovation team, we can work closely together with customers to deliver solutions that are good, flexible, and economically efficient. This allows us to dynamically align with their specific needs, wishes, and requirements. The details, of course, will differ from case to case.

Schuberg Philis’s perspective focuses on the long term, which complements our customers’ detailed know-how of their short-term operational priorities. By aligning these two visions, we help customers pursue their day-to-day business targets, while making sure that there will be no unwelcome IT surprises down the road.

In this way, Schuberg Philis will never deliver solutions that are actually misaligned to a customer’s needs. Organizations that want to continue working with us even after an honest “no” will have to be receptive to our experts’ vision, which is always driven by the long-term perspective. We don’t engage in this dialogue simply because we think we know best, but to ensure that organizations always choose Schuberg Philis for the right reasons.

Experts in the lead

Mission-critical IT is almost always complex. That’s why in direct contacts with, for example, the CIO, CTO, or VP Operations, it is our experts who always take the lead, instead of a project’s customer director. This gives our mission-critical engineers room to directly bring in their advanced know-how and perspectives.

The team that comes up with a solution should also build and maintain it, so no one can hide behind “not invented here.” That end-to-end responsibility is really felt in every detail, even if Schuberg Philis only delivers a small part of the IT. Our experts always check that their contribution fits into the larger picture and continues to work perfectly.

Thanks to structural training programs and knowledge exchanges, the specialists and engineers involved can gain and uphold a deep insight into the business domains we service.

In some cases, an organization may already have a fully developed IT plan on the table. Their request is then simply to provide good people—because they know that Schuberg Philis has them. But even in these cases, our engineers will actively engage in the conversation, trying to identify the question behind the question. Why do they need good people? What exactly do they want to achieve? Which parts are mission-critical and which ones are not?

The essence of IT that goes beyond IT is to apply the available knowledge and experience in ways that let the customer improve their business. To arrive at the best solution, experts are always in the lead.

The optimal toolsets

All professionals like to work using the instruments they are familiar with, and the same applies to Schuberg Philis’s engineers. However, if a customer prefers to use other tools, we can trial, screen, and test them for compliance with our 100% guarantee for functional uptime, and incorporate them into the solution.

Schuberg Philis operates in a software- and cloud-agnostic way, applying a wide range of tools. Solutions can be built in a variety of different environments. If a customer is working on a proprietary capability, the toolsets suggested by them will be used. This makes it easier to execute a handover further down the road. And that, in turn, is good for in-company acceptance, adoption, and the swift development of competencies—or, as we like to call it: “For you, with you, by you.”

In cases where the customer wants to hand over management for a number of years, tooling will be selected with which Schuberg Philis’s engineers have the best experience.

Everyone involved will have their own background, toolset, and experiences. But within the teams of diverse experts, the specific selection of tools and technologies is always subservient to finding the best-fitting solutions.

Teams and partnership

Dedicated teams play a key role in the “ability to execute.” They are responsible for taking decisions that are aligned with the question behind the question.

In addition to engineers, the teams comprise the customer operations manager, business analysts, and, for example, specialists who focus on the way of working. Put together, their combined know-how and expertise covers a much greater area than simply engineering power. Schuberg Philis is active in different markets and our specialized consultants can offer detailed insights into the functional operations of a given business.

Within the teams as well as in the relationship with customers, there is an active process of mutual exchange in which everyone complements each other. That’s why trust plays such an important role in our work.

In realizing a solution, Schuberg Philis sometimes takes on part of the risk by working with a fixed price or by sharing in the value creation. This helps to foster a relationship in which all parties work cooperatively towards a joint objective: everyone is incentivized to do the right thing.

The shift in focus from IT platforms to business processes perfectly matches this joint focus on value creation. It involves long-term collaboration, which allows everyone to get to know each other better, improves the primary process, and creates room for innovation. And that is the essence of mission-critical IT.

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