Railway stairs, IT demand, and cloud services

Nick Hardiman finds a parallel between an annoying daily challenge and one faced by many IT departments as they evolve toward the cloud.

I live in the country. There is no IT work for a guy like me anywhere nearby, unless sheep suddenly feel the need to get with the Internet revolution. I commute to cities where the global businesses — the ones who pay the big money required to run Internet operations — are located.

The elevator and the stairs

I use public transport when I can, rather than my private car. I pack supplies into my bicycle panniers, cycle to the nearest provincial train station, and use the rail network. When I get to the train station early in the morning, I must cross by bridge or by elevator to the platform where the train stops.

The rail company does not let me use the elevator. I get to the station early, and the elevator is locked out of hours because of fear of vandalism. Every time I arrive at the station I feel the pain of carrying my bicycle over the high bridge. The rail company controls this service and there is nothing I can do about it.

I look at the high bridge with its many stairs and I look at my heavy bicycle, laden with a clothes, food, and mobile office. After cycling several miles the bicycle is now looking awfully heavy. Golly, I think, if only I could use the new technology to make my job easier.

Every week I am denied resources and have to pick up my bicycle and trudge up those stairs.

Unmet needs

Sending requests for help from this far-flung corner of the railway company leads to a series of disappointments.

  • Disappointment 1 is a sign saying the elevator is out of commission. Boo! There is however a sign telling me to press the magic help button on the intercom nearby. Hooray! This intercom is my only way of sending requests to a central train company department.
  • Disappointment 2 is the voice coming out the intercom saying, no, sorry, they cannot supply the service - they do not control that elevator. See the train station attendant.
  • Disappointment 3 is the absence of a train station attendant outside office hours. I guess the budget does not stretch to providing this kind of resource to a low-traffic area.

I cannot ease my pain by using the internal network to request resources from this central department.

In every enterprise IT department I worked in, the demand from many departments outstripped the supply. The central IT department cannot ease the pain of every far-flung corner — the available time, money and resources are never enough. A team leader managing an IT budget of thousands of dollars is going to be disappointed.

Working around the problem

I know as soon as a way of avoiding those railway stairs comes along, I will jump on it —maybe I will abandon the rail company and turn to the bus company, or maybe come up with some dangerous workaround, or perhaps I could constantly complain until the rail company changes its policy.

If a request to a central IT department is turned down or is put in a queue for delivery at some far off time, the department's need does not go away. A risk to an enterprise is that department staff will work around the central IT department in an uncontrolled way — road warriors go direct to Salesforce, programmers to github, and administrators to Google Apps. Sensitive data is unsecured, cloud sprawl pushes up prices, and duplicated service suppliers stick like barnacles to the hull of the enterprise. Google Apps, Zoho, and Office 365? Sure! Let's subscribe to them all!

The IT world has moved on. The cloud has removed IT scarcity. It's up to the leaders to take the enterprise from the old world to the new by loosening control, enabling back-water departments to get what they need, and allowing the IT department to manage the transition securely.


Nick Hardiman builds and maintains the infrastructure required to run Internet services. Nick deals with the lower layers of the Internet - the machines, networks, operating systems, and applications. Nick's job stops there, and he hands over to the ...

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