CXO

Retro technology still makes sense for some IT projects

When unique business circumstances are a poor fit for new technology, going old school could be the solution.

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Image: iStock/Dekdoyjaidee


For many years my grandmother prepared Thanksgiving dinner, and the piece de resistance was her mouth-watering turkey. She made the bird in a very old Nesco. Nobody knew how old the roaster was, but my guess is that it was manufactured in the 1930s or 1940s. Today, my sister still has that Nesco and faithfully prepares the traditional turkey recipe each Thanksgiving.

There is a lesson from the Nesco that applies to technology, too: Sometimes, retro solutions are the most effective way to attack nagging IT problems.

SEE: Digital transformation: A guide for CXOs (Tech Pro Research)

Here is an example that crossed my desk last week.

The Clackamas (Oregon) CountySheriff's Office wanted to improve its response to traffic accidents, so it invested in geospatial laser scanners that enabled two people to go out to a traffic accident site and record the entire accident scene for forensics evidence purposes. The new geospatial technology enabled the department to deploy fewer persons to visit an accident scene for purposes of investigation and evidence collection. It also eliminated the need for methodology such as tape measures and other older means of gathering physical evidence to document what had happened. Best of all, it enabled law enforcement to clear a traffic accident scene quickly, relieving traffic jam headaches for commuters.

When I heard about this, I was tempted to end the use case right there, declaring new technology as the solution and citing department statistics for ROI—like the $73,000 in overtime costs the department had saved over 32 months.

However, there was more to the story.

On the front end of traffic accident investigation, Clackamas had solved major person power, technology, and commuter frustration problems by implementing new, more efficient technology. But there was still a back end to this operation that had to do with how a court of law would treat evidence captured by this new laser scanner technology.

The law says that for evidence to be admissible in court, you must be able to demonstrate that the evidence never left your custody and that there was no way it could be altered or tampered with. If the slightest break in an evidence custody chain can be shown, it is likely that the court will not admit the evidence.

Admissibility of evidence in court was of paramount concern to Clackamas—and it had to define an IT solution that addressed this data custody issue.

"The department must always maintain control over the evidence it collects from the court's standpoint, so what the department did was to use solid disk (SD) storage on the scanners themselves to store traffic accident data," said Janice White, director of product management for Faro, which provides 3D measurement, imaging, and realization technology. "For each case that the department documents, it buys an external hard drive and stores the data."

This on-premise data storage approach, like the Nesco for Thankgiving turkey, is decidedly retro. But with the rigorous guidelines that courts demand for evidence preservation and uninterrupted custody, it is best in class. You certainly can't risk moving data to the cloud, where it is under a third party's management and data custody (and integrity) can be questioned.

SEE: Special report: The cloud v. data center decision (free TechRepublic PDF)

What are the takeaways for IT managers deploying new technology?

1. If the technology solves most of your problems and can pay for itself, implement it

Making sure a new technology is a great fit for your company and that it can pay for itself over a reasonable amount of time are textbook practices now for most IT managers—as long as they factor in changes in existing business processes and the need to train or retrain personnel to operate the new technology.

2. When you define your initial business case for new technology, look downstream for what might be needed

Many hours are spent preparing presentations for the CEO and the board on how a new technology can assist in upfront operations—but due diligence must also be done on the back end of business operations. In the Clackamas case, there was a governance requirement to keep all evidentiary data in department custody at all times. New technology in itself couldn't solve this.

3. Don't discount retro technology as an IT solution in the right circumstances

From a pure IT standpoint, the best option for Clackamas was to store its forensics data in the cloud. However, legal requirements for uninterrupted data custody required a more traditional, on-premise data storage solution. Clackamas took this route.

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Your take

What projects have required you to fall back on retro tech? Share your experiences and advice with fellow TechRepublic members.

About Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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