Cost-Benefits
of Efficiency

I read an interesting article about Google using their DeepMind AI system to improve their power usage efficiency by 15% – which adds up to hundreds of millions of dollars of savings. Of course, DeepMind has been a big investment for Google and finding areas for them to gain efficiency leads to immediate payback – not necessarily covering the entire investment, but savings that add up over time to those hundreds of millions. Like any good organization, I’m sure that Google started with metrics so they had a handle of not just what the costs were, but where the biggest cost impacts were occurring. As the saying goes, “you can’t change what you don’t measure”. However, a lot of organizations get stuck in metrics mode and never get around to the work of actually optimizing – they are are always measuring but never changing. Other organizations continue on inertia and keep on tweaking applications and infrastructure just because they have teams dedicated to those functions. So developers optimize their applications, DBAs – the database, and network admins – the network. They use familiar tools and spend countless hours engaged in the process because that’s what they do. In many organizations, the combination of people and tools adds up to millions of dollars dedicated to this process.

Who is doing the cost-benefit analysis across these organizations to ensure there is a payback for all this activity? Yes, sometimes you need to change processes. Sometimes you need to change organizations. Sometimes you need to change tools. And sometimes you just need to look at solving an immediate problem. You want your organizations focused on big problems that truly require the attention of domain experts. For example, if your customers/end-users are complaining about poor application performance impacting their productivity, are you balancing the cost of productivity versus the combined cost of the people and tools to address the issue? Maybe it’s important to address the lost productivity now while also looking at how you can improve the supporting infrastructure over time. The longer it takes to address the issue, the more the combined costs of lost productivity and time/cost spent by the supporting organizations in analyzing and working on solutions to the issue. And, like with Google and their power costs, those combined costs can add up to millions of dollars. Unfortunately, organizational inertia can keep sucking those dollars forever.

It is important to have accountability and aligned incentives throughout an organization based on driving efficiency for the company. It should not just start and end with the CEO, CFO, CIO, but should extend to every level. The DBA or the Network Admin can have a huge impact on saving money for their companies by taking a new perspective on their organization and looking at the cost-benefits of how they address pressing issues for their customers.

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