How to make the business case for edge computing: 6 tips

As CIOs and IT leaders look to increase investment in edge computing, how can they best make the business case? Consider these expert tips and strategies
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Today’s IT leader, perhaps now more than ever, has to sell the business value of new technology initiatives. “As with any sales transaction, a level of trust needs to be established before the buyer is inclined to buy,” says Greg Bentham, vice president of cloud Infrastructure Services at Capgemini North America. “The way this trust is established is through a solid business case, where the hard and soft dollar values are clearly articulated in a manner where the stakeholder is inclined to buy.”

That is especially true for emerging technologies like edge computing, which may be less understood by the business.

[ What's the latest in edge? See Red Hat's news roundup from Mobile World Congress 2022. ]

Predictive maintenance, remote working support, and retail and commerce optimization lead common examples of how enterprises are using edge computing now.

“Edge deployments are often pushing the boundaries of what is possible with technology today,” as Matt Hicks, President, Red Hat 's Products and Technology told attendees of this week’s Red Hat Summit 2021. Consider this intriguing example: autonomous ocean liner navigation. Check out the Mayflower Autonomous Shipping Project. (If that’s not edgy enough for you, consider the ways edge computing is being used on the International Space Station.) Closer to home, today’s edge computing use cases range from in-vehicle operating systems to telecommunications to industrial automation. What kind of problems is edge solving? Predictive maintenance, remote working support, and retail and commerce optimization lead common examples of how enterprises are using edge now.

 [ Need to talk edge with colleagues, customers, or partners? Get a shareable primer: How to explain edge computing in plain English. ] 

How to make the business case for edge

With industry analysts predicting that edge computing – and complimentary 5G network offerings ­­– will take off this year (accelerated by COVID-19’s impact on the enterprise), CIOs are turning their attention to selling edge initiatives within their organizations.

Consider these tips for tackling that task and ensuring you secure the necessary budget for future edge computing priorities.

1. Identify the key variables driving edge adoption in your organization

"Edge computing can be an essential element in launching new products and services."

Is it increased productivity or lower costs? A new revenue opportunity? Greater ease of development? Better security or data privacy protections? “The business case for edge computing can be split between cost saving and revenue generating use cases,” says Dave McCarthy, research director within IDC’s worldwide infrastructure practice focusing on edge strategies. “Edge computing has the ability to reduce costs by limiting the movement of data. Edge computing can also be an essential element in launching new products and services.”

2. Understand the total costs of an edge solution

The benefits of being edge-native will need to outweigh the edge investment, says Shamik Mishra, Chief Technology Officer for connectivity at global innovation and engineering consultancy Altran. Those costs will include edge compute platforms, use case development, integration, and support. “Products are increasingly becoming connected products and therefore, edge compute business cases will be driven on the need [to build] agile, manageable, network-aware applications,” Mishra says.

3. Factor in the softer (up)side of edge

“Making the business case for an edge deployment or optimization strategy will not work if you focus solely on financial investment and do not take into account the return you could realize,” says George Burns III, senior consultant for cloud operations at SPR. “To provide a better experience for your users, you must go into this investment with the intent of providing a soft return, not a financial one.” Think user experience, for example.

"You'll see the dividends of your investment in your application’s reliability and performance."

Many edge solutions offer improvement upon existing processes. “You’ll see the dividends of your investment in your application’s reliability and performance,” Burns says. “Increases in performance and reliability will always come with a financial cost, and the bulk of these ‘dividends’ will be in increased goodwill, better user experience, and a hardening of your infrastructure.”

[ Want to learn more about implementing edge computing? Read the blog: How to implement edge infrastructure in a maintainable and scalable way. ]

4. Choose your audience wisely

When IT is pursuing an edge investment with a long term or more qualitative payoff, getting buy-in is a bit trickier. If you’re making the case for better platform performance or reliability, a more seamless user experience, or hardening of infrastructure, you may not want to head to the CFO first. Seek out someone in the business who will understand and benefit directly from the outcomes, like the COO, CSO, or CHRO.

“Do not make the case for a soft financial realization to someone who is focused on a hard return,” Burns says. “A conversation on increased performance and reliability must be rooted in the realization of a business case, not on the potential for a quick ROI.”

5. Capitalize on edge hype

“The edge is where the action is right now,” says Burns of SPR. IT leaders can use this to their advantage, analysts say. “The good thing is [in many cases], the business is sold on the edge idea and therefore, [may] not need meaningful convincing,” says Yugal Joshi, vice president at management consultancy and research firm Everest Group. “Given edge is a transformation story…the business case is already clear in the mind of many business leaders.”

What enterprise IT needs to bring to the table is clarity, speed to market, agility, alignment with business strategy, and – in many cases – a check on any irrational exuberance.

6. Be discriminating

The IT leader must be the voice of restraint if the edge investments are to pay off as predicted. “Everything doesn’t belong at the edge or in the cloud,” says Dave Vasko, director of advanced technology at industrial automation and technology provider Rockwell Automation.

When IT leaders are determining whether to deploy functionality (like analytics) in the cloud, on premises, or at the edge, Vasko advises they should consider three things: response time needs, reliability and availability requirements, and data size and scope. “Typically the faster the response time, the closer processing should be to the sensing of the data. Processing close to the edge utilizes less communications infrastructure and consequently typically results in higher availability and reliability. Data sets requiring enterprise data typically make sense to host in the cloud,” Vasko says. “Making wise decisions based on performance parameters will result in the best outcomes and lowest implementation cost.”

[ Want to learn more about edge and data-intensive applications? Get the details on how to build and manage data-intensive intelligent applications in a hybrid cloud blueprint. ]

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.