Get Service Focused, Run at the Pace of the Business

This blogpost was originally shared on April 4th, 2015

Lately I participated in a number of cloud deals involving large enterprises. Most of them consisted in the migration to a hybrid cloud including a private and a shared component. And for many it was really the first time IT got to negotiate a cloud contract. This led to interesting situations as several of the parties involved had not fully grasped the game changing aspects of cloud computing and how necessary that was to address the expectations of the business.

Information Technology departments have focused for years on keeping the lights on. In other words, keep the infrastructure running so the applications are available to end-users. To avoid applications interacting nefariously with others, separate environments have been set-up for each to ensure complete isolation of production. This has resulted in low server utilization in the data centers. As the price of infrastructure has reduced drastically over the years, this has not really been a problem. Surprisingly, in many companies the costs associated with running those systems was not taken into account when making the buying decision.

Development teams required their own environments and again, to ensure the availability of the production environment companies ended up with development, testing, staging, pre-production and production environments, lowering the average utilization of servers even more.

Information Technology is a serious endeavor. It is managed according to rules and processes and is financed through a tightly held budget. So getting your environment, whether development or production takes time. Actually it often takes weeks to provision the servers required for a new project. Agility and responsiveness are not really part of the equation. Hence IT often has the reputation of being slow and somewhat mysterious.

What has changed lately is that the young employees joining the company are IT literate. They have been playing with computers for years and have an intense digital private life. Why can they do so many things quickly at home, but are unable to get equivalent functionality in their business life?

To make things worse, the mobile phone has been replaced by a smart phone, allowing to use many small applications allowing them to collaborate, share information, understand what is happening etc. It has really consumerized IT.

Today in many companies, IT is seen as a bottleneck and an entity that slows down business, rather than an enabler of new business opportunities. IT is being bypassed. The tools available on the internet, the cloud, are seen as wonderful ways to do what is required for the business without having to involve IT. That’s what we call “shadow-IT”.

The drawback however is that enterprise information is scattered all over the place and that this can result in exposing the enterprise to compliance and security risks, which the business people do not always grasp. So, how do we rectify such situation?

So, the fundamental question is how to make the IT department more attractive to the business? Increased agility and responsiveness are key requirements. Going to cloud may help achieve those objectives and provide the user a service he perceives as being better and more aligned with the needs of the business. However, to juggle costs, availability, security and compliance, the chances the IT department ends up with a complex environment covering more than one cloud, are great. It’s important to shield that complexity from the end user. This is where the internal service broker concept actually comes in. And we’ll talk about that in a next blog entry.

Can IT be seen as the fast and nimble delivery entity of the services the enterprise needs? Can IT address the ever changing needs of the business at the speed needed for the company to win in the marketplace? I believe the answer is yes, but three things are required to achieve this.

Think business not technology

To live at the pace of the business, IT has to understand the business, understand what is important for them and why they are asking for specific functionality. IT should be there to support the business. In an ever more digital world, IT has to support the key enterprise business processes steps. That is where you might want to start. Understand some of these key processes, map them out process step by process step and highlight what support the IT applications give to each of those steps. Are the current applications addressing what is required in each process step or are the business people navigating around the shortcomings of the applications? Figuring that out is in its own right an interesting exercise.

Providing application releases once or twice a year don’t do it anymore in an environment where business needs evolve on a weekly basis. The interconnection of the world, the speed at which competitors make their moves forces enterprises to react faster. By sticking to the original release cycle IT is always one or two steps behind. That needs to change.

Technology is at the service of the business. In other words, ask yourself how the technologies you have at your disposal can help you on the one hand provide a better support to the business, and change the speed at which you do things on the other.

Think services not silos

Traditional IT departments are silo based. Each technology used has its specialists, focused solely on that technology. So, when, as a business user, you want something done, you go from silo to silo to get things done. And that takes time. I’m not telling you that you no longer need technology specialists, you still need them, but you first need them to work with each-other to understand how they help solve a problem, and second you need people that understand how multiple technologies can be assembled to deliver a business service. The latter is the most difficult. Finding people that have enough understanding of the business and that comprehend technologies to a level where they can see the benefits of alignment, that’s what is difficult.

But those people are at the center of tomorrow’s digital enterprise. It’s the ones who will translate requirements into services that need to be delivered. The concept of service, in the SOA sense of the term, is at the center of the digital enterprise. The companies that understand that, and whose IT department transformed itself to tackle the needs quickly are the winners. They are tomorrows “hot” companies.

Think incremental not step change

The one thing the mobile devices have shown us is that incremental application development delivers functionality faster. Years ago Microsoft called such approach spiral development. You start by creating the minimal functionality you need to deliver the service and then release after release you add functionality around it and your application addresses the needs better and better. In a world where responsiveness is critical, having such approach delivers the business needs at a rapid pace. And yes, the first release may not have all we wish, but it already adds value to the bottom line. This is what counts.

Automation is a must

But in an environment where every other week you need to deliver additional functionality, craftsmanship doesn’t do it anymore. You can no longer count on people being able to do everything manually. Automation is needed to free the developer so he can deliver the functionality. But automation is also required to get things done in the same way over and over again. Here we can learn from the manufacturing industry. This is where we industrialize the process. Oh, and by the way, why don’t we look at how lean we can make the process? How can we get rid of all the waste? Well, that is probably the subject of a future blog entry.

Tell me what is going through your mind.

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