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Zen & The Art Of Service-Oriented IT

For IT, public cloud providers pose stiff competition. You must compete on quality.

Everyone knows IT needs to evolve from sole service provider to service strategist. Get the mix right to deliver some of what the business needs internally, some using external cloud and non-cloud providers. It's a no-brainer, right?

Well, no. The latest InformationWeek Services-Oriented IT Survey of more than 400 business technology professionals found a gap between those who embrace the concept and those still dragging their feet. Maybe that's because efforts are out of balance. In my view, to do IT-as-a-service well, CIOs must keep process, technology, and cultural aspects in equilibrium.

In my work I see ITaaS having positive long-term effects on IT governance, cost transparency, and alignment with corporate strategy. Leaders have the visibility to make smart investments, as I'll discuss next week at Interop in a session on managing applications in a hybrid environment.

ITaaS is not plug-and-play, and you can't buy it from a consultant. It takes a long-term commitment, and unless the organization is open to change, it will fail. But here's why you need to get on board: The competition from public cloud services is stiff, with Amazon and Google in a race to slash prices and boost functionality.

How are you going to compete? On quality.

Let's look at the three elements of ITaaS.

The process
I have seen far too many dusty ITaaS planning documents sitting on bookshelves. Yes, there are a lot of elements involved with IT-as-a-service, but don't spend too much time trying to anticipate all possible eventualities. Bureaucracy is your enemy, and over-planning will kill the project's momentum. Aim for quick wins that have an immediate impact. I recommend change or incident management -- two areas that are usually in dire need of attention. Are you mainly reactive now? Focus on changing that. Whatever your early goals, work to keep energy and excitement levels up, and stay flexible.

Set realistic progress milestones. Don't bite off too much; it's far better to show incremental progress with deliverables in 90 days or less.

[GM CIO talks innovation, IT strategy, and more. Read GM's Randy Mott: What I Believe…]

What are some key performance indicators that will prove success? If you have baseline metrics to illustrate the time and effort certain services take to deliver, these are great starting points. If you don't have this data, get it. Visibility into the metrics that matter will build your case for continual improvement, because management can see the impact of changes as they occur.

Consider formal quality management standards. With the rapid changes in technology and security, no modern IT organization can function without them. It's also critical to have a process for collecting metrics and user feedback regularly, and reporting results to the business.

The more transparency, the better.

The technology
You may need to buy software to track changes, problems, and incidents. Spend the money, because without these tools, success will be limited.

Collect your technical and business service catalogues in a portfolio that spells out business use cases, cost information, and demand expectations. Customers use the business service catalogue to order and track the status of service requests. Just as with online shopping, they can select and bundle IT services and see how long it will take to receive them and what they cost, whether you charge back or not.

The technical service catalogue includes the infrastructure components that make up each service. With this information, IT has the ability to manage and report from the technical and customer perspectives.

While the customer-facing service catalogue could be a static intranet page, a genuinely interactive catalogue provides more satisfaction for users trying to get a handle on the provisioning and cost of their services. Look at it this way: Cloud providers offer very functional catalogues of services. If you want your internal offerings to be considered on an equal footing, look into products like those from Ostrato, Jamcracker, and Nephos that offer consolidated storefronts.

Service desk, application performance management, and configuration management database (CMDB) systems are also important, but everything should start with the catalogue.

Successful ITaaS initiatives automate as much as humanly possible. If a process can't be automated, at least automate enforcement and compliance to ensure that the right checks and balances exist. I recently saw a cumbersome provisioning process to get new lab hardware set up go from three days to four hours thanks to automation.

The culture
IT-as-a-service affects multiple groups, and without consensus, the initiative will fail. It can't be a backroom deal made at a high level and then dropped on affected parties. Resistance from one group or even a single individual can derail progress. Don't let it get that far.

Identify naysayers and address concerns -- to a point. I have seen organizations that try and build too much consensus and work to get buy-in from people who will never agree. Sometimes leaders need to make tough choices.

I've also seen companies spend a substantial sum to train their staff to be more "service-centric," but then get frustrated when people did not change right away. If you do decide to hire a training provider, choose carefully and work with the provider to customize the content and make it specific to your organization. This is more time-consuming for the provider, whose business is driven by cookie-cutter classes, but it's critical to cover some specific use cases and work through scenarios in your organization.

The customer-centric culture must permeate the entire IT group. I promise you that user satisfaction levels are a lot higher in IT organizations that are service-based. The IT staffs in these organizations have higher morale and a better blend of technical and soft skills. They feel like their lives are less chaotic, and they're able to be more responsive to user needs.

Sure, it sounds crunchy. But everyone's happier, and that's a fact.

Engage with Oracle president Mark Hurd, NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle, General Motors CIO Randy Mott, Box founder Aaron Levie, UPMC CIO Dan Drawbaugh, GE Power CIO Jim Fowler, and other leaders of the Digital Business movement at the InformationWeek Conference and Elite 100 Awards Ceremony, to be held in conjunction with Interop in Las Vegas, March 31 to April 1, 2014. See the full agenda here.