Creating Functional Teams In A Cloudy, Virtualized World

CIOs need to help their staff understand that they're no longer infrastructure managers. They're service managers. We'll explore that topic at the InformationWeek Analytics Live track at Interop.
Lately we're talking to CIOs and IT managers who feel more like referees. It used to be, we just had to moderate between end users and security or the helpdesk. But now, as the data center evolves to include pervasive virtualization and a mix of in-house and cloud IT assets, the internal turf battles are threatening to KO agility advances.

It's unarguable that virtualization--on premises or in the cloud--has increased flexibility exponentially. Getting a new server online used to take weeks, between the procurement, rack-and-stack, and configuration cycles. Today it takes minutes. Cloud computing, particularly infrastructure as a service, ups the agility ante even further by blurring the relationship between software and hardware. Who would have thought, even five years ago, that software could autonomously request more hardware resources on the fly--and without the explicit approval and action of your outstandingly obsessive/compulsive infrastructure team?

And there's the root of the conflict: Infrastructure staffers feel a certain ownership of the infrastructure product. Everyone else is an outsider who doesn't know jack. And the feeling is returned by your application developers, because, naturally, the infrastructure exists only so that they can work their magic on it. The third leg of the IT stool, the support team, just looks on, wonders why we all can't get along, and just knows that agility, and, ultimately, customer service, will suffer if the posturing doesn't stop.

Sound familiar? The problem is that your staff may not be ready to embrace a fundamental new reality: IT is not individual products. From a customer standpoint, it's a blended service. No one cares whether an application is slow because of buggy code or an overloaded server. They just want it to work.

Could the bystander, the support team, be part of the solution? Or maybe a new, cross-functional "devops" model, gussied up with a little service management, can help you serve your business in a more responsive and agile way? Devops is a formalized set of principles meant to break down the walls between the application development and IT operations teams. No cooperation, no agility, the thinking goes.

I'll explore the link between people and agility in depth at our second InformationWeek Analytics Live track at Interop, along with co-chair Michael Biddick, the CTO of Fusion PPT. Michael says CIOs need to help staff understand that they're no longer "infrastructure managers." They're service managers. There's a reason why private and public cloud offerings alike are referred to with the "as a service" moniker. There are different skills involved when operating in an infrastructure manager versus a service manager role. For example, when's the last time that your infrastructure manager had to soothe an upset customer? Right. The support folks do that for them. And, not all infrastructure managers handle vendor SLAs, clearly an important role for them, but sometimes delegated to someone in "the business office."

Don't get us wrong: Infrastructure skills are still important, but so are those soft skills that help a service manager navigate the labyrinth of everything-as-a-service. Guess which skill set is going to ultimately help your company get ahead?

CIOs can and must help their teams adopt service manager skills, no matter what roles individuals have. The evolution from virtualization to public, private, and hybrid cloud computing isn't going to slow down, and companies that keep their support, app dev, and infrastructure teams in separate boxes will fall behind. In our program, we'll discuss ways to break down silos and integrate key roles in ways that allow you to be incredibly flexible and responsive to the business. For now, stop babying those infrastructure managers. Let them handle their own procurement. Force them to be the ones to call vendors when SLAs aren't met. I'm not saying cut them off and leave them hanging, but let them start to be primary contacts, with the business office or support there to assist when needed. For many infrastructure managers, moving into a service manager role will be difficult, but it's a transition that has to happen eventually. Let's make it sooner rather than later.

Jonathan Feldman is director of IT services for a rapidly growing city in North Carolina. Join us at our InformationWeek Analytics Live session at Interop Las Vegas on Thursday, May 12, on Creating Functional Teams for a Cloudy & Virtualized World.