7 Steps to Coping with IT Chaos
March 11, 2013

Dennis Drogseth

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In my last column — IT—No Longer Stable and Precise — I promised that in this column I'd make some recommendations for handling all the chaos that potentially occurs when you combine ecosystem interdependencies (including cloud) with a more consumer-driven IT operational model. This includes the move from a “back-office” approach to governance to a more “front-office” model.

In the meantime, I realize that nothing short of a book — and probably a substantial one at that — would serve as an adequate answer to this. Having considered multiple approaches to the problem, I made the choice not to go through an endless series of columns on this topic and face the inevitable lack of continuity (not to mention the sheer critical mass) that such an approach would entail. Rather, I’ve decided to highlight seven key points relevant to the problem. This way, you can at least retain the continuity and context of the ideas without having to click through endless URLs.

In all of these areas two things are critical to keep in mind: the importance of dialog and the importance of approaching the challenge/objective in phases. Or, as EMA consulting often states it: “Big Vision, Baby Steps.”

1. Assess your organization's current role

Where are you and where do you want to be, vis-a-vis the business you serve?

I would be lying if I said there was a simple, standard path for doing this. In fact, there are no best practices for this, and not even a common language between IT and non-IT stakeholders except in exceptional situations. However, to evaluate this point, you need to focus on what services are most directly a part of shaping external and internal business outcomes.

“Optimizing value” cuts to the very heart of the need to reshape IT culture through dialog and insight with internal and external service consumers. Conversely, you should also ask: what services are most commodity-like in value and hence more purely cost-driven? Needless to say, your strategy should be primarily to optimize value when “value” is the lead idea, and primarily to minimize cost for more commodity services.

2. Promote more effective, cross-domain ways of working internal to IT

This has been a primary objective for IT since even before ITIL. Moreover now it's getting a lot of head wind from cloud. Once again, this is easier said than done, but I would advise that there are multiple dimensions to this challenge — each of which can bring value. These may range from DevOps agility that brings development together with operations, to user-experience management teams that unite IT with non-IT objectives and also bring context to internal IT efforts, to process-defined approaches (change management, incident management, etc.) as outlined in ITIL.

3. Integration of Operations and the Service Desk

This is really a subset of the above, but I wanted to call it out because it too often gets lost in the shuffle. Moreover, it's central to a more effective and cohesive approach to everything from IT governance, to automation, to user experience, to process-centric workflows demanding cross-domain collaboration. It can even play a pivotal role in DevOps agility.

4. Process, discipline and managing stakeholders

Once again this would be, and already is, not only a book in itself but constitutes an entire library of references. The point I want to make here, however, is that cloud, consumerization, Big Data, mobile, or fill in the blank — don't change the requirements to have clear processes, process owners, and good collaborative dialog among stakeholders. Social media may become increasingly useful here as it evolves. Whatever else, don't leave this up to a few “edicts” from on high and then go off to claim victory. Succeeding here can be as much about good listening as anything else.

5. Be proactive, creative and realistic in leveraging key technologies

One of the most common misconceptions in the technology industry is that technologies define endgames in themselves. This is reflected in the much inflated “journey to the cloud” and the “move to Big Data,” or even the “move to mobility” and “BYOD” — which is, of the three, the closest to an endgame with direct consumer value.

The reason this is a dangerous misconception, is that it suggests setting objectives based on enabling capabilities versus actual business values. Cloud, for instance, can enable faster provisioning of critical business services, enhanced cost efficiencies, more raw analytic power, etc. But it is hardly an endgame in itself and if approached as such can do more damage as good. Similarly, Big Data can too easily become a big excuse for not doing much with the mounds of data you've got. This is one of the reasons I prefer the term “analytics” — which are increasingly diverse and operationally oriented.

6. Map Out your External Partner-Supplier-SP Ecosystem (and keep it current)

While it may seem just wonderful to have a lot of options that include partnerships and service provider resources (including cloud), it's important to know who and where they are and what your dependencies are across them. In the past, this could be approached in more of a stove-piped manner — so that, for instance, telco costs and interdependencies could be managed effectively without an eye to data-center or Web hosting or storage outsourcing. The dynamic nature of IT services in 2013 can no longer be optimized across such siloed walls. This doesn't mean that unique skill sets don't still apply.

As an example, I once heard of a consultancy that tried to create a single center of excellence for managing all IT assets without any regard for domain expertise. Needless to say, it failed. But doing this well does mean that at some level your silos need to be understood cohesively — and mapped to critical business services along with SLAs, stakeholders and processes.

7. Map out your Internal/External Consumer Ecosystem

Even if you're not delivering every IT service to your company consumers, it's important to know what services are being consumed, by whom, and why, and what the existing governance looks like (SLAs, etc.). There may not be a reason for you to own every service that your internal/external customers consume. But there is every reason to know what they are consuming, and how, and when, and why, and to what effect, because that, in the end, defines the very heart of your “business” and your reason for being.

This list isn't meant to be magic, just thought-provoking. It is far from complete, and more a set of headlines than fully examined recommendations. But I did my best to make it a good start — a quick and easy place to begin when coping with IT chaos.

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Dennis Drogseth blog: IT—No Longer Stable and Precise

Dennis Drogseth is VP at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA)
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