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From One Man Band To Maestro?

Friday 02 September, 2016

The meaning of life

It would seem the business expectations on the capability of IT have always been high. IT folk have a desire to fix all the world’s problems, and we tend to promise a lot to the business. Perhaps we are at fault for creating our own extremely high bar; the business always wants to work cheaper, faster, better and we in IT have been striving to deliver on the promise for a long time.

But something has changed:

  • Computing is entering a new age
  • Elements of the IT estate are becoming commoditised and fungible
  • The power of computing is more and more visible to a technology savvy generation

This all means that the business of today has so much more visibility of the potential of IT that the average consumer of IT services can very easily compare the services we provide with what is out there.

The question the business asks of IT has shifted from ‘can you create this?’ to ‘why can’t we use/do that (right now)? ‘

Moreover, they can (and do!) take decisions on technology and services and place them into live service quickly, with minimal, or perhaps no input from the IT organisation (Shadow IT anyone?).

So this leads to a crisis of existence for today’s IT organisation. What do we exist for? What is our value proposition?

Simple minds

Although to the app enabled users it may appear to the contrary, the world of IT is undoubtedly getting more complex.

Traditionally, IT organised itself around technical groupings (network, storage, servers, application and so on) however these so called towers are challenged by a new landscape. When hosting is cloud sourced and software orchestrated, when business software is delivered as mobile apps, when end user devices are virtual because everyone brings their own, then the bastions of infrastructure and applications (and their separation) start to make less sense.

A request can be met by choosing whether to insource, outsource, broker, build, acquire as a service  etc. across the entire range of IT services. Within each of those there are a multitude of technology offerings that span from the end customer edge to the deepest parts of infrastructure.

It becomes very clear that in order to retain a sustainable and supportable IT ecosystem, new ways of working are likely needed to be needed.

So how does the IT organisation of today need to change?

Jack of all trades. Master of some

Increasingly, traditional delivery models will be one facet of the IT organisation, rather than the raison d’etre. Plan, build, and operate will take many different forms.  What is now needed from IT is therefore to become a trusted selector of services, and to be the master of orchestrating and integrating these. The market is already defining everything as a service, and it is time for IT organisations to begin to define offerings as services that, ideally, offer easy comparison points for the business. This requires a shift in the skills for IT to the more cross-functional; the ability to co-ordinate the assessment of solutions from many angles on behalf of the business in order to confidently propose the right one. IT and the business also need to very consciously decide what elements of IT are differentiators and need to be protected in terms of IP and expertise in house.

Play to the audience

After defining the service groupings to work around service ownership and service lifecycle management (concepts that have long existed in the product area) can be applied to IT to drive desired business outcomes. These are not new concepts to IT (application roadmaps, and technology renewal etc.) but rarely has this taken the end to end or fully business centric view. Orientation around the end service and the consumers allows for any mode of delivery sat within or behind the IT organisation, but crucially the IT organisation is still accountable and maintains a consistency of relationship with the business.

Strategies for everything

Given this realignment, it’s perhaps more important than ever to ensure that there are well publicised strategies and supporting standards in place that span the technologies and services to support coherence across the multitude of options available, and governance structures that support them (without slowing things down). Enterprise Architects and IT sourcing counterparts need to be at the top of their game more than ever before to ensure IT is current, coherent, and covers the business requirements, and will meet the needs of a growing number of C-level stakeholders with their own views on the IT landscape – CTO, CDO, CIO and so on.

Original works

Innovation means many things to many people, however at its simplest it is about understanding the value of an idea first. IT needs to become better at looking through the complexity of technology offerings on behalf of the business and highlighting capabilities that could drive additional benefit, and how they can fit into the current delivery operation. If IT cannot partner with the business in this respect they will have the pain of integration ‘after the fact’ as the business moves ahead anyway.

Do your counts

Most organisations struggle to give a comparable cost for e2e service that the business can understand. This generates frustration, but also the often false impression that the as-a-Service offerings the business can see in the market are cheaper. Of course, sometimes they are right. However only when IT are clear on their own costs, can they move to being a trusted advisor on the best solutions and able to neutrally compare ‘own brand’ offerings with other options from a cost perspective, and moreover advise the business on which one to select and why. Of course cost is only one factor, but it is usually a keystone.  

Advise & Conduct

The contemporary IT organisation needs to embrace the complexity of today, and the diversity in the IT market. To do so it will need robust strategies to help guide decisions on technology choices and investment, as well as guidance on whether to build or buy (and why). In this advisor and selector role of the right solutions for the business; being open to go ‘off the shelf’ or partner with multiple providers and integrate into the service organisation is going to be key and require a realignment of the organisation and culture; orientating people and processes around services, and being clear on costs, rather than being parochial or protective about technology or where it was created.  In the words of the great conductor Benjamin Zander: “It's not a question of how much power you can hoard for yourself, but how much you can give away.”