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Culture Clash: Transitioning IT into a Service-Broker Culture

Four ways to address this business-critical change

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The last few years have been transformational for IT organizations long accustomed to their role as the main purveyors of enterprise technology needs. The emergence of cloud computing and an increasing tendency by business groups to acquire IT services on their own have forced a fundamental rethinking of traditional technology delivery models. To stay ahead of the trend, IT organizations are evolving from merely delivering technology to brokering services from multiple external and internal sources. 

Cultural Challenges

The transformation poses significant cultural challenges for technology groups that still harbor traditional notions of their role in the enterprise, says Bobby Cameron, an analyst at Forrester Research, in Cambridge, Mass. It is the responsibility of the CIO and IT leaders to help the workforce navigate change. 

Being an IT service broker means focusing less on the technology underpinnings and more on integrating and delivering services from multiple internal and external resources in the most cost-effective and timely manner possible. The IT service-broker model is a derivative of object- and component-oriented architectures, Cameron says. “It is the notion that you don’t need to know what is underneath,” he explains. “You should be able to take an application interface of some sort, combine it with other tools and deliver sophisticated services” on top of any technology stack. 

Technology Abstraction

Cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) models have gained so much traction because they allow business groups to abstract away the technological complexity associated with traditional IT project deployments. Enterprise business units that are buying such services in increasing numbers are not buying the technology but rather a set of services enabled by technology.  

The emergence of the SaaS model helped to transform expectations of IT service delivery – and now, business units expect the same level of service from their IT organizations, says John Pescatore, director at the SANS Institute, in Bethesda, Md. Orienting technology groups to respond to this kind of a mindset can be challenging, he says. 

CIOs have multiple avenues to help transition the IT workforce to a service-broker culture amid such challenges. Here are four of the more important ones: 

  1. It’s All About the Language

A good place to begin transitioning the culture is to talk about the business outcomes that can result from effective technology management, says Cameron. That involves changing the language of strategic planning activities, governance, investment, operations and other aspects of IT. 

“There needs to be a move to language about what the technology serves,” regardless of the technology stack underneath, he says. Technology leaders need to encourage IT staff to think of themselves as service orchestrators helping to enable business services rather than merely hardware and software administrators. “When people start talking about service orchestration, you actually get language that the business can understand,” says Cameron. 

  1. Don’t Get Hung Up on the Technology Stack

Technology managers have long held to the notion that standardization is critical to effective IT services delivery, says Pescatore. CIOs need to encourage a shift away from that position. In a service-brokering world, technology standardization is less important than integration. For effective service brokering, IT must be able to glue together as many disparate technology components as needed to deliver a service effectively and securely. In a service-brokering world, success is more about the interchange between different technology components than it is about technology standards, Pescatore adds. 

  1. Think Application Stores

Effective service brokering involves making IT applications and services available to business groups as they need them, and giving them more choices rather than fewer, says Pescatore. Just like a mobile application store enables smartphone users to access the applications they need at any time, IT organizations need to start thinking about enabling enterprise applications in the same manner. “It is not for me to tell the salespeople how to sell,” he explains. “It is for me to tell them the apps they want are in the apps store.” 

IT groups often balk at the idea of enabling access to a wide range of applications because of the support implications, Pescatore says. One way around that is to charge back business units for any support they require for the applications they run, he explains. 

  1. Emphasize the Systems Integration

Moving to a service-broker model does not mean abdicating responsibility for technology. Enabling a true service-brokering capability requires a high degree of technology integration skills. There are all kinds of things that go on with service orchestration that require knowledge of different tools, application interfaces and vendor management, Cameron says.  

“A lot of the tools and the technologies are actually more difficult than if I had to do it all in my back office,” he says. “So I need to understand the interdependencies, the risk factors, the performance factors and the availability factors.” 

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