by Thomas Hoffman

11 Rules for IT Delivery Success

Oct 30, 2009
Risk Management

How the CIO at A&E Television Networks ensures his IT department delivers systems that wont fail.

Having spent the first 13 years of his career in the financial services industry, Martin Gomberg always placed a lot of weight on the security, reliability and recoverability of systems. So when he joined A&E Television Networks as senior vice president and CIO 14 years ago, Gomberg quickly incorporated his “house rules” to ensure operational readiness for all new and existing systems. No system or upgrade goes live unless it satisfies the applicable rules.

Martin Gomberg’s House Rules

    1. Availability: Is the data or system available to service the needs of the business?

    2. Scalability: Is there sufficient capacity to store, process, deliver and grow?

    3. Operability: Do you have the skills, documentation and readiness for support?

    4. Redundancy: Are there alternatives on loss of storage, processing or delivery?

    5. Diversity: Do redundant systems or paths have common risk elements?

    6. Recovery: If a critical component fails is there a means to restore its function?

    7. Privacy: Is access limited to that which is required and intended?

    8. Security: Are all physical, technical and contractual safeguards in place?

    9. Liability: Can you licensing, use and practices ever be questioned?

    10. Continuity: Can contracts, relationships and processes endure change?

    11. Viability: Do you meet the needs of the business in the most effective way?

The rules consist of 11 questions A&E’s developers, engineers and operations staffers must ask themselves to address the readiness of the company’s production systems, whether business applications or infrastructure items such as communications devices or switches. For instance, when considering a system’s scalability, A&E’s IT staffers must take into account whether the New York-based cable TV network has sufficient capacity to “store, process, deliver and grow.”

To read more on this topic see: Macs in the Enterprise: the Cost Factor and IT at A&E Television Networks.

Because developers, operations staffers and engineers all work in different groups, “you need to have a way to establish parameters that everybody can work off of and understand what their expectations are,” says Gomberg. “We use this as a lens to measure every critical component.”

The house rules should trigger in everyone’s mind whether they’ve considered every way a system might fail to deliver for users. That includes everything from whether they’ve planned for recovery if a system goes down to whether they have the skills needed to support each one.

Vendors Must Also Comply

A&E relies on a mix of third-party and homegrown systems that meet some of the unique market requirements of the television industry. For homegrown systems, some rules relating to compliance and licensing obligations may not be relevant, but those involving continuity or security would apply. Gomberg makes sure that the house rules are also applied to any commercial technology it licenses to ensure the reliability of those systems. “If we use a Web-based service, they have to be able to resume delivery to me if there’s a failure,” says Gomberg.

Getting vendors to comply with these types of customer-driven requirements isn’t daunting “if you pay them enough,” says Dave West, an analyst at Forrester Research.

What’s more challenging, says West, is making sure that the requirements vendors are asked to meet aren’t subjective. For instance, when a vendor is asked to ensure that a particular system is scalable, “you have to be clear whether you mean scalable to terabytes of information over the Web,” he adds.

Gomberg says, his staff has embraced the rules. “We’ve made significant investments in disaster recovery and business continuity, so the business has learned that we ask these types of [reliability and recoverability] questions up front.” He hasn’t attempted to measure the impact of the rules. But he knows that they have been successful in ensuring the integrity of the systems that are being used to support the needs of its business. “You probably can’t measure it,” he says, “but you’ll know it if you do it and you’ll know if you’re not.”

Thomas Hoffman is a freelance writer based in New York.