by Glenn O'Donnell, Forrester Research

10 Ways IT Can Prepare for an Industrial Revolution

Feb 25, 2011
Data CenterIT Strategy

IT must industrialize infrastructure and operations -- and IT workers must be taught to abandon their love affair with complexity, says Forrester's Glenn O'Donnell. Consider these 10 pieces of advice on how to do it right.

Established IT systems and operations are quickly becoming impractical and obsolete as technology complexities grow, combined with the realities of post-recession economics. To successfully respond to these changing forces, infrastructure and operations professionals must take action, by using the disruptive economic events of the recession to their advantage. How? By “industrializing” the infrastructure and operations department, following the lessons of other business movements that have industrialized processes to achieve more efficient business outcomes and sustainable competitive advantage. This means enhancing and innovating standard systems, services, automation tools, and other time-saving processes that will allow for increased productivity.

But, in order to prepare for this industrial revolution of I&O, the behavior of team members must be altered to reflect the new goals of simplified standardization. In short, IT workers must be taught to abandon their love affair with complexity. So when IT workers begin to explore a project or idea, it’s important to ask them two questions to avoid too much complexity playing a role: 1) Will this increase complexity? And 2) Can we hide any additional resulting complexity? If automation, process improvements, or other steps can effectively hide complexity, then the project is likely worthwhile. But if not, the request should be denied.

In addition to reshaping institutional behavior, successful industrialization efforts must focus on meeting three goals: high productivity, high quality, and high flexibility. To get industrialization right, I&O professionals can focus on 10 key steps that will ensure the necessary standardization, development, automation, and optimization of industrialized services:

1. Standardize technology platforms. Fewer components mean more efficient operations, because minimizing variance means minimizing confusion. I&O teams should look to cloud providers as examples of infrastructure standardization. It will be important to learn to reduce platforms where standardization is not possible or start with new services to save the trouble of dealing with legacy platforms. This effort must be collaborative between I&O, application development, enterprise architecture, and all other critical stakeholders.

2. Standardize processes. In order to industrialize I&O processes, the methods of performing work must become repeatable services. ITIL v3 can be used as a starting point, and supplemented with other guidelines such as COBIT and Six Sigma where necessary.

3. Standardize services. Clearly defining formally offered services is crucial for any industrialization process. To reduce chaos, I&O teams should create and enforce a service catalog and limit the number of services offered.

4. Understand your customer. Although efficiency is essential, it is also critical to meet business needs when standardizing the infrastructure, process, and services. I&O teams must determine who their true customers are — whether it’s the end user, or another IT team — and cater to these groups. This can be done by identifying the parts of the delivery chain and considering what takes place before a service reaches the consumer. Then, negotiate with suppliers to ensure the components being used offer the right quality for customer needs.

5. Listen to your customer. One of the main causes of consumer dissatisfaction is improper communication between the service producer and service consumer. When deciding what services to include, ask customers what they need and negotiate with them about pricing, performance, and features.

6. Practice sound systems engineering. A business service should be a single entity rather than just a collection of parts. I&O teams should take a systems approach and enforce collaboration across different IT groups.

7. Automate everything you can. The goal of industrialization is always to hide the complexity from the observer, so while automation might exacerbate complexity beneath the surface, it provides a layer of insulation between the complexity and the observer. And the less complication consumers have to deal with, the more satisfied they will be with the services.

8. Source from others what you shouldn’t do yourself. Strategic rightsourcing is gaining popularity among I&O professionals. This more targeted form of outsourcing has clear service definitions and will be largely governed online. I&O teams should invest in the appropriate web services to aide with strategy and use automation to avoid unnecessary outsourcing.

9. Alter institutional behaviors. The only effective way to promote widespread organizational change is to combine strong incentives with strong penalties — the classic carrot and stick approach of reward and punishment. Incentives should be tied to business outcomes and key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure productivity, quality, and flexibility of services. Penalties for members who resist adapting should include education and leadership guidance, and even termination when necessary for the progress of the organization.

10. Seek continual improvement. At the core of industrialization strategies is the need to continually measure quality and adapt processes to ensure improvement. In the world of I&O, ITIL v3 introduced continual service improvement (CSI) best practices, can be used as a foundation for your own industrialization.

Like all previous phases of industrialization, the outcome of this disruption will be a new set of leaders. By adhering to principles and maintaining adaptability, these leaders will become long-lasting, dominant forces. This is classic Darwinian survival. Choose to adapt and you will be a formidable power. Otherwise, you become extinct.

Glenn O’Donnell is Senior Analyst at Forrester Research, serving infrastructure and operations professionals. He will be speaking at Forrester’s IT Forum, May 25-27 in Las Vegas.