4 Steps to Curing IT’s Woes

November 12, 2015 No Comments

Featured article by Peter Kraatz, Senior Manager of Cloud Service Management and IT Resiliency, Datalink

Every day, it becomes increasingly clear that the long-time “IT Makes All The Technology Decisions” model is as outdated as dial-up Internet access. From executives demanding that IT investments deliver concrete business results to end users bypassing IT departments by signing up for services like AWS, Dropbox, Office 365 and Yammer, the days of IT exercising absolute control over technology spend are over.

The question, of course, is: now what?We all know Gartner’s prediction that 90% of IT spending decisions will be made outside of IT by 2020 as individual business units define their own technology needs. We all talk about shifting to an IT-as-a-Service model in order to adapt. But the whole mindset has to change before IT can reinvent itself to fit the new role it is expected to fulfill. Here are four steps to help you get there.

1 – Learn to ‘speak business.’

The disconnect between IT and business is at the heart of today’s rebellion against traditional IT operations. Most IT teams literally don’t understand business terminology or the questions to ask to meet business needs, creating a recipe for failure.

Example: One of my consulting teams was called on to assist a client whose storage team had planned for a 10% increase in storage needs but instead found itself with a 400% explosion in demand. The client didn’t understand where the surge had come from and had not deployed the infrastructure to handle it. When our consultants spoke directly to the business units, we discovered that the IT team had made two errors in forecasting their storage requirements because they didn’t “speak business.”

- First, they failed to understand that a new sales initiative aiming for a 10% increase in market share would double storage needs – not increase them by 10% – because the client already owned 10% of the market.

- Second, they neglected to take into account a series of new features that would double the amount of data per customer.

- Doubling the number of customers as well as doubling the data per customer added up to the 400% growth that caught the IT team by surprise.

With miscommunications like these, it’s no wonder that business units are at loggerheads with IT departments. It may be unrealistic to ask IT to learn the lingua franca (end users, after all, don’t have a clue about TiBs, speeds or processors – nor should they have to – so why should the shoe need to be on the other foot?), but a practical alternative is to appoint a marketing employee to serve as liaison between IT and business. Marketing personnel already “speak business” and know how to translate complex messages into simple terms. We have seen this work, creating a truce between the two sides.

2 – Root out the waste in old workflows.

Over time, most IT shops develop quasi-formal workflows that dictate the steps followed to complete different tasks. These often ossify into “we always do it that way” routines and become permanent fixtures of the IT operation, even in the face of technology changes, organizational shifts or inefficiencies in the original processes themselves. That in turn can undermine efforts to operate at the speed that today’s users expect.

Example: A pharmaceutical company was receiving numerous complaints about the average three to four weeks it took to fulfill requests for compute, storage and network resources. No one understood why it took so much time until the team analyzed their workflow.

- The analysis revealed a series of steps dating back nearly 10 years related to security policies in force when Mac devices were not allowed on the network.

- By eliminating those now-irrelevant steps, associated approvals and other unnecessary processes, the company slashed provisioning times to a maximum of three days after receiving a request and to an average of three HOURS for simple requests.

- The exercise also led to a better understanding on both the IT and business sides of factors such as budget, security and compliance that must be considered in each provisioning request, paving the way for an improved relationship.

As a fringe benefit, the work processes that are now understood and documented will form the foundation for future automation projects designed to produce even faster response times.

3 – Bring business services into your service catalog.

Service catalogs have been around for 15+ years, but IT teams typically use them to guide internal operations. Many organizations fail to create a customer-oriented catalog that helps both internal and external customers understand what business services IT actually offers, what those services cost, how they will perform and the limits on their use. And that causes problems.

Example: My team recently completed a project at a multinational marketing company. The client was perplexed by the skyrocketing cost of their backup environment, which they provided to their customers as a service. They thought the problem was related to the hundreds of thousands of pieces of tape media they were storing indefinitely, but weren’t sure how.

We discovered there was no actual catalog of services for the client detailing SLAs, specifications, costs, limitations and the like. We built a catalog including all of those details plus a unit cost model per backed-up GB per month. This is saving the client money as well as improving their customers’ satisfaction for several reasons.

- Previously, backup services were set up after a few questions about customer size. No matching between service requirements and the services provisioned was done, so nearly everyone was mismatched to their actual business needs.

- Because there was no business language definition of what “backup” meant, many customers were using it as their disaster recovery strategy or backing up multiple times per day, just to be safe. As a result, a typical customer was backing up 10 times the data they needed to and still not receiving a proper disaster recovery service.

- Without any SLAs, every backup and restore request was “top priority.” By matching service levels to pricing, our client could stop calling for a fire drill every time a request came in. Today, the staff can handle most requests during business hours and the Tier 1 customers have appropriate coverage when they need it.

The value of the catalog is so clear that this client is now adding a new role within IT to keep it up to date. This individual will identify new customer requirements that fundamentally change the services delivered and how they are shown in the catalog, helping to nip future problems in the bud as well as creating a framework for building a consumer-facing IT portal.

4 – Take the self-service IT portal plunge.

Although self-service IT portals are widely regarded as the antidote to shadow IT because of their ability to consumerize the IT service experience and accelerate service delivery, relatively few organizations have rolled out this strategy for processing end user IT requests. Until they do, business units will continue to turn to third-party sources to get the technology services they need, compromising governance and security while also creating a fragmented technology environment with all of the associated inefficiencies.

Example: We recently completed an engagement with a bank on the East Coast that was grappling with shadow IT issues. Users were going to AWS, Dropbox and other services because the IT team could not deliver needed services fast enough. As a bank, the customer could not allow data to leave the company so the goal was to bring rogue business units under control.

- We built a self-service portal allowing business users to request 20+ services ranging from onboarding new employees to providing resources for testing new applications.

- Almost immediately, the portal and an accompanying automation system began slowing the use of third-party services by giving business units a fast-track solution for provisioning IT services internally.

- The bank is also saving money by eliminating the need to provision each set of VMs twice: once to set them up on AWS, and once to bring them back home.

Making these four changes will go a long way toward reshaping IT shops to accommodate shifts in the technology landscape and end user expectations. IT may no longer be the gatekeeper on how technology funds are spent, but it can still hold the keys to getting business units what they want and need. Put the right processes in place, and you’ll be ready to meet the challenge.

Peter Kraatz is Senior Manager of Cloud Service Management and IT Resiliency at Datalink, a leading data center solutions and services provider for Fortune 500 and mid-tier enterprises (www.datalink.com).

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