Infrastructure & Operations (I&O) has many challenges, but the one that recurs most frequently is the perception the business has of I&O, which is not as a business partner. Keeping the lights on, or keeping the technology up and running, is often viewed as a utility. A utility that doesn’t get mind share until a problem happens. To change this perception, I&O has struggled with finding a meaningful way to illustrate to the business that it is not a commodity. With cloud computing, infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS), becomes a harder perception to challenge. The business wants IT to deliver a service below cost or risk being outsourced. And they want it done faster and with more agility, hence the rise of DevOps, along with higher service levels guaranteeing performance. These are not attributes of a commodity or utility because it enables differentiation. That differentiation might result in the ability to respond faster to change and deliver a new product to market before competitors.
All of this gives rise to the questions where does IT differentiation come from, and how does I&O communicate it effectively?
According to Gartner’s I&O score, most organizations have an overall maturity level of 2.33. However, their technology maturity is much higher. This means that I&O has lots of tools in place to enable automation, and most of these tools have the ability to run reports on the metrics that are being tracked. I&O is very good at creating and tracking metrics because they’ve been doing it for a long time. However, the metrics they are monitoring are more relevant to the function of the tool and not necessarily the ones that senior management cares about. To get senior management interested, I&O has to provide insight into the business priorities and illustrate how it can support those goals in a language that the business can understand – business terms. This is where reporting comes in.
Creating a view across I&O requires input from multiple sources and aggregating this data into a single view that offers role based reports. These reports focus on what is important to each of the constituents that are viewing the data, whether it is the CIO, CFO, CEO, Business Unit Director, Data Center Manager or VP of Operations. The dashboard demonstrates a business value of the health of IT.
- How is IT performing? No problem, let me look at the dashboard. For example, I see there have been several breaches in service levels that occurred on Monday last week, during the stock market frenzy.
- What did those breaches cost the business? Another pie chart illustrates the cost of the outage in business terms.
- How long did it take to recover from the outage? Yet again, another chart indicates a service disruption of 15 mins.
This data is often collected in multiple tools, which becomes cumbersome to consolidate and likely requires taking data extracts into xls and building a unified spreadsheet. The outage data is coming from the performance monitoring tool, the cost of the assets that make up that business service is coming from the IT asset management tool and the asset that are a part of that business service are in the CMDB. You might have an xls wizard on your team that can do this in a day or two, or it might take a few weeks to get the answer to these questions. For the business to determine what its response to that outage should be requires having that data right away. It may require adding more scalability, load balancers or business continuity planning, but without visibility into a business value dashboard (BVD) that provides analytics, it is difficult to ascertain the correct course of action. BVDs roll up the old school metrics that the domain specific tools couldn’t achieve and enables I&O to solve that problem of communicating effectively to the business decision makers.
Now let’s get back to that earlier question — where does IT differentiation come from? With greater visibility into I&O as it aligns with business goals, it will become apparent what is a core competency of I&O and what is not. Maybe network management is never a source of outages, but another domain is struggling with unplanned incidents.
The parts of IT that aren’t core might be more effectively handled outside the organization or in an X as a Service (XaaS) model (Meaning that everything is available as a service.). But how does I&O or the business determine where they are being effective or not efficient enough? Benchmarking to similar size organizations within the same industry or to outsourcers can be a good place to start. Before they even get to that point, knowing how they are performing internally is essential, which once again brings us back to reporting and BVD. Business units that have control over their own budgets will find the data in a BVD particularly attractive because they will often bypass internal IT if they feel it isn’t responding fast enough to their requirements. With a BVD, this feeling can be substantiated or unsubstantiated based on real facts and not perception.
The ability to communicate effectively is a fundamental challenge in any relationship, whether it is technology related or not. BVDs give I&O the data and tools it need to overcome that communication gap and stay relevant to the business.