What Makes IT Operations More Effective?

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When I started working with IT organizations, there were two centers of power: the VP of Applications and the VP of Operations.

The exception, of course, was with businesses that built shared services organizations. For the not shared service organizations, the VP of Applications ran resources charged with changing the business and the VP of Operations ran the resources charged with running the business.

Operations people often reminded me of nuclear submariners with their all hands-on-deck approach for high severity incidents. For these organizations, doing thing right the first time often saved money. For this piece, I wanted to dig back into operations and see how effectively it is run today.

What are the Biggest Effectiveness Gaps?

Opinions varied significantly between CIOs. CIO Paige Francis puts people first on her list of gaps. She says, “people capacity to identify legacy gaps and ensure current offerings are needed and integrative.” On the other hand, CIO David Seidl says, “I'd tend to order it as process, people, and technology.” Former Gartner Analyst, Tiffani Bova agrees with Seidl and suggests “without the right processes, people don't know what to do or how to do it, and the technology doesn't support the right processes.”

Meanwhile, CIO Martin Davis believes “all three go hand in hand, but everything starts with people with the right skill sets, then continues with good processes.” Supporting Davis’ position is former CIO McBreen. McBreen believes “a big problem is people implementing new business solutions but not changing their process to the new, built-in, best-in-class process. Too many companies, pay millions for a solution and then cripple its best in class solution. And in the end, these firms blame the software for not providing the desired value.”

McBreen goes onto suggest that the impact of technical debt is not just at the technology or app level, but also at process and people levels. Many have added band-aids to old processes without looking at making the process better. On the people side, they tried taking average old technology people and apply them to new technology. If you have old technology with old processes or new technology with old processes, it still is a debt which makes you less efficient. The same is true with people.”

Chief Enterprise Architect Craig Milroy believes at the same time that “too many operations are without any overall understanding how business capabilities fit/enable and how they impact/support resources. A key reason for this is IT leadership.” Former CIO Mike Kail summarized this discussion by saying “people implementing ineffective/draconian/useless processes often times do so with the incorrect technology. However, processes don't create themselves. They are put into place by people.”

Differences in Organizational Cultures that Stress Operational Effectiveness?

CIO Stephen diFilipo believes that it is important that IT leaders “define effectiveness vs efficiency vs excellence. These each require precise, easily comprehendible definitions. Aligning operational excellence requires a persistent message. It is essential that IT leaders fully grasp this continuum.”

Seidl adds “these concepts have a lot of overlap if you're doing things right. If you're doing it wrong, however, there are false efficiencies or effectiveness practices that are inefficient and ineffective. So, it's a question of what your organization feels the drivers are, and how you communicate your values.” Kail takes a very similar position when he suggests “operational effectiveness improvements will lead to efficiency gains.” Efficiency gains are too often measured in cost/staff reductions, which results in a culture of fear with continual improvement.”

With this said, Francis asserts that “it’s easier to run efficiently than have the conversations and develop roadmaps for operational excellence. The culture needs to prioritize the investment in listening, learning, and leading.” “While this is true,” Enterprise Architect Craig Milroy suggests, “it is not just about IT. How do business and digital teams interface with IT matters too. The perfect IT organization checks all the boxes that may not enable the business. This starts with effectiveness, but hopefully this delivers efficiencies as well. The problem is a singular focus on efficiency can lead to many other problems and low effectiveness.”

For this reason, Sacolick says, “IT must have a mission and vision. IT needs to seek to delivery business outcomes. This is easier to understand compared to effectiveness.” 

What are the Best Metrics for Driving Continual Improvement?

Sacolick believes, “customer satisfaction and completion times are great lagging indicators.” He, also, “likes growth in self-service and semi-automated services.” But top teams, he claims “select KPIs that match the business mission and priorities.”

Agreeing with him, McBreen suggests, “the best are metrics are those that flow down from the corporate values into business strategy and then into IT strategy. It is great when the entire organization understands the impact up/down the chain of what they are doing.”

Continuing, McBreen suggests, that he has always had a sign in his office “that says no surprises –  underscored by: promise what you can deliver and deliver what you promise." Francis adds “leading unleashing people from transactions and empowers impactful action, feedback, speed, and agility. Lagging, on the other hand, only focuses on the bottom line within IT.”

In a DevOps world, how Should Operations be Organized?

McBreen says that he has “tried to use a consultative model where the project drives the team.” Specifically, he built a staffing analysis based upon roles and leadership, then built them into consulting teams that work on operations for external or internal projects. These teams rotate from between service and development operations.”

Francis, however, suggests creating “a prioritized and stackable fluid roadmap. For this, every puzzle piece matters.”

As Operational Capabilities are based on the Public Cloud what should be the charter of IT Operations?

diFilipo suggests that “operations should become more about policy and practice. It should be about establishing standards for cloud adoption/migration regarding cloud architecture, data security, vetting vendors/consultants, identity management, and data access. Davis agrees with diFilipo when he suggests “operations need to provide the controlling standards, for all aspects from security to identity management and beyond, it doesn’t change the fundamentals of running the technology that runs the business.”

As a part of this, Seidl thinks “there's an increased role around maintenance of infrastructure as code components especially as there is more understanding of the financial implications of running in the cloud. Operations changes significantly in those areas.”

Meanwhile Francis says, “there is a need for an overarching strategy, calling out BS in solutions, negotiations, replications, and foundational roles in all business support.” Seidl adds that often the people aren't there/have changed/were told they couldn't change process.”

Interesting Milroy takes a counterpoint of view. He says, “the challenge with the cloud is the business has bought into the marketing hype and how simple the cloud is and there is no requirement for IT.  But the cloud has made new evolving IT domains complex. The fact is that the cloud at enterprise scale is just as complex as on premises minus the need to rack and stack gear.”

Parting Words

While CIOs believe operations can be made more effective, CIOs also believe it is important that their organizations continue to put attention and focus into improving operational excellence. This includes ensuring operations are governed by the right metrics. And over time, this includes the movement of operations from a delivery function to a governance function.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Myles Suer is Global Enterprise Marketing Head for Dell Boomi



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