It’s a fact that business user expectations of IT continue to grow in today’s tech-heavy consumer culture. In a world where we can get access to new capabilities and services quickly in our personal lives, it’s no wonder that business leaders are seeking the same continuous delivery of new capabilities in their work lives.
Here are five tips that will help you adjust your culture and tooling for this era of on-demand IT.
Tip 1: Take notice of the level of collaboration between your company’s business unit managers and the IT department
Ask yourself, is either side pleased with the situation at present? I’ve seen companies invest in roles within IT to foster improved collaboration with the business (e.g. what ITIL calls Service Managers or what Gartner and others call Business Relationship Managers). This is a useful investment for IT organizations to make because it gives a focal point to work with the business, someone who can sit in executive meetings to understand what needs they have and problems they are trying to solve. In a lot of companies the CIO still tries to act as the “relationship manager” for every business unit and sometimes also the head of development tries to do so – these approaches just don’t scale effectively.
Tip 2: Do something every quarter to improve communication and collaboration between non-IT managers and the IT department
Standing still in this area means that communication and collaboration is likely eroding. Both the business and IT sides of the house are moving so fast that it requires a proactive communication and collaboration to maintain alignment. I hear a lot of CIOs talk about the need for an “open line of communication” with other departments and that’s a good mindset, but it’s not enough. We have to move beyond appealing to better communications and the need to align with the business. The question you should be asking is “what are some concrete actions I can take now to improve communication and collaboration between non-IT managers and IT?” One idea is the creation of relationship manager roles as mentioned above. Investing in good quality IT relationship managers and aligning up front on project scope is critical.
But even with that in place, challenges for communication and collaboration will persist. For example, if you’re relying on the relationship manager to translate and explain the business needs to those in IT who need to know about what the business is trying to achieve, the priorities, etc. there can be some big communication gaps because not everyone who needs to know gets the information, or, the business needs are changing so rapidly and people in IT are working with outdated information about business requirements. What’s needed is an ongoing dialog between not just the business and IT relationship managers, but also with project managers, developers, and even those in operations that need to deploy and run the applications.
There’s a lot IT can learn here from enterprise collaboration projects in the business (with products like Jive) and apply that to how IT works with the business. Imagine if the people working on the project in IT could “follow” and collaborate on business requirements with the business like you follow someone on Twitter or have a friend on Facebook. Followers could get updated as things change and engage with the business if there are questions or concerns. Maybe the development manager draws a cut line for the release and the business knows about that in advance and can give feedback on features that need to be added or confirm which others can wait. Perhaps there’s a policy that governs an app but operations isn’t aware of it and is going to deploy it in such a way that they would violate the policy – instead the enterprise governance team can know about it and weigh in before the deployment happens.
Tip 3: Revisit the tools and approaches you use for IT collaboration work today. Be intentional about your go-forward tools strategy
The challenge I see here (a lot) is that IT is still using the same techniques they’ve always been using for collaboration – meetings, emails, conference calls, sharepoint sites, spreadsheets. There is no substitute for meetings and face-to-face interactions and even conference calls are important, however, the challenge is how do we capture and disseminate that information so those in the meeting can refer back to it but ensure others that weren’t in the meeting can still have access to it? What about someone new joining the organization, how can they get up to speed faster without having to go to lots and lots of meetings?
IT needs a new way to think about how we capture knowledge and make it available to people in the context of the work they’re doing so they don’t have to go hunting for it on sharepoint sites, send out lots of emails, search knowledge bases etc. In effect looking for the needle in the proverbial haystack.
What we need in IT, and which we have been lacking, are cross-team workspaces. An area you could bring together the right people with the right tools and information in a workspace that was defined around the context of the activity that needs to get done – whether that’s a development project, an infrastructure upgrade, an incident that needs to be resolved, etc. And then help facilitate the team making the necessary decisions and documenting the actions that will be taken – while also notifying everyone who needs to know.
Tip 4: Accept that complexity is increasing and that your people are key to managing it not just automations
IT environment complexity is a major issue for many companies because their systems have now been linked together so that the user community can move from one system to the next easily and so that data is quickly passed between systems. So now when change comes in it can affect how multiple systems work together. As IT practitioners, we’ve been working so hard to support the business all these years and we now have a collection of lots of legacy stuff and new technologies and it’s all been woven together in a way to help the business as fast as possible.
There’s a lot we’d change if we could go back and do things over, but that’s just not practical, and so for the most part we need to work with the environments we have. The challenge is how do you understand all these integrations, relationships and dependencies, all the tribal knowledge that’s been built up in the IT organization over the years?
There have been several approaches to address this like Configuration Management Databases (CMDBs) and discovery tools, and they help, but they raise their own issues. First, there’s only so much that discovery tools can discover off the wire. They do a decent job of telling you how things are configured and relationships between them but they still miss a lot because they have to be programmed to find “patterns” and there’s no way they can discover things like policies and how those govern your assets.
The other big challenge for discovery tools is that they don’t capture intent – i.e. why things are the way they are. That’s tribal knowledge that’s in your people’s heads. Someone at sometime knew why SAP was configured that way or why a certain port was opened on that server or switch. The problem is that tribal knowledge isn’t well documented, it gets lost as people forget it or leave.
The complexity problem is really a tribal knowledge problem. What we need is a living, breathing CMDB, think of it like a “social CMDB” that leverages discovery tools but then uses crowd-sourcing and peer review, like Wikipedia, to validate what’s been discovered and fill in gaps on an ongoing continuous basis. Until we have this, IT is going to be very resistant to the pace of change the business wants, because we’ll be concerned something might break that we weren’t expecting.
This is another area where you can apply the cross-team workspace concept. The idea of not only capturing the tribal knowledge and continually validating the CMDB but then pushing that information forward in the context of planning a change or resolving an incident. So if people are following the things in the IT environment that they care about, when it comes time to work on a change, the right people can be brought together in a shared workspace (instead of guessing who to involve like in traditional change process management) and arm them with the right information and tools to provide their risk assessment. That way, when the change board goes to review the planned change, they know who’s been involved and what information they had access to and can feel a lot more confident about their decision and approve the change a lot faster to keep the business moving forward.
The fundamental business-IT challenge in a lot of companies is that the business is simply frustrated with the pace at which IT moves. Fostering good relations with business counterparts and investing in relationship managers as mentioned above is a good start. But having the business engaged in a shared workspace for projects they care about, giving them more transparency into the project and decisions being made about cut lines for releases or the like, will give them a greater sense of ownership and appreciation for the work we do in IT and how it’s not just ‘there’s an app for that’ in an on-demand world.
The ITSM Review are holding a series of seminars this year headed by ITSM superstar Barclay Rae. We will be starting in March with Transforming User Experience – Enterprise Service Management & Self Service. For more information click here