IT Focus Area: strategy
January 4, 2013
How Ready is Your Enterprise?
The Boy Scouts of America got it right when they adopted the motto “be prepared.” Once asked, “Be prepared for what?” Scout founder Baden-Powell replied, “Why, for any old thing.” Baden-Powell didn’t want Boy Scouts to simply focus on being prepared for emergencies—his idea was that all Scouts should be ready, in mind and body, for any struggles and challenges that might lie ahead in life.
The same concept holds true for the modern business world. Being prepared, or being ready for whatever business throws at you, has never been more important. Advances in technology not only increase the pace of business, they also are changing how business is being conducted. This provides IT organizations today with a tremendous opportunity to be the “heroes” at their company. IT organizations can help shape and mold their company’s business model to better address and deal with change. Business value is a factor of positive business impact offset by costs. Being prepared for change reduces costs and shortens the time needed to begin realizing business benefits.
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To ensure that IT organizations take full advantage of this opportunity, it is important that they understand what they know and don’t know. For example, IT organizations know application and release schedules so they can plan and staff accordingly. They know the IT asset lifecycle or when to replace IT equipment. And they know IT and business project plans. In the same sense, IT organizations also can proactively prepare for things they don’t know. For example, they can prepare for future mergers, acquisitions and divestures, and they can prepare for their company entering into new markets, changes in competition and changes in the workforce.
Whereas in the past, IT was viewed as a barrier for change in a company, today successful IT departments are those that facilitate change. When IT is better prepared, it can implement technology faster, which helps speed up return on investment (ROI) when the business makes a change, and supports company growth. Creating a successful partnership also increases competitive advantage. For example, when data can be leveraged more quickly, mergers and acquisitions can be integrated more quickly, enabling the company to operate more seamlessly and be more responsive. But most importantly, it helps IT quantify the value they have to the enterprise as a business partner.
The Road to Readiness
The road to readiness can be challenging. It may require a mind shift change at your company. There are many directions companies can go and many viable options. That is why it is important to understand the foundational needs of the business and identify how and what areas of readiness can support those needs.
Successful IT organizations are ready by creating strong external and internal partnerships that support change. On the external side, IT organizations have established strong outside relationships with vendors, consultants and contractors, so they have access to resources and infrastructure on call. On the internal side, successful IT departments have developed strong internal relationships with the business, so they can learn as quickly as possible about what the business is looking to accomplish and what the best IT infrastructure is for specific application needs.
Because readiness is the ability to respond to change, think about what readiness means to the enterprise and its operations. Start with the IT assets themselves. The metrics of procurement and provisioning can be translated directly into the value of readiness, or can demonstrate the cost of not planning ahead. Capacity planning, without over provisioning can have a very direct impact on IT’s ability to respond to change. Asset lifecycle management should be looked at as much more than a financial exercise. When done right, it is a key component of IT preparedness for change.
To help with technology evaluation and implementation, IT departments can create a reference architecture that provides an IT template and list of functions that defines how IT hardware, applications and services interact with each other, and helps identify what IT is needed. For example, if storage needs a certain speed and a certain level of recoverability, the reference architecture helps in choosing technology that will meet that range of architecture requirements. It is, in a sense, a decision-making guide that provides standards for each IT domain.
Standardization and Scalability
Being ready also means ensuring that integration processes are standardized and scalable, and that IT teams have a full understanding of how to deliver to those standards. The business expects consistent service levels, regardless of what else is going on in the business. The workforce wants consistent levels of access and performance, even as their requirements change. Regardless of what is happening at a company, there are certain “undeniables” that need to be addressed ahead of time. These include security, recoverability, architectural standards and contractual obligations. In each of these areas, documenting and knowing the policies and requirements in advance minimizes rework and the risk of compliance failures as a result of implementing change.
Successful IT organizations build a business-friendly IT service catalog or menu of IT services for the business. This service catalog pre-defines, in simple business terms and agreed-upon language, what IT services an organization is going to deliver to the business and at what cost. This helps IT organizations be ready for whatever the business may ask for.
With purse strings being drawn tighter on IT budgets, having the right investment balance will help get the most out of limited dollars. The better IT organizations can forecast for infrastructure and resource needs, the better they can align budgets with the need to respond to changes. That means taking a closer look at policies and processes associated with capacity planning. The hybrid data center model, along with well-structured service catalogs and an understanding of viable alternatives, makes it easier to move money around as needed.
Key Areas of Readiness
Understanding what it means to be ready will help point IT departments to the key readiness areas to address. There are six tangible or physical things that an organization can do to get ready. They are:
Step 1 l Constructing IT Facilities for Growth
As companies become more dependent on technology, it becomes more important to ensure that the IT facilities have enough space to accommodate the expanding IT infrastructure hardware. This may be harder for some organizations to address, because it deals with the need to acquire actual physical space, which makes it essential to plan ahead, as well as streamline and upgrade equipment when possible.
Step 2 l Building Architecture for Flexibility, Expandability and Integration
When evaluating technology and IT infrastructure for readiness, it also is important to remember to build architecture for flexibility, expandability and integration. This is done through the use of the hybrid data center model, which allows you to select the right workload placement based on architectural requirements. This will help the organization better respond to change. If the required systems are not already in place, there is no need for the IT organization to do a custom build. Instead, know in advance where to go to get what is needed.
Step 3 l Developing a Skilled IT Staff
Having a skilled and trained IT staff is one of the most vital aspects of readiness. Understand what skills and competencies are needed to operate IT, and where to go if more resources are needed. By knowing what skills IT possesses and where to get expertise from external resources (if the in-house team doesn’t possess the knowledge) is an important step in getting ready. Without a properly trained staff with the understanding of how to operate IT, a company can’t effectively respond to change. For example, if a company is going through a divestiture and is selling off a division, employees may be laid off or transferred to another company. If a team member who has the knowledge to manage certain applications leaves or is transferred to another company, then the IT department suffers from the loss of a key IT knowledge expert.
Step 4 l Standardizing Technology
Standardize off-the-shelf products, wherever possible. Standardizing technology, in general, makes it much easier to find staff that can support it. By documenting standards for how the IT environment is used, the types of changes that occur, how data flows, where it will be stored and the standard roles for access control and security, a skilled person from outside the company or someone who has been cross-trained can quickly take on IT support.
Step 5 l Developing an Investment Justification Process
Successful IT organizations implement an effective investment justification process that helps them ensure the appropriate resources are in place. If change comes, resources are needed to respond. If budgeting or staffing processes don’t allow resource acquisition, an investment justification process helps make the case.
Step 6 l Knowing Inventory and Capabilities
IT departments that know what inventory (IT services and staff) they have today and their capabilities can more quickly react to change. How much more capacity will the company need to add more users? What technologies work or don’t work internationally? When evaluating new management tools and applications, will the company realistically need additional processes or people? Are there enough applications to support the company’s growing mobile workforce? Knowing the answers to these types of questions will help establish current and future readiness levels.
While organizations cannot anticipate every change in direction, they do have the ability to be ready “for any old thing.” After all, it’s worked for the Boy Scouts for more than 100 years.
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