The transformation of IT operations management driven by hybrid IT

In a hybrid IT world, we cannot ignore either the foundation that got us to this point or the future that will only exist if we can keep pace with competitors

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As hybrid IT has crept its way into the modern enterprise IT organization, it is exposing fissures in the processes and management methods used by IT operations teams. Operations spent the last two decades trying to bring order to the chaos of keeping IT services running by focusing on reducing self-inflicted wounds. Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) processes, such as change management and problem management, provided ways of reducing outages and their recurrence, for example.

But IT organizations, driven by the demands of their businesses, are in the midst of a significant transformation that is challenging rigid, process-driven approaches to managing IT. There are, in fact, three transformations affecting IT operations management—digital transformation, delivery transformation, and hybrid IT transformation—that must be first understood.

Digital transformation

We are well aware of the digital transformation trend that has business leaders looking to differentiate their services and products with digital services. Mobile apps make ordering fast food even faster (a debatably beneficial use). Medical records, claims, and billing are all online now. Personal banking is mostly self-service through the use of technology today. All these examples are just the beginning of what is coming with more IoT devices embedded and interacting with our everyday activities, placing the IT organization at the epicenter of business success or failure.

Delivery transformation

Web-scale companies, unencumbered by decades of investments, have taken agile software development and expanded it into devops. In an effort to compete by accelerating their own software delivery agility, as well as improve software quality and user experience, enterprise IT organizations are adopting devops as well. But this is proving to be more difficult in the enterprise than in organizations that are starting from a blank sheet.

Hybrid IT transformation

Driven by business users who often prefer cloud services to internally provided services, as well as the insatiable demand for cloud infrastructure by the devops teams, cloud services are now entrenched in the enterprise. But in many cases, integration with legacy systems is necessary to support business users and customers that interact across a range of devices: dedicated systems, web, mobile, and even green-screen terminals. Standardization is no longer possible in a hybrid IT environment, which requires changes to the way IT operations supports services.

Traditional IT operations approaches to process are inadequate to deal with the complexity and agility demands of these transformative trends. This can be a source of conflict between ITIL and devops practitioners, but there are emerging approaches to bridge the old and the new.

The need to bridge the old and the new

IT pundit Rob England, also known as “The IT Skeptic,” has been commenting on the intersection of ITIL/ITSM and devops for five years. He points out in a recent post that there are many fallacies that the world took from ITIL. Most of his critiques relate to the idea that improvement is something that has to wait until “after you have controlled, defined, and measured a process.” He is also critical of the ideas that “failure is bad,” that “IT systems can be fully described,” and that “change is risk.” There is too much focus on building perfect process rather than on innovating and seeing what works while casting aside that which doesn’t.

The devops and agile values shift the priority to outcomes (delivering value to the business) rather than a focus on process (to be fair, in my opinion, the focus on process came from the practice of ITIL more so than the prescription). Ideas like “fail fast,” “working software over comprehensive documentation,” and “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” tend to be in opposition to the “best practices” of ITIL.

Yet, there is value in being able to restore service quickly when an outage occurs through incident management, prevent self-inflicted wounds with change management, or improve availability over time. These and other ITIL processes were defined out of an effort to improve the reliability and resiliency of IT services that the business depends upon. How can we bridge the differences between traditional and transformational management methods to gain the best from both?

Bridging with the Standard+Case approach

England has proposed an approach called Standard+Case (or S+C). Rather than replace ITIL, his approach clarifies and expands the theory. S+C acknowledges the reality that “much of our service activity will always be nonstandard.” Process works best when standard activities occur, such as responding to a ticket for a request for change. But case management is an effective way to deal with the nonstandard “in a formalized way to manage, report, and improve it as we do for the standardized part.” England has published the book Plus! The Standard+Case Approach that is worth a read for those trying to bridge management in a hybrid IT environment.

Bridging with IT4IT

Another emerging approach is the Open Group’s IT4IT, a vendor-neutral reference architecture for managing the business of IT. Their reference architecture takes a business function approach and combines that with Lean manufacturing value-stream concepts for identifying use cases and driving identification of service endpoints to stay focused on what is essential: the business outcomes. IT4IT originated out of needs identified by enterprise architects and IT managers to fulfill business requirements through four IT value streams: strategy to portfolio, requirement to deploy, request to fulfill, and detect to correct. It is more prescriptive than ITIL, while also accounting for today’s hybrid IT reality, including cloud services, devops, and agile development practices.

Hybrid IT demands hybrid IT operations management

These attempts at bridging traditional and transformational IT operations management approaches illustrate the underlying challenge. In a hybrid IT world, we cannot ignore either the foundation that got us to this point or the future that will only exist if we can keep pace with competitors. Finding new ways to accommodate both is what hybrid IT is driving in IT operations management.

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