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IT operations is the overarching term for the processes and services administered by an organization's information technology (IT) department. As such, IT operations includes administrative processes and support for hardware and software, for both internal and external clients. Important roles of the IT operations team include tech management and quality assurance as well as infrastructure management and confirmation that finished products meet all the customer's needs and expectations.
Every organization that uses computers has at least loosely defined IT operations, based on how it tends to solve internal and client needs. Elements of IT operations are chosen to deliver effective services at the required quality and cost; they are usually considered to be separate from IT applications. In a software development company, for example, IT operations includes all IT functions other than software development and management. However, there is always some overlap between the departments.
Different organizations define IT operations in various ways; the term is also used to describe the department that manages IT operations as well as the collection of services, processes and standardized procedures of the department.
Responsibilities of IT operations
IT operations is responsible for defining the way an organization manages software and hardware. The department also provides other IT support, such as network administration, device management, mobile contracting and help desks of all kinds.
Specific roles within IT operations -- IT operations management (ITOM) and IT operations analytics (ITOA) -- help an organization refine the way IT approaches services, deployment and support as well as help to ensure consistency, reliability and quality of service.
Why is IT operations important?
Weak IT operational processes have the potential to undermine the quality of IT services and other business processes within a company. Therefore, it is important that a company's IT operations focus on advancing and improving business requirements while maintaining the operational stability of the company. Furthermore, strong IT operations can enable a company to feasibly change their business process and model in order to adapt to shifting customer needs and desires.
Consequently, it is necessary that IT departments also adapt to modern technology trends, or risk falling behind their competition and becoming irrelevant in the global market. The modernization of a company's IT operations through alignment with industry standards and updates to the IT infrastructure and processes can help a company reduce their operational costs while also increasing the agility and efficiency of their IT operations. This transformation is required if the company wants to perform well and remain competitive in the current global landscape.
IT operations trends
Unfortunately, even if the necessity is apparent, many IT leaders delay the digital transformation of their IT operations. Although legacy technology and practices use much of a company's IT budget just to maintain the infrastructure, chief information officers (CIOs) are often dissuaded to make the transformation due to the challenge and risks that come with making changes.
However, CIOs that choose to undergo the digital transformation, and adapt to the current trends, will experience vast improvements in their IT operations, such as:
- reduced IT complexity;
- improved visibility across the entire IT infrastructure;
- increased ability to make preemptive and immediate corrective actions that minimize risk;
- maximized efficiency across the company; and
- improvements in productivity and profitability.
Current major IT trends affecting IT operations include serverless computing, artificial intelligence (AI) and edge computing.
Serverless computing and the capability known as function platform as a service (FPaaS) are expected to become mainstream between 2020 and 2022. It is an event-driven application design and deployment paradigm that provides computing resources as scalable cloud services. Serverless computing would eliminate the need for infrastructure management and provisioning.
The critical time frame for the implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) in business is expected to be between 2021 and 2023. It will greatly affect infrastructure and operations (I&O) functions such as failure recognition and predictive analytics. The integration of AI will enable faster IT operations and will help grow the company's infrastructure without the necessity of hiring more staff.
The edge computing trend is expected to become mainstream between 2020 and 2023. It will allow workloads and client data to be located on the periphery of the network, as close to the customer as possible. Edge computing will improve customer experiences by reducing latency. The trend is expected to experience growth as it strives to satisfy increasing demands for high-quality digital experiences.
Other trends that are affecting IT operations include:
- Digital diversity management -- a focus on the rapid increase and diversity of assets and technologies available in the modern digital enterprise along with the necessity of identifying, monitoring and managing the assets and technologies that directly affect or support a specific business.
- Elimination of the data center -- most enterprises are expected to shut down their traditional data centers in the coming years, forcing IT leaders to consider where they will keep current and future workloads.
- Network agility -- the network is the underlying element to everything IT operations and businesses rely on; therefore, focus must be placed on how networks can perform at a faster pace. Building network agility that relies on automation and orchestration, as well as the integration of AI, is expected to show impressive results for improving network speeds. Furthermore, networks must evolve to meet the needs of trends such as 5G and edge computing.
- Increased importance of talent management -- organizations are starting to demand better collaboration from people who can work across teams and departments. This requires IT leaders to transform the previous culture in which employees focused solely on the technology stack they managed, and establish a new work style that gets employees to think beyond their stack and work outside of their team.
- Global infrastructure -- an organization's customers and suppliers are more and more likely to span the globe, creating the necessity for I&O leaders to deliver their infrastructure everywhere, while maintaining a reasonable budget. As a result, IT leaders must look for partnership strategies that provide an ecosystem of capabilities and support.
The IT operations processes
Some specific IT operations processes include incident management, problem management, access management, IT operations control, facilities management and technical management.
Incident management refers to the control that businesses must take over the lifecycle of all incidents -- or events that are not part of the normal operations that disrupt operational processes. The objective of the incident management process is to resolve any issues and return the IT service to the user as quickly as possible.
Problem management is related to incident management, but the process instead focuses on preventing incidents before they happen and minimizing the effects of incidents that cannot be stopped. Problem management includes analyzing incident reports and using the data collected by other IT service management processes to detect any significant problems or trends.
Access management is the process of providing authorized users with the rights to use a selected service, while also preventing unauthorized users from accessing the service, using policies defined by the information security management system (ISMS). Access management is also referred to as identity management and rights management.
The goal of IT operations control is to monitor and manage a company's IT services and their underlying infrastructure. This process includes everyday routine tasks that are related to the operation of applications and other infrastructure components, including backup and restore activities, routine maintenance, job scheduling and output management.
The facilities management process includes all aspects involved with maintaining a company's physical environment. This includes building access management, power, cooling, heating and environmental monitoring. The primary goal is to ensure the proper maintenance and management of the physical environment in which the company's IT infrastructure is located.
Finally, the goal of the technical management process is to deliver technical expertise and service to improve maintenance of the IT infrastructure.
Some methods that are being used to improve IT operations processes include DevOps, Kanban and IT service management (ITSM) and IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL). The primary goal of these methods is to better prepare employees to prioritize, manage and delegate multiple tasks at any moment by decreasing the amount of friction caused by the ongoing, rapid nature of IT operations.
DevOps helps IT operations teams adapt to the fast-paced Agile development environment that has been adopted by most companies. It also improves cross-team collaboration and communication by providing a comprehensive approach to project management.
Kanban helps IT operations teams achieve successful implementation of the DevOps method. It maximizes communication and efficiency by providing a task scheduling system that enables IT operations teams to boost productivity and follow the progress of projects more effectively. Kanban is often paired with lean software development to increase collaboration between IT operations and other departments within the organization.
IT service management improves the management of information systems to maximize customer value, while IT Infrastructure Library provides a set of practices within the ITSM approach that address how IT services should be used to empower the day-to-day operations of businesses.
Popular IT operations vendors
Popular vendors that offer IT operations management platforms and related services include IBM, HP, Google, Cisco Systems, Microsoft and VMware.
Other vendors include, but are not limited to:
- CA Technologies
- Hewlett Packard Enterprise
- RISC Networks
- Loom Systems
- Interlink Software
Watch an introduction to the role of an IT operations manager: