Walk the tightrope between IT ops and business needs

IT directors get stuck between a rock and a hard place -- business needs and old school ops staff. Keep both worlds happy in three steps.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- IT directors are stuck in the middle between old-school operations staff who think in terms of CPU utilization and network packets, and tech-savvy business leaders who see the data center as a money pit.

The way out is to communicate with both groups and guide them on a path to IT operations and management that prevent fires rather than fight them.

"It's hard to convince the company that innovation is actually good business," especially in a heavily regulated and conservative sector like healthcare IT, said Teri Hohentanner, vice president of infrastructure at Trinity Health, a Michigan-based healthcare company that operates two of its own data centers and colocated assets.

It's also hard to tell an old-school IT ops tech that an application is underperforming when the end user complains, not when the monitoring tools pick up on a utilization strain.

By 2017, 50% of IT infrastructure and operations (I&O) teams will be eliminated, predicted John Enck, managing vice president at Gartner Inc., during the analyst firm's IT Operations & Management Summit this week.

The two main disruptions to the I&O paradigm come from within IT.  Savvy staffers that know how to find a tool to do what they need without calling IT,  and business staffers -- marketing, human resources  and other departments that won't wait for a new project because it takes I&O weeks to provision the servers and other infrastructure components. Instead, they go to a public cloud provider.

If you're just fighting fires, you can't compete with shadow IT or cloudification, Enck said. If you benchmark and map your IT infrastructure with the business needs, you can strike a balance where IT supports the business goals and also prevents security and compliance issues. Here's how:

Step one: Learn the right way to ask for what you need

Change elicits fear, and logic doesn't work on fear. CIO's think in terms of cost, and likely aren't going to respond well to a budget overage.  

Instead, justify your ideas in a different way, said Eddie Obeng, keynote speaker and professor at the Henley Business School in the U.K.  

Set the scene, and explain how things could improve: "You know how it took us several days to identify that application's underperformance last month? With better IT monitoring and management tools, we could troubleshoot and predict problems, getting the application at peak performance faster."

Explain what a positive impact the tool would have on the business, and float the idea of losing customers due to application performance problems.

"With this critical application performing well, we could roll out version 4.6 two months ahead of schedule… If customers continue complaining about application performance problems, renewal rates could decline significantly."

Finally, work out with the CIO, who you've made a stakeholder in your idea, why you haven't been able to make this change yet, Obeng said.

Step two: Choose tools wisely

A tool isn't going to solve everything, but if you buy capabilities that fit with IT's promised role in the corporation, they help undo the barriers between business and the data center. Automation, for example, is a vision of the data center where everything happens based on the business' needs.

But without an automation focus, IT pros use it in silos. IT writes automation scripts like spaghetti, a mess of lots of individual pieces, said Milind Govekar, managing vice president at Gartner.

"About 80% of automation is sitting in scripts, and these scripts are fragile," said Ronni Colville, Gartner distinguished analyst.

What is needed is scripting lasagna -- scripts with structure that outlast each project on the team and withstand change. Automation is the only way to meet goals for 40% growth and 20% cost reduction, Govekar added.

The right tool might also be three tools, because data center and IT process management is a quickly evolving and diverse space.

"We won't have a comprehensive all-IT automation tool any time in the next five years," said Enck.

Even if you must buy separate tools for server, process and release automation, do it all with your architecture in mind, he said, which dictates a lot less scripting and a lot more reliance on what the tools provide. This lays the foundation for agility and scale.

Step three: Give them a gift you know they can use

By the end of 2016, 50% of I&O organizations will use business value dashboards as the primary means of communicating with business stakeholders, Govekar predicted. He suggests simplicity - no more than three metrics on the dashboard, and recognizable indicators like red, yellow and green for performance and arrows to show trends.

That doesn't leave any room for dropped packet counts, CPU utilization rates, log reports, latency response times or other operations metrics.

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