IT-as-a-Service: The Art of Aligning to Business Outcomes
By John Wellen, Principal Consultant – Trace3
More and more IT Organizations competing in today’s digital economy are considering IT-as-a-Service (ITaaS) and enterprise transformation initiatives to compete with Amazon Web Services, and similar services offered by Google, and Microsoft Azure and other cloud-based IT service providers. The goal is to transform and optimize enterprise-specific IT operations using self-managed service provider models that leverage cloud technologies more economically than licensed commercial cloud providers.
There are several key themes enterprises need to consider when planning an enterprise transformation and IT-as-a-Service strategy.
IT-as-a-Service is the methodology by which the Information Technology organization of a company runs like a business and delivers flexible Information Technology Services to their business customers in exactly the amount that they need. The IT Services solutions are delivered in various methods to solve problems and achieve business outcomes. Customers of IT-as-a-Service can be internal and external and may be company-wide or specific lines of business within an organization.
There are three things that client IT departments should consider when planning for IT-as-a-Service.
First, the solution must satisfy enterprise-specific ITaaS business goals. Solutions may be architected using out-of-the-box (OOB) packaged products, do-it-yourself (DIY) custom built solutions, open source products or a combination depending on the needs of the enterprise. IT departments need ITaaS solutions that are easy to use and may need to interact with multiple cloud service providers (AWS, Azure, and Google are leaders) and existing enterprise infrastructures such as network, compute, storage, hypervisor solutions. The leading products in the marketplace today are Service NowTM, Cisco CloudCenter (CliqrTM), Cisco UCS DirectorTM, VMware vRealizeTM Automation, Redhat CloudformsTM, Microsoft Azure PackTM, and some other open source products.
Second, the ITaaS solution needs automation capabilities. Many IT departments today are automating tasks through coded scripts written with Powershell, Java, BASH, shell scripting and other scripting languages. Many IT departments have skunk work projects to speed up admin tasks such as server configuration and patching but are not guided by an ITaaS stratagem. A strategic IT-as-a-Service approach prioritizes business outcomes and organizes automation projects to align the entire end-to-end delivery process with strategic business goals. This approach transforms IT “skunkworks madness” into a goal-oriented structured approach.
Third, Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) is currently a buzz term in the IT industry. As defined by NIST, Infrastructure as a Service is the capability provided to the consumer to provision processing, storage, networks, and other computing resources. Many infrastructure departments are discovering what IaaS is and consider it as a jumping off point in beginning their IT-as-a-Service strategy. IT departments want to get their feet wet with IaaS and roll out some initial use cases to their business partners to speed up delivery and enhance customer service. The need for Infrastructure-as-a-Service mainly comes from the business requesting to deploy new products and services faster, prove out new platforms, and reduce time to market.
What are the enterprise business goals and outcomes to be considered for ITaaS?
First, we know that businesses do not care so much about the underlying technologies that make up the ITaaS solution so long as the ITaaS solution meets critical success factors including end user experience fast delivery times, flexibility for expansion, and a solution that is scalable as needed to match business growth
Second, business users are also conditioned from their personal lives. Business users have become accustomed to the convenience of smart phones and mobile devices where applications are disposable, the user experience is smooth and seamless and service delivery is achieved in seconds. They translate this to the IT environment in their organizations as well and have the same expectations.
Third, the business actually wants to be engaged by IT. Traditionally, business users had become accustomed to approaching IT for keys to the ignition and getting the resources they need it for. Services were delivered at best effort or maybe you could jump to the front of the line if you brought in donuts on Tuesday. Today, they are asking to be engaged by IT and have the IT department be in lockstep with their demands and enable the business for success by enabling favorable outcomes.
We have talked about IT-as-a-Service and what organizations of all shapes and sizes want to get out of it, so now we can discuss how to do it. IT-as-a-Service transformations can take two forms: Tactical and Strategic.
Tactical transformations occur when customers have specific processes and use cases in mind that they wish to automate. They are intended to make the day-to-day lives of the IT Infrastructure team easier and turn around cycle times to obtain quick wins with their own internal customers. Tactical transformations usually start small and involve IT decision makers and stakeholders to enable success. These engagements are short in duration and intend to prove out an automation platform or specific technology and set a foundation for future automation efforts. However, tactical engagements only show limited long-term benefits if they are not followed up by a strategic IT-as-a-Service engagement.
Strategic transformations involve broader use case definitions and a structured service catalog with several categories. These involve not only IT stakeholders but business consumers and decision makers. These are longer transformations that standardize and optimize upfront before automating several use cases and IT services. Strategic transformations typically provide more flexible technology platforms that are driven by robust catalogs with several types of services (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, XaaS). Strategic IT-as-a-Service transformations are usually built on Federated Orchestration platforms such as Service Now, Cisco CloudCenter, VMware vRA, or Cisco ONE Enterprise Cloud Suite. The goal of the strategic transformation is to provide long term benefits of enhanced service delivery, improved customer experience, and scalability to set the IT and business up for continuous improvement. Keep in mind that IT departments are competing with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure and need to compete on all these metrics. IT must put itself in the position of becoming the broker of cloud services and provide the governance and oversight that the business needs.
What are some pitfalls to avoid when moving to a Cloud Service Broker or IT-as-a-Service model?
First, don’t let your imagination loose until the time is right. Build an automation platform with some quick-win use cases to prove out your strategy and gain support from IT management. Additionally, you will want to quantify the return on investment that you are achieving through automation as that will strengthen your case with executives. Once you have gained the support that you need, management will get behind the benefits and you can apply imagination to your automation efforts and streamlining all application development processes that you can get your hands on.
Second, you don’t want to automate bad processes except in a POC that you may abandon later. Typically, this just speeds up failure. For example, if your IT department has an arduous refresh process that is manual, time intensive and dependent on specific skills, you don’t necessarily want to automate it. A bad process is still a bad process whether it is automated or not. Best practice calls on optimizing the process first and then automating it. This is IT-as-a-Service with Process Optimization and moves closer to an Enterprise Transformation approach.
Third, don’t try and boil the ocean with your IT-as-a-Service efforts. It’s important to automate a few use cases (say 3-5 or definitely less than 10) to prove out the benefits to your IT organization and also to put momentum on your side. Quick wins are key to establishing credibility and concentrating on building your workflows correctly and efficiently. If you try to boil the ocean, it’s very likely you will not give certain use cases and processes the attention they deserve and the optimization of the processes will be less than perfect. Concentrating on a few key use cases allows you to both optimize and automate in an efficient manner to achieve maximum benefits.
Fourth, we have talked about use cases and business processes. It is key to pay attention to the actual business requirements and processes. The actual business requirements may be goals like speeding up time to market, scaling out test environments, moving to a DevOps approach. These will be guiding themes for any IT-as-a-Service efforts regardless of the tools we use or how many steps are in our workflows. We can adjust the toolset or the methodology we use to build the workflow as long as the end goal is the same and we are delivering to our business goals. For example, whether you choose to use Cisco CloudCenter, Cisco UCS Director, VMware vRA or MS Azure Pack, it is possible for you to achieve favorable outcomes with all of the products. Using a business-aligned approach and decoupling business process from IT process can help build credibility for IT with the business by showing it can enable business outcomes through technology and automation.
Fifth, don’t stop developing for your business just because you have achieved a desired outcome. With DevOps and IT-as-a-Service, an agile methodology is key to help you change with the business and get better over time. Business requirements will also evolve at a fast pace since business cycles are increasingly fast in today’s world, so it is imperative for IT to stay on its toes and be able to keep in lock step with the business. As you move forward in your IT-as-a-Service efforts, plan on continuous improvement and evolution.
To conclude, we have examined several key themes that an IT organization must consider when embarking on an IT-as-a-Service strategy. The key point in the strategy to always be keeping business outcomes and objectives in mind. IT-as-a-Service should act as an enabler to the business to speed up time to market, adapt to specific business challenges, and scale out to meet new needs. The business in effect puts the keys to the ignition in the hands of IT and it is up to IT to build the most optimized and efficient automation platform to enable their outcomes. If you are able to achieve these outcomes, you will become a trusted partner to your business.