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Transforming IT Services Starts With a Culture Shift

By: Kevin Lees

It’s happening. In place of their traditional, project- and technology-based approach, IT organizations really are making the shift to deliver IT as a service.

My last post examined what an IT service looks like in practice. But what if you’ve only gone as far as deciding that you need to transform IT? How do you act on that decision?

Your first priority, I’d argue, is to understand how functional silos create an anchor for your organization’s culture, and how that may be your biggest barrier to change. That’s what I’ll be looking at here. In part 2, I’ll suggest a solution for specific organizational changes that address the culture shift problem.

Changing Minds to Change Behavior

For context, here’s the IT model you’re leaving behind: a project request comes in with specific technology or capacity requirements. You procure the infrastructure and build a custom environment and then turn that over to the development team (which is often really a back and forth affair between Dev and Ops, where the final solution doesn’t really look like the initial request). When the new capability is moved into production, you take over the management and maintenance of that application and underlying infrastructure environment.

Here’s where you’re going: well before you get any requests, you build an environment that can be reused across many different development teams. You deliver that environment as a highly standardized service that’s a best fit for all the teams you serve. They request and deploy on demand with little or no IT Ops involvement in the deployment. Developers can customize their deployment to some degree, by selecting from a small set of highly standardized service options or configuration choices.

Leaving the one behind and moving to the other requires new software tools, as well as hardware that can handle the demands of a pooled resource environment. But the real transformation is a shift in mindset. And it’s one that can be hugely challenging for an IT group to both make initially and sustain over time.

I’ve seen this at many IT groups I work directly with. The fact that “It’s just not the way we’ve done things in the past” in itself becomes the obstacle to change.

Breaking Structural Bonds

Team A, for example, has always done their thing and then handed it off to team B who does their thing, who hands it off to the next team. Even with carefully crafted swim lane diagrams, phase gate checklists, and continuous process improvement – it can literally take months to deploy an environment for a development team.

Over time, large IT organizations build a series of silos that  develop deep expertise to facilitate that process: a network silo, a security silo, a storage silo, and so on.  They optimize the steps and sub-optimize the process.

But you’re now looking to move to a situation where everyone works in a much more integrated way: together and not sequentially. After all, with a cloud services-oriented operation, things happen so fast and in such an integrated way that trying to work within the context of these silos and linear processes does nothing but slow the process down, which defeats the whole purpose of making the change.

So for change to happen, the silos have to go.

Fear, Uncertainty . . .  a Plan

Propose ditching silos, though, and people immediately start fearing for their own job security. They won’t know what it will take to do well anymore – deepening expertise was a well worn path to recognition, certifications and a raise. Talk of breaking down this structure conjures in them that awful trinity: fear, uncertainty, doubt.

It’s an understandable reaction and it’s important to anticipate and plan for. But you now know 1) what you want and 2) what you’re up against. You’re ahead of the game.

It is time to own the problem!

In my next blog post, I’ll outline a concrete set of actions that will help you successfully change your organizational culture – reengingeering your Ops team to dynamically deliver services to end customers through a cloud infrastructure.

For future updates, be sure to follow @VMwareCloudOps on Twitter and use the #CloudOps and #SDDChashtags to join the conversation.

Additional Resources

View Kevin Lees webcast 5 Key Steps to Effective IT Ops in a Hybrid World for more information about specific changes that can help IT be more service-oriented.