By Kevin Lees
In my previous post, 5 Ways Cloud Automation Drives Greater Cost and Operational Transparency, I wrote about how automation can help alleviate tension between IT and and the lines of business. Let’s continue to explore that theme as we look into ways to bring in tighter alignment between business objectives and IT capabilities.
“Instead of cost centers that provide capabilities, IT organizations must become internal service providers supplying business-enabling solutions that drive innovation and deliver value…true business partners rather than increasingly irrelevant, cost-centric technology suppliers.” This quote comes from the white paper How IT Organizations Can Achieve Relevance in the Age of Cloud, which provides insight into the ways IT needs to change to become a true partner with the entire business to help meet overall objectives.
So to get to that place of true partnership and business agility, all IT has to do is become an internal service provider and deliver business-enabling solutions, and then the business will regard IT as a true partner, right? If only it were that simple.
While there’s nothing wrong with the goal of adding business value and increasing responsiveness to business requirements, there is another problem that has been largely overlooked: The “trust debt” that has built up between IT and its business customers.
As a result of the way it has operated in the past, IT must overcome trust debt to gain true business alignment. Business alignment must be achieved before the optimal “business-enabling solutions” can be designed, developed, and deployed to meet business users’ needs.
As is the case with financial debts, IT must make payments on this accumulated trust debt, with interest. The interest comes in where IT must go above and beyond end user expectations to prove its willingness and ability to ensure that technology helps, rather than hinders, the business. The payments themselves can take many forms, including: implementing new technology that delivers new capabilities, demonstrating a service-oriented mindset, or even taking the extra step of becoming truly transparent.
Overcoming Trust Debt: Starting Point and First Steps
Making any change starts with a bit of exploration and personal reflection. Ultimately technology and IT’s role as a whole is about meeting the needs of the business at the speed business requires. This, of course, demands greater agility — enabled by the ability to offer cloud computing capabilities on top of a software-defined data center.
To overcome trust debt, IT must first get out of its comfort zone, which is firmly rooted in enabling technology. IT leaders may first need to ask: What is IT “enabling” with technology?
Start with the Stack
Let’s face it: Agility demands a dynamic technology stack. To be dynamic at the level that business requires today can only be achieved in software; hardware is too static and difficult to change. A software-defined data center uses a fully virtualized stack that can quickly and dynamically change to meet the needs of the business.
Automation, coupled with the key cloud capability of self-service, on-demand provisioning provides agility. More than anything else, automated self-service, on-demand provisioning alone can be the compelling reason businesses are drawn to cloud. Imagine what would happen if business constituents could select the service offering to deploy, along with the level of service they desire, and some very short time later the virtual server would be available with that service (a marketing demo, for example). That’s a huge win and a step closer to eradicating trust debt.
This level of service alone could become IT’s calling card. The marketing demo example mentioned above is not hypothetical—I saw this recently at a large financial institution. A marketing team needed to stand up a demo that customers could access externally so they could beat the competition to market. Traditional IT said that demo could be available in about six weeks. But the marketing person driving the initiative had heard about this thing called a cloud that had been set up in a separate IT initiative. She contacted the responsible IT team who gave her access. Within 24 hours she had her demo up with customers actively using it.
This one occurrence launched the company’s cloud initiative. Word spread like wildfire throughout the organization and demand ramped so quickly that IT had to gate it to bring on more infrastructure. (If only they’d had a hybrid cloud!)
Simply put, agility sold the cloud. And what better way to regain trust and create new opportunities to drive business alignment?
Kevin Lees is Global Principal Architect, Operations Transformation Practice. Follow @VMwareCloudOps on Twitter for future updates, and join the conversation by using the #CloudOps and #SDDC hashtags on Twitter.
 CIO white paper: “How IT Organizations Can Achieve Relevance in the Age of Cloud,” 2013