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Monthly Archives: March 2015

Approval Policies: It’s All About the People

By David Crane

dcrane-cropTalking with customers, I hear a consistent message that is being asked of IT from the business; that is the ability to deliver IT services more rapidly and efficiently while reducing costs.

Combined with the demand for greater flexibility in delivering infrastructure and application services, my customers are implementing cloud environments, and they’re looking to take advantage of the automation capabilities of those platforms.

Automation, in its simplest guise, offers consumers an “app-store” style experience, where they can browse to a self-service portal for requesting cloud services and select virtual machine templates or blueprints that have been created for them.  As part of the provisioning process, consumers can also make changes to the virtual machine properties such as network, storage, compute, and memory within the ranges for which the blueprint they are using is configured.

Part of the provisioning process can be the approval of that request from that user’s line manager, or a budget holder for that service or line of business.  The traditional way of automating this step is to allow the approver (again via the self-service portal) the ability to authorize the request.

Consider, however, the typical activities that take place during this step, as shown below:

 

Approval Policy-Crane

 

Activity time that is conducted by a toolset is typically a very small percentage of the overall task time, and those customers who try to optimize this time typically get a poor ROI on their efforts.

Instead it is reducing the activity time that is carried out by people—and subsequently reducing the wait time for these activities to be carried out—where the benefits of automation are to be realized.

Many IT organizations attempt to do this through the implementation of approval policies, which are based on a set of rules around tangible parameters such as service cost, sizing, numbers, and so forth.

The focus then becomes configuring automation toolsets (e.g., VMware vRealize Automation), using these rulesets with the expectation that it should be a simple case of rolling out the approval policy to replace the “people approvers” and all will be well in the world.

However, as my customers are discovering, without careful consideration and consultation of the people element of the process, the carte blanche introduction of approval policies frequently meets resistance and pushback from those people approvers whose wait time is causing the benefits of automation to not be realized in the first place.

Reassurances of “trust in technology” or “trust in policy” usually falls on deaf ears, with counter arguments from the people approvers of needing to oversee and meet compliance, governance, and security requirements especially in those sectors (e.g., financial), where fierce regulation exists.

A compromise is then subsequently drawn up, with SLAs or OLAs determining response times from people approvers when requests come in, or approval policies existing for small-value or perceived low-risk requests, which offer minimal benefit.

While such agreements may suit the people approvers and placate the personal and political problems, they are a blunt instrument and still constrain the agile technology platforms that have been put in place, to the detriment of the business, and to the benefit of competitors that have addressed the problem in a different way.

My customers who have been successful in introducing significant approval policies have understood that one of the core reasons for this pushback is that people fear having their responsibilities cut back and the removal of their charter over the approval of the service requests of their line staff and business unit.

Stay tuned for my next blog, coming soon…I will go into more detail, including suggestions on how to successfully allow those approvers to retain their charter, while still introducing significant approval policies, but also achieving further business benefit through the publication of the cost savings, via approval policy-centric dashboards.

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David Crane is an operations architect with the VMware Operations Transformation global practice and is based in the U.K.

Green vs. Grey: Rethinking Your IT Operations

By Neil Mitchell

Neil Mitchell-cropMany of the customers I work with wish, at least in the short term, to provide IT services internally rather than outsource. They are also considering introducing cloud services as a catalyst for transitioning away from traditional IT practices—to establish new practices and processes appropriate for effective and efficient cloud service delivery. They also recognise that this will require a fundamental shift in their approach and that they will need to modify their operating model and organisation structure to support this.

Picture the scenario: an existing IT organisation that has built up over many years; is delivering services and may follow traditional good practice frameworks such as ITIL. However, chances are that the organization is not optimised for the delivery of cloud services—it’s probably siloed, may have developed many poor and labour-intensive practices along the way, and may not be perceived to deliver value. Sound familiar?

An option therefore is to re-invent IT. Create a new greenfield IT organisation with no legacy constraints. Can it be done? Of course, anything is theoretically possible. But is it realistic? What are the challenges?

Let’s make some assumptions for this new greenfield organisation:

  • New staff can be recruited—it won’t be necessary to transition staff from the old organisation.
  • There is the opportunity to establish new, optimised processes across the new organisation.
  • There will be no need to share information or systems between the old and the new organisations.
  • The new organisation can share the current data centres.

I break the challenges around this outwardly simple greenfield goal into two primary areas: 1) organisational, and 2) process and technology. And in my experience, there can be more questions than answers. However, I encourage my clients to address these issues before establishing what may be unachievable strategies.

1. Organisational challenges.

With any programme of change such as will be triggered by the introduction of cloud services, cultural change is the greatest challenge. You can argue that introducing a new greenfield organisation will overcome this—so let’s take a closer look.

Firstly staffing. Your old IT organisation will not disappear overnight. You would be introducing a new parallel or shadow organisation. Do you transition staff across or recruit from scratch?  If you transition staff, legacy practices and behaviours will almost certainly migrate. Equally, if you do not transition staff, good practices may be lost. If you recruit from scratch then there is overall induction to the organisation and associated training to be considered—with inherent hidden costs, not to mention any additional employment obligations that come with recruiting. There may also be HR implications for the existing staff. New staff does not necessarily mean a new culture and better behaviours.

You will also need to determine if you can use contractors, either as an interim to help establish the new cloud organisation or to backfill the existing one. Either is an option, but be aware that contractors may have a different objective from what is necessarily in the best interests of the company. You will need to expend effort to ensure that you obtain well-qualified and professional contractors who would be an asset to your company in establishing the cloud organisation.

Any of these options will create a bigger IT organisation—at least in the short term—for which you must budget.

Secondly organisation structure. Should the new cloud organisation work within the existing organisation? Keeping it within the existing organisation structure runs the risk of undue influence by the “we’ve always done it this way” crowd so may not be truly greenfield. If a separate organisation or department, you will need also to determine whether to replicate management and back-office functions such as HR, Procurement, and IT Finance.

Another consideration is whether the new organisation is to be in a new location or within an existing site.  A new location certainly works from an isolation perspective and will reduce risk of migrating legacy practices, but you may also lose the positive benefits of interaction with the existing staff.

2. Process and technology challenges.  

Let’s start with the new cloud architecture and whether it will be stand-alone. Consider possible components: operating system, middleware, monitoring agents, and even application components. There may be corporate standards and configurations to be followed, which will need to be reviewed to ensure they are fit for purpose in the new environment. And, whether you set up a shadow support organisation or take advantage of existing expertise is yet another consideration.

Security, risk, and compliance concerns must also be addressed early on, as the new IT organisation will likely have to interact with the existing business to ensure the delivered services meet any regulatory or legal requirements. Your new IT organisation will not be thanked for delivering services that brought in unwelcome regulatory investigations!

IT service management brings up numerous considerations including whether to:

  • Create a parallel service desk vs. modify process and procedures for the existing service desk
  • Retain the single number your customer calls today vs. provide access to all new cloud services solely online via a service catalogue
  • Implement new parallel processes and even new systems for event, incident, problem, and change management vs. modify existing ones to account for a cloud-optimized approach

Correct provision of cloud services will introduce a major increase in policy-based automation and standardisation and result in opportunities for you to optimize operations, but not in isolation from the higher-level service management context.

Is a greenfield organisation really a practical option for you? It may be as an aspiration, but if you’re like most of the IT executives I work with, the reality is a little more grey.

Org for Cloud wpSo where to start?

VMware has built some of the largest and most successful public and private clouds in the world, and we thoroughly understand the opportunities and the challenges. My recommendation to you as a starting point—my colleague Kevin Lees, Principal Architect for VMware’s global Operations Transformation Practice, recently updated his white paper, Organizing for the Cloud. The paper looks at the organisational impacts of transformation from multiple perspectives and provides insights and advice about how to prepare for—and execute—your winning transformation strategy.

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Neil Mitchell is an operations architect with the VMware Operations Transformation global practice and is based in the UK.

Why Service Owners Are Integral to IT-as-a-Service Delivery

By Kai Holthaus

kai_holthaus-cropThe Service Owner Role

The service owner role is central for an IT organization that is operating IT as a service (ITaaS). Why? Because the service owner is accountable for delivering services to customers and users, and accountabilities include:

  • To act as prime customer contact for all service-related enquiries and issues
  • To ensure that the ongoing service delivery and support meet agreed customer requirements
  • To identify opportunities for service improvements, discuss with the customer, and raise the request for change (RFC) for assessment if appropriate
  • To liaise with the appropriate process owners throughout the service management lifecycle
  • To solicit required data, statistics and reports for analysis, and to facilitate effective service monitoring and performance
  • To be accountable to the IT director or service management director for the delivery of the service

Please note that I emphasize  “accountability” instead of “responsibility.” The service owner is accountable, meaning they set the goals and oversee the execution.  The actual execution is performed by individuals or functions that have the “responsibility” for each activity.

Let’s take a closer look…

The service owner is the main escalation point for all service-related compliments, complaints, and other issues. You can think of the service owner as a sports coach, directing how the team should play a particular game, but not really participating by playing in the game. As the coach is accountable to the team’s owner for the team’s success, so is the service owner accountable to the customer(s) and the service management director for ongoing quality of the service.

Responsibilities Throughout the Service Lifecycle

The service owner role has accountabilities in each of the five lifecycle stages, as defined by ITIL:

  • Service strategy
  • Service design
  • Service transition
  • Service operation
  • Continual service improvement

I recommend to my clients that they assign a service owner very early in the lifecycle, so that there is a single point of accountability throughout its creation and life.  If we compare this to the product world, a service owner is like a product manager at an automotive company who is accountable as the new car model is designed, developed, and built—and ultimately for the satisfaction of the car’s buyers.

Shifting to an ITaaS Model

While the idea of the service owner role is just as valid in an ITaaS world as it is in a more traditional IT service provider world, there are a few important differences.

Service Owners Must Enable a Faster Time to Market
Moving to an ITaaS model typically requires faster development and release cycles than in a more traditional model. This is usually accomplished by moving to an Agile development model, such as Scrum. Using such models means that the full set of requirements for a service to be released will not be available at the time when development starts. Instead, development begins with the best set of requirements available at the time, and relying on future development / release cycles to address missing requirements.

The certainty of receiving a fully defined set of utility and warranty of a service is being exchanged for more rapid improvement of the service. Service design and transition activities are executed more in a spiral-type model than in a waterfall-type approach.

The service owner in an Agile environment becomes the Scrum product manager, representing the view of the customer in the Scrum model. As the product manager, the service owner is responsible for the pipeline of customer requirements driving the development of the service.  Business decisions on whether to advance the service through another round of development and release is based on the available information at the time.

Service Owners Need a Better Grasp on Future Demand
Some services, particularly infrastructure services, such as providing CPU power or storage, become utility-type services, comparable with the utility services everybody experiences at home, such as electrical power, natural gas, or water. Instead of provisioning dedicated infrastructure at the time of service development or deployment, the service owners must ensure there is enough capacity when needed, e.g., storage should be available instantly available when required— similar to water flowing immediately when you turn on the faucet at home. This requires a much better understanding of future demand, patterns of business activity, and user profiles than is typically the case today.

Service Owners Will Give up Some Control to Enable Automation
Due to the nature of ITaaS, service owners will be required to give up some control over the configuration of the service. For example, automation tools already move virtual machines from one physical host to another based on current workloads, without any human control. To fully deliver on the ITaaS promise, this type of automation must increase. Increased automation will require either defining more changes as standard changes, which can be implemented without approval (and in this case, automatically, after the tool has recorded the change), or give up change control completely, and let the tools handle them. Such automation tools can also automatically update the configuration management system, so that valid information will always be available.

How Will Services Operate in the Cloud?
While today’s services are largely delivered from in-house data centers, the ITaaS model makes full use of hybrid and public clouds.  Service owners must understand the ramifications of moving parts of the service infrastructure (or even the entire infrastructure) into the public cloud. This requires a better understanding of required service levels, and what will happen if cloud providers experience incidents or even disasters.

To conclude, the specific accountabilities associated with the service owner role don’t change dramatically when an IT organization moves to an ITaaS model. Primarily, a service owner will need to shift from defining architectures and infrastructure as part of the service design to defining the service in terms of requirements, and necessary service levels for supporting services. Also, traditional controls over the infrastructure may no longer apply when automation is used to fully deliver on the promise of ITaaS.

While the shift in the service owner’s responsibilities isn’t dramatic when transforming to an ITaaS model, the importance of the role grows significantly.  If you haven’t already explored implementing or expanding this role as you transform to deliver ITaaS, be sure to include this as part of your roadmap for moving forward.

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Kai Holthaus is a senior transformation consultant with VMware Accelerate Transformation Services and is based in Oregon.

The Cloud Architect: Change Champion for the New IT

By Rohan Kalra

RohanKalra-crop“What direction should I take my career with all the changes happening in IT?”

I get this question a lot when working with my clients’ IT teams. The old way of doing things needs to change for the new IT. From an IT operating model standpoint, that means becoming more service-focused. And that’s not all that’s changing—roles within the IT organization are, too.

As practitioners, we need to adapt. For me, it’s always much more fun to be the change champion, imagining how things could be done differently and in completely new ways, than to get left behind in the old world.

I discuss adapting to be a cloud architect in this short video below. There’s also an infographic that ran earlier in this blog that you might be interested in—The Forecast Is Sunny for Cloud Careers—with stats on what’s driving demand for IT professionals with cloud-related skills.

I’d be interested in hearing from you—@kalrarohan.

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Rohan Kalra is an operations architect with the VMware Operations Transformation global practice. Follow him on Twitter @kalrarohan