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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.