Why CIOs need a systemic approach to IT and 3 steps to get there

Industry experts estimate that over 95 percent of all capital projects rely on IT. But the majority of IT leaders I speak with find themselves becoming an innovation bottleneck, preventing new initiatives from being delivered on time. Is it any wonder they feel pressure to push under-baked projects into production?

 

After being forced to rush projects through the system, CIOs see two out of three projects fail to deliver against expected outcomes. The root cause is frequently poorly documented requirements, cursory attention to security and QA processes, and an operations team who’d be forgiven for thinking the rest of the organization treats new code releases like a surprise party – the only surprise is that IT projects succeed at all under those conditions.

 

How can we change this? I believe we need to stop optimizing for local results and ensure we’re driving the desired “business” outcome (in much that same way that the fictitious character Alex Rogo transformed his manufacturing operations in Eli Goldratt’s book, The Goal). In our case, instead of machining, painting and assembling, substitute IT governance, development, QA, operations and security. This means recognizing that IT delivery is a system. A system where up- and down-stream activities impact the finished product so dramatically that we need a connected approach to goals, tools and KPIs that aligns and enables our teams, rather than divides them. 

 

IT is a house divided

Nowhere is this more apparent than the challenges in getting modern Web 2.0 applications to market. Modern apps require a finely balanced blend of deeply skilled professionals if they are to be put into production quickly, efficiently and reliably.

 

Unfortunately for the CIO, coaxing these pros to work in harmony can be challenging. Especially when their (as an operations guy by background, I should probably say “my”) behaviors focus more on meeting the needs of their immediate teams rather than the ultimate outcome. Without strong leadership bringing them together and a system that fosters collaboration, functionally aligned teams are likely to split into their separate “tribes.” The challenge for the CIO is to bring the tribes together.

 

steps.jpgBreaking down silos in the real world

The good news is that there are some simple things you can do starting today. A great example of the pay-off of breaking down silos was demonstrated to me by a customer and friend who heads up systems management at a major health insurance provider. In his 20 years in IT, he’s been both a developer and operations leader. It’s fair to say there’s little he doesn’t know about building and monitoring mission-critical, composite applications.

 

In this case he’s been able to reduce the number of production incidents by 90 percent and requires half the number of staff and a fifth of the time to isolate and resolve the problems (when the inevitably occur) than in the past.

 

He shared what I thought were three simple and actionable principles that worked for him:

 

  1. Give operations a voice in requirements: It’s important that the supportability of the application be part of its non-functional requirements. The operations teams are best positioned to form those requirements.
  2. Make app development and QA part of operations escalations: This helps build a shared understanding of real-world use cases for fault isolation and diagnostics.
  3. Establish common tooling between the two: In his case he focused on common synthetic transaction and load generators, diagnostics and configuration management tools. This not only prevented his development and operations teams from doubling up on tools that essentially did the same thing, but facilitated a common bond between Dev and Ops and that helped bridge what was previously a gap.

 

In an upcoming post I’ll write about the DevOps movement, one of the most promising ways to bring IT tribes together and transform IT service delivery.

 

Related links:

 



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About the Author
Paul Muller leads the global IT management evangelist team within the Software business at HP. In this role, Muller heads the team responsib...


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