It is Time to Think Beyond IT

By Dennis Drogseth

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More than ten years ago, EMA consultants assessed processes and technologies involved with monitoring and managing manufacturing floors, utilities, transportation fleets and other “business infrastructures” and came to the conclusion that great economies of scale could be achieved by consolidating these requirements. In other words, by leveraging IT capabilities for monitoring, instrumentation, asset planning, security, service management, automation and analytics, businesses could gain new levels of operational efficiencies, minimize risk and more proactively optimize to changing market requirements. Back then, EMA called this the “Global Corporate Control Center”.

At that time, in the late '90s, monitoring was pretty basic (well, even more basic than it is today, at least), and process automation existed, when it existed at all, in very narrow silos within IT. Analytic capabilities were mostly rule-based event management with very little in the way of self-learning, self-adaptive heuristics. And when these later appeared, these “advanced analytic” capabilities mostly didn’t work. Attention to process and the disciplines that best practices such as ITIL could provide were barely emerging. IT was very much a kingdom set apart from the business—or no, not even that, but rather a series of feudal kingdoms each with its own walls and each with its own opinions about priorities and governance―that is when defined priorities and governance existed at all. The Web was certainly not Web 2.0 let alone SOA, and the notion of broad integration technologies such as CMDB, configuration management systems (CMS), IT process automation, and advanced discovery, fundamentally didn’t exist.

Then IT had the shock of its life. No, the time wasn’t fall of last year, when Wall Street, real estate and car makers have had near heart attacks and scared the (dickens) out of the rest of us. The time was 2000-2002 when our particular technology bubble imploded, leaving many technology companies adrift in a sea of doubt and IT organizations fighting hard not to be outsourced. And while that fight has been renewed in recent months, most IT organizations have learned a lot since then about governance, visibility, compliance, accountability, and how to optimize better with many of the above-mentioned technologies. Even more importantly, there is something of a slow-burning political revolution within many IT organizations leading to dialog across organizational groups in a creative, responsible and game-changing ways that simply never existed before. Of course there’s still a long way to go, but the IT landscape is fundamentally shifting.

So, let’s revisit the premise of EMA’s old idea of the “Global Corporate Control Center” which suggests collapsing a whole new set of “feudal kingdoms” into a more efficient, more risk-free, more automated, and more accountable fabric of people and technologies. One thing that should become apparent just from reading the press is companies in many industries are accelerating their quest to find new and more effective ways of working.

Some of them, such as health care, reflect a more proactive effort as electronic information for storing and sharing patient records, enabling collaborative diagnostics, and automating the business side of hospitals and other health care institutions is beginning to take hold. Other verticals, such as manufacturing and retail, are increasingly dependent on better systems of automation, outreach, visibility and control just to ensure competitive survival. In some industries, such as utilities, the linkage between the “business infrastructure” and the “IT infrastructure” becomes intuitively obvious as the power grid is essentially a “network of resources” that needs to be better monitored and optimized. Just as transportation systems can be run much better when IT provides better capabilities for monitoring, tracking, “service management” and “life cycle fleet management.” And even financial services, which have spearheaded a lot of investments in IT innovation (and may have gotten in trouble from too much ill-focused automation), are facing a drastic need to consolidate, integrate, inform, make visible and support a whole host of existing and coming compliance requirements.Recently, several vendor initiatives, most notably IBM, are targeting individual vertical business infrastructures in much this same way. But this idea is much bigger, even, than IBM. Technologies and services from a whole host of companies and services can and should apply. And while the equivalent of an ITIL guidebook for doing this doesn’t yet exist, the processes and skill sets for dialog, consensus building, defining priorities and documenting processes across multiple groups all still apply. Just think, with a modest but creative investment in instrumenting business infrastructures your chosen IT technologies and more importantly, you and your organization, may begin to show value in a whole host of new and unexpected ways. And while new opportunities often come with associated headaches, the upside for you and the IT industry as a whole is high.

So, the notion I’d like to put forward to you as CIOs is that just as you need to lead the charge in supporting organizational transformation and its associated technologies within IT (CMS, IT process automation, etc.), you have an opportunity to promote IT services and technologies in a broader business context. And when, you may ask, is it time to start to think more creatively about extending IT resources in support of business needs? While it may seem counter-intuitive, this may just be the perfect moment to get credibility and support for a more innovative use of IT. The fire in the belly exists in many businesses and organizations across many verticals to act now. This time around, vs. 2001, you are squarely part of the cure and not the disease.

Dennis Drogseth is vice president of Boulder, Colo.-based Enterprise Management Associates (www.enterprisemanagement.com), an industry research firm focused on IT management. Dennis can reached at ddrogseth@enterprisemanagement.com