During most of my career in IT, I have tended to hold the larger IT shops in a certain awe: their large and diverse organizations, their ability to field large IT projects, and -- especially from a vendor perspective -- their unquestionable spending power.
I sometimes wondered how the more modest-sized IT shops could ever keep up with the big guys?
No longer. When it comes to IT transformation -- changing how IT operates to look more like an internal service provider vs. a traditional technology-and-project shop -- the smaller IT teams appear to be winning the race. They're getting their sooner and delivering results far faster than the behemoths.
And now it looks like many of the bigger IT shops may end up paying a painful price for their size and complexity.
Motivations For Change
If I had to boil this whole cloud and IT-as-a-service thing down into a simple, concise thought, it'd be that -- for the first time in recent history -- IT organizations have to compete for the internal business.
No longer can IT assume that they've got a monopoly any more. There are too many great external IT services out there, and they're far to easy to consume by us business types.
Yes, it's jarring, unfair, unworkable, etc. -- but it's also the cold, sober truth.
Fail to successfully compete for internal IT business, and bad things can happen.
For starters, IT can quickly lose control over IT consumption, and ultimately a big hunk of their relevancy.
Fail to maintain control (or be relevant) and it gets worse: outsourcing, budget reductions, new leadership installed and so on.
Just like any other function, the business demands competitive and attractive services that meet the needs of the people consuming them. Otherwise, they'll go elsewhere.
The IT Model To Compete Changes As Well
Organize yourselves to run classical IT projects across the traditional technology disciplines, and that's what you'll end up delivering: classical IT projects across the traditional technology disciplines.
Indeed, internal IT organizations are uniquely positioned to compete for their internal business for one powerful reason: they have the potential to understand their internal customers better than any other external provider.
Own the relationship; own the customer -- it's something those of us on the vendor side of the business have known for a long time.
And now we're teaching it to many of our IT customers who are now unfortunatley being seen as one of many alternatives as opposed to a de-facto monopoly.
When (Large) Size Works Against You
IT organizations come in all shapes and size. When the total number of badged IT employees gets north of around 500, the size of the organization itself tends to be the source of problems.
At 500 IT employees, you've got enough heft to create some good-sized silos (empires?) within IT: server team, storage team, desktop team, application team, database team, network team, security team, operations team, etc. etc.
Each of these teams has clearly established roles and responsibilities. Each has a way of doing things that they're largely comfortable with. Each sub-group will likely be resistant to meaningful and substantive change -- which is precisely what is required.
The larger and more entrenched an IT organization is, the more daunting this challenge.
When (Smaller) Size Works For You
The smaller IT shops (10-100) are quite different. People tend to play multiple roles just to get the work done. There's a lot of collaboration and rotation. Processes and workflows tend to move quickly and fluidly -- just to get the job done.
Very little turf and empire building -- there's just not enough scale to make that practical.
Most importantly, these smaller IT groups tend to avoid walling themselves off from the rest of the organization. They're engaged and supportive of what their users are trying to get done -- they're not locked away in some IT organizational castle surrounded by a beauracracy moat.
As such, these teams are transitioning to an IT-as-a-service model far faster (and with far less drama) than their larger IT counterparts. They're just getting on with it.
As an example, check out this video done at the recent EMC World. Yes, it's a promotional piece, but look and listen to the people being interviewed. They're making the change.
And they appear to be largely enjoying the experience.
How Large IT Organizations Can Act Small
If larger and more entrenched IT organizations are finding that it's becoming difficult to transition to a new IT operating model, what can they do about it?
One popular approach seems to be around large-scale change management within the existing organization. Lots of leadership meeting, lots of projects, lots of grinding away at the pieces until they eventually fit into the new model, or leave.
I meet many larger IT organizations that are doing exactly that -- large-scale change management. Usually it involves a new senior IT leadership team that's been brought in to turn things around. But it takes a lot of time and a lot of management effort -- and outcomes can be unsure.
No one in the meeting seems to be having fun :)
A second, more creative approach is the dual-IT model.
Take the entrenched legacy organization, and put them in a conceptual "box". Let them use existing processes and technologies to do what they always have done: deliver classical IT services.
At the same time, create a small, focused "new IT" team. Give them the freedom to build IT differently (shared pools of resources), operate IT differently (delivered as a service vs. chunks of technology) and consume it differently (convenient for everyone to consume).
Make them responsible for creating and delivering attractive and competitive IT services that others need.
Point them at use cases that aren't being met well by the existing approaches, including use cases within IT itself. Give them some time to mature their processes and capabilities. As they improve, consider them as a candidate for some of the new requirements coming down the pike.
Don't make the "new IT" guys have to work closely with the legacy team, be forced to go to their meetings, be bound by their legacy processes, etc. Otherwise, the new guys will get smothered by the legacy team.
It's a separate team with a separate mission.
If your experience is anything like ours at EMC, over time your "new IT" team will be the model for most of the enterprise IT experience: attractive and competitive services exposed to other IT organizations and end users. Pervasive use of shared and pooled resources across the organization. Aggressive outreach to your internal "customers". With roles, workflows. process and tools that don't look like what you're using today.
Congratulations, you now have transformed into a competitive internal IT service provider :)
Based on my personal observations, this sort of dual-IT approach can greatly accelerate the transformation as compared to the brute-force organizational change management approach.
Your users will see the benefits far sooner, for one thing :)
Envisioning The "Legacy Free" Data Center
Last week, our IT team opened up a brand-spanking-new cloud data center that is in many aspects the natural outcome of this approach. I use the term "legacy free" to describe not only the infrastructure (Vblocks throughout, a single version of vSphere, exceptional use of power and cooling, etc.) but also the operational processes as well.
Like other parts of EMC's IT investment, we're opening it up so people can see (and hopefully learn from) what we've done -- hence the Center of Excellence (COE) designation.
I think it's fair to say that the work and planning done to move into this environment helped speed up many of the transformation projects associated with EMC IT's re-engineering.
Nothing like a hard move-in date to help speed the decision-making along :)
Size Does Matter, But Not How You Might Think
In another sense, it's no big deal when compared to what I see day-in and day-out from much smaller IT organizations.
Their limited size and scope forces them to move quickly, make key decisions faster and align themselves with their internal customers in a way that's often quite rare in larger settings.
To all of you more modest IT organizations that have fully embraced virtualization and the IT-as-a-service model: congratulations!
Your larger peers are becoming jealous :)