I started writing in earnest about clouds and IT transformation back in January 2009 -- a little more than three years ago.
At the time, most IT groups would politely listen to me talk about the coming world of service catalogs, hybrid clouds, et. al., nod a bit -- and that would be that.
Interesting, but not practical for them at that point. Thank you for your time.
But, every so often, I'd meet an IT group that was intensely interested in the subject. Their passion and enthusiasm stood in stark contrast to a vastly larger and vastly more passive crowd.
What made them different? Why were they so interested, and everyone else wasn't?
I became very curious about these particular customers, and started to take the time to look deeper. I began to construct profiles of the IT groups I was talking to, and looking for a correlation between their expressed enthusiasm (or lack thereof), and what I could discern externally.
Over time, patterns repeated themselves, and an "ITaaS profile" (IT as a service) began to emerge.
During early 2011, I began to test my model. I'd research a customer I was scheduled to talk to, score them using my profile, and attempt to predict the likelihood they'd be interested in the topic of IT transformation when I got in front of them. I quickly discovered I had a very good predictor.
It's sort of nice to know what's going to happen before you show up with a bunch of powerpoint :)
So, today, I thought I'd share with you what I've learned.
And, perhaps, figure out if your IT group fits the profile.
Real IT Transformation Isn't For The Faint Of Heart
Organizational transformations come in many sizes and shapes. The particular transformation I'm discussing here is nothing less than a fundamental shift in the business model of an enterprise IT group.
IT starts by assuming they need to compete for internal IT spend, and aren't a monopoly or a government agency anymore. They then set about to refashion themselves as the internal IT service provider of choice. Along the way, they add new functions they didn't need in the past. Roles, processes, skill sets and metrics all significantly change.
The ITaaS model itself isn't all that new -- you'll find it at work inside every successful IT service provider. It's just sort of new to the enterprise IT crowd.
Unless there was a strong motivation to change, why would you even bother? Wouldn't it be easier to just continue on as before, making small and incremental changes as time and inclination warrants? Why would you invest in completely rewiring the IT function? Who would want to re-engineer how IT is produced -- and how IT is consumed?
To sign up for that mission, you'd have to be pretty motivated indeed.
And that's what my ITaaS profile is all about -- discerning who's motivated, and who's not. Quickly and efficiently. It's not a judgment statement; it's simply acknowledging that everyone's situation is different.
In my ITaaS profile, there are three things I'm looking for. Hit all three aspects, and there's a good chance that we'll have a long and rich discussion around the IT transformation topic with plenty of follow-on and a deeper dives.
One of the inevitable outcomes is that you'll start to look at technology very differently, e.g. how well they can be used to deliver services vs. isolated functions. Things like Vblocks become much easier to appreciate, for example.
Miss any one of the profile elements, and your interest in ITaaS will probably be academic at best. You'll wonder why we're building some of the stuff we do. And we'll probably end up talking about something else that you're more interested in.
So, what am I looking for? See how many of these apply to you.
A Meaningful Change In The Business Strategy That Directly Impacts IT
If it's business-as-usual for the organization at large, it's probably business-as-usual for the IT group as well. Conversely, change in the business inevitably drives change in the IT function.
Unless there's a sharp and disruptive change in the business approach; there's unlikely to be the need for a sharp and disruptive change in the IT approach. It's a fairly simple idea when you think about it that way.
So, what constitutes a "meaningful change in the business strategy"? Let me share what I'm looking for.
Obviously, if there's a new CEO or other senior business leadership, there's a good chance the organization will start to move in a new direction. IT will inevitably be affected at some point.
A significant business strategy, new product line, or a change in the go-to-market strategy qualifies as well. A sharp increase in competition, a rapid decline in revenue or profits, or perhaps a major batch of new regulatory requirements. Significant M&A certainly qualifies. Expanding into new geographies (e.g. China, India, et. al.) qualifies. And that's just a partial list.
These external markers aren't hard to find. A bit of google-fu, and it's pretty easy to discern if there's a visible shift in the business causing a shift in IT.
A Critical Mass Of Empowered IT Leadership
By "empowered leadership", I mean there's a clearly discernible team in place with a mandate to change the way things are being done in the IT organization.
They're not looking for mere incremental improvements; they're motivated to re-engineer the IT function.
Sometimes, these IT leaders are folks who've been with their company and in their role for a while. That's a great thing -- when you find it, but you don't find it too often.
More likely, these empowered leaders are new to the role and brought in from elsewhere: another company or industry, perhaps from the business side, or maybe a substantial re-organization. Sad but true: familiar faces tend to make familiar decisions; new faces tend to make new decisions.
Put differently: there isn't going to be any IT transformation without a critical mass of strong, passionate and dedicated leadership. This stuff doesn't happen by itself.
A Reasonable Starting Point
This is actually two things: something to build on; and something to point it at.
You can't (or shouldn't) try and change everything at once, especially in larger IT settings. Instead, the idea is to put the new concepts and operational models to work in a small part of the IT function, and then expand as processes mature and familiarity grows.
But you need a place to start, and I've found that not everyone can easily find that logical starting place.
The "something to build on" is pretty easy to assess: a reasonable mass of virtualized servers (usually VMware) and the required skill sets to make it all work predictably. Unless you're comfortable with virtualization technology and processes, it's just too far a leap to jump to an ITaaS model in one go. And, yes, you'll find environments out there that just haven't gotten around to doing much with VMware, or haven't invested in the skills and processes to fully exploit what it can do.
In these cases, there's a good deal of foundational work to get the basics in place -- prior to contemplating an IT transformation of this nature. No shortcuts that I've found so far.
The second component is finding an interesting place to point the first efforts: a use case that's (a) somewhat relevant to the business, (b) isn't mission critical, and (c ) whose needs aren't being well-served by the current IT approach. Better yet if you can find some business leader who's interested in a new approach to delivering IT services ...
Examples vary, but there are some popular favorites: test and dev for the app team, perhaps a VDI pilot, maybe a self-serve IaaS capability for the R&D team, and so on.
It's less about the individual project itself; it's more about creating an operational template for the future. You're simply looking for a place where you can try doing things a new way, gain some experience -- and without betting the farm.
What Are You Interested In?
If you fit this profile, you're most likely not very interested in a detailed technology discussion. You tend to assume that the required technology pieces are largely in place to do what needs to be done. And you'd be right.
Instead, you're most likely interested in four things -- in order.
First, you're probably interested in creating the case for transformation. You, the progressive IT leader, are largely convinced. But there are a few more people in the organization that might need convincing: the executive committee, your business peers and -- of course -- your IT organization itself.
Making and communicating "the case" to these three audiences is important, and not something that's done routinely. Here at EMC, we are fortunate to have plenty of assets as well as some nice professional services to help customers do just that.
Second, you'll want to study some blueprints: what's the new model, how is it different than the current one, what makes it different, etc. We routinely supply our own examples of this to customers as a matter of routine. Your blueprints may end up being somewhat different, but you'll certainly want to take a look at a successful one as a reference point.
Third, you'll be very interested in the people side: roles, skills, measurement, alignment and the rest of it. If our own internal EMC ITaaS transformation is any indication, a significant number of the job descriptions will have to be seriously reworked in the new model. I like to joke that -- in this new world -- the "run book" for IT belong to HR -- human resources.
The larger your IT organization, the more you tend to be interested in the people side.
Finally, you'll want to think about how you eventually grapple with the underlying financial model for IT. I have observed that the way IT is constructed is largely a function of how IT is paid for.
If IT is paid for as a flat tax, you'll likely have a relatively bureaucratic IT function. If IT is funded through major projects, you'll have an IT organization comprised of major projects and little else. However, if IT funded to create attractive IT services that business people want to consume, well -- that's what you'll end up building.
Making the case.
Understanding the models.
Transforming your people.
Modernizing the IT funding model.
Like I said, not for the faint of heart.
Putting It All Together
So, consider these three aspects I've learned to look for:
- a meaningful change in the business that's causing a meaningful change in IT
- a critical mass of empowered IT leaders
- a reasonable place to start: technology and use case
What I've found is that -- once you fit this profile -- you're strongly interested in IT transformation. And if this isn't you, we end up talking about something else more relevant to you and your particular situation.
Note what's missing from this list. For example, there's scant mention of ROI -- unless it's Risk Of Ignoring. Nor are there many caveats around industry, geography, organizational size, etc. Or much of a budget discussion. Or the fact that some of your software vendors don't like virtualization. Or a detailed technology discussion.
None of these topics really comes up in any depth -- if you fit the profile. Instead, you are highly motivated to get moving in the right direction -- sooner, rather than later.
I look at all the cloud banter on the internet and in the press. I read it, but very little of it correlates with the hundreds and hundreds of customer discussions I've had on the topic over the last few years. I think vendors might look at the world differently.
I know what to look for. I know who's going to be interested, and exactly why they're going to be interested. If they fit the profile, I'm relatively certain of how the conversation will progress from topic to topic. It's scary sometimes just how linear the conversations can be. I've written about most aspects; you can see the entire collection of deep-dives here if you're interested.
But this is really isn't about me. It's about you.
Does your IT group fit the profile?
If so, we should chat :)