Starship: New Enterprise

For those close to me (and the three people who read my monthly column), you all know my love for flying, movies and Star Wars. Now for those of you who are familiar with Star Wars and its greater community, you know that Jedi and Starfleet personnel do not see eye to eye.

November 22, 2011

by Clive Brindley, Channel Manager, HP Software, South Africa

For those close to me (and the three people who read my monthly column), you all know my love for flying, movies and Star Wars.  Now for those of you who are familiar with Star Wars and its greater community, you know that Jedi and Starfleet personnel do not see eye to eye.  You are either a Trekkie or of the Force.  So why am I telling you something you already know?  Two reasons; one, my father dared me to write about my greatest enemy in my next article and two, because the Starship Enterprise is a great analogy for Enterprise IT Management.  Sad but true, as good as the Death Star is, it blows up twice and always seems to miss its true potential (beyond just destroying planets). 

The Starship Enterprise is an efficient and effective ambassador of peace.  It is a large yet agile and admittedly potent weapon against the Borg and other negative alien civilisations.  Captain James T Kirk sits on his throne of power, from a single console he can view all the important metrics/KPI’s to make informed decisions on his next move.  If the console fails, he starts screaming to all his officers for information, decisions take more time and stress levels increase.  Not the way Starfleet likes to run its operation. 

It is no different in IT.  The CIO of today has a significantly tough job of building this information bridge that we see in Star Trek.  I know of at least five customers that are building this intelligence platform for IT today using manual techniques that, once updated, will be out of date in 10 minutes.  Dare I use the word Business Intelligence? I mean how could IT be a Business?  Exactly! This is still a perplexing reality that the very professionals who build Business Intelligence platforms for CEOs have not built for their very own IT.  Cobbler’s children have no shoes? But things they are a changing…

In the last six months I have noticed a significant move in IT Management circles towards the vision of an IT Performance Management dashboard. IT Managers are now realising more than ever that we need to have a performance based culture and measurement system to truly evolve IT into the realm of business innovator.  How does an IT executive today make a decision on where to invest, what to fix and how to secure IT, making sure it delivers on its mandate to power the business forward?  Sure, you might have some of this information in pockets distributed across the IT landscape, but information should never be analysed in isolation.  It is like Captain Kirk getting ready to make a firing order without knowing that the photon torpedoes are unavailable because of a power outage. In IT, it would be like making an investment decision to upgrade the branch automation system without knowing that the network performance has been near unworkable for the past three months due to over utilisation of the branch links.  Sure, let’s just go ahead and load yet another application on top of the failing network.  

Imagine if the scenario worked like this.  The CIO is sitting at his/her desk, selects the strategy tab on the IT Performance Management dashboard.  Information on current IT investment portfolio, future investments, current projects and more is reviewed. She notices that a large investment item namely “Branch Automation System Upgrade” is scheduled for quarter three.  Whilst the investment is rather substantial, the value ratings will greatly enhance the organisation’s ability to service its customers, get orders out on time and ultimately improve revenues.  Panning through the remaining tabs on the dashboard, she clicks the operations button to review the primary Service Management KPIs and associated scorecard.  To her dismay, she notices there are lots of red and downward trending KPIs related to branch services and applications.  End user performance has been poor for the past month and Incident KPIs are down for the first time in two quarters.  It is clear that of all the IT infrastructure elements, the network is poorest performing.  She picks up the phone and calls the head of IT Operations and has an interesting conversation on the dynamics of an unreliable IP network.  The branch automation investment is put on hold, the network issues are a primary focus for IT Operations and everybody is now aligned. 

So how do you go about building an IT Performance Management system?  Firstly, make sure you have the commitment and buy-in from all your IT leaders.  A performance management culture is something that does not just happen, it needs to be built – people need mentoring and on-going guidance must be baked into the process.  Accountability for individual performance is paramount.  Win the hearts and minds. Secondly, I recommend making sure IT leaders know individually what their KPIs or goals are.  For example, in my new role as Channel Manager I documented the major KPIs I would need to track – the information that would help me manage my business.  I identified the important metrics that would, in a nutshell, tell me if I was going to stay in business or go out of business.  Please do not try and invent these KPIs yourself, IT Management has been around for some time and the industry has many of these documented in detail.  I suspect your biggest challenge will be to figure out which ones to leave out. 

Once you have defined the KPIs, you will need to enable the sensors and collectors to populate the acquired data into a data warehouse.  It is important that a consistent and well defined data model is used as part of the management system.  Once again I encourage you to speak to one of the leading IT management vendors rather than try and build the system yourself.  The reality is that you probably have much of the management data already.  The data providers range from project and portfolio, application quality, application performance, security and service desk to asset management systems to name but a few.  You will quickly notice the missing elements when you start building the analytical views.  For example, let’s say there is a goal of ‘Stewardship of IT investment’ and it is made up of the following KPIs:

• % of CIs under maintenance contract
• % of business compliance issues caused by improper configuration of assets
• % of assets used after lease end date
• % of assets not under contracts

Guess what? There is no IT Asset Management system and no performance measurement data to track these KPIs.  How can you determine if you have met this goal?  You can almost consider building an IT Performance Management system as reverse engineering, much like developing a reporting system should not be an afterthought.  The IT Performance landscape is made up of the major areas of PLAN, BUILD and RUN or as some see it as Strategy and Governance, Application and Service Lifecycle Management, and finally IT Operations Management.  Of course you could add Information Management, Security and Risk Management to this or consider it part of the three main tenets above.  However you slice and dice your IT Management ecosystem, you will be collecting data from numerous sources to make coherent management decisions. 

So there you have it, IT is now heading at warp speed into the future with a sophisticated IT Performance management system.  The CIO now sits on the bridge of the Starship New Enterprise and guides IT using the well-defined, calculated metrics that allow for fast, accurate and appropriate decision making.  Some of us are lucky enough to be strong in the Force, however, there are very few Jedi amongst us.  For the rest, we need to make the hard yards and systematically approach the building and execution of transforming IT into a true business partner.