Using IT Ops to Build Business Agility

DevOps and agility requirements put pressure on IT Ops team.

Everybody seems to focus on software development these days in an effort to not miss out on the Application Economy. Is IT Ops really just about “keeping the lights on”? In the summer of 2017 Freeform Dynamics conducted a survey among 400 IT professionals across EMEA about the evolution of demands and challenges, and how IT Ops teams in medium and large organizations are responding. The survey interviewed people from large as well as midsize companies—IT strategists (more than 50 percent) as well as IT specialists across a variety of verticals.

To ensure the study had a deep understanding of the correlation between some of the responses and the importance of IT for the people surveyed, the effort started with a few simple statements:

• IT is critical for our organization to differentiate and compete in the market (82 percent Agree/Strongly Agree)

• Most of our major business initiatives now have a significant IT component to them (84 percent Agree/Strongly Agree)

• Competing effectively requires enabling the best digital customer experience (75 percent Agree/Strongly Agree)

So Why Are IT Ops Professionals Feeling the Strain?

The answer should not come as a surprise to anyone, but the intensity and the high percentages of the answers surprised even the seasoned analysts from Freeform Dynamics. The primary enemy of IT Ops is complexity. And this complexity comes in a variety of shapes and forms. The pressure from dev and agile practices was stated by 68 percent of the senior IT professionals as one of the most important reasons for the pressure felt by IT Ops. As key reasons for this pressure, escalating compute requirements (stated by 92 percent of respondents), managing rapid software release and deployment (80 percent), coordinating on-premise and cloud activities (77 percent) and security and compliance (75 percent) were mentioned. But these reasons cannot necessarily be controlled. These are simply things that happen because IT Ops does more now than ever .

When 77 percent of the people interviewed stated that their IT Infrastructure was “unavoidably complex,” we wanted to understand what was causing this complexity. Especially in an environment in which the expectation is to complete tasks more quickly and more efficiently, IT complexity should be reduced as much as possible, right? So, what conditions can be controlled that are currently left unchecked?

Limited Knowledge: 88 percent of the respondents stated that “limited knowledge” is a very important reason for complexity. People choose technologies they know (either open source or otherwise) and not necessarily the best option for corporate IT as a whole.

Poor Communications: 82 percent say a lack of communication and a lack of balanced influence from stakeholders is a factor. And yes, this has always been an IT problem, but 82 percent is a significant amount.

Monitoring: 78 percent say monitoring and management is an ongoing challenge. And these are disciplines that have been mastered for decades already, so why is this such a big issue?

Cloud/Data Security: 75 percent say protecting data in the cloud is a significant challenge.

But there were many more findings that have a big/some impact on IT complexity: mergers and acquisitions (mentioned by 84 percent of the respondents), a bad mix of skills and experience (88 percent), chasing the cheapest option (81 percent), the desire to use the latest technology (71 percent) and even poor procurement discipline (60 percent)—which are all factors that could be solved quite easily.

Operational Management Capability

Enterprise IT Ops is about monitoring and managing the kind of complex environments in enterprises today, and the IT team clearly needs the processes and tools to do this. But how well do the study respondents stack up in this regard? The good news is that the majority report effective monitoring and management capabilities in most core technology areas. However, many also say that what’s in place is not very efficient (See Figure 1).

Such inefficiencies can arise because of outdated or inadequate tooling, for example, or also because of excessive reliance on manual processing. Whatever the cause, the result is high overheads, more mistakes and a slower response to change. Just as with infrastructure complexity, there are overarching aggravating factors coming into play as monitoring and management capabilities are considered from a higher-level perspective (See Figure 2).

Defining Success Among Respondents

There must reasons some companies are doing better. The study utilizes an algorithm that could be used to segment organizations in three distinct groups (See Figure 3).

The full report shares details on the algorithm. Once the performance groups were identified, it was determined if respondents were above or below average in relation to infrastructure standardization and monitoring/management capability. The point of all this number crunching becomes obvious in the chart below. The analysis shows High Achievers are much more likely to have made efforts on infrastructure consistency, and they also tend to have superior monitoring and management capabilities in place (See Figure 4).

When looking to act on insights of this kind, however, it’s important to keep things in perspective. Aiming for a totally standardized infrastructure and the perfect set of processes and tooling is unrealistic. An enterprise IT environment is, and always will be, in constant flux, and this is an essential part of keeping up with business demands and market opportunities in today’s digital world.

Against this background, the way an enterprise or an organization acts will depend on its current position. If parts of the environment have drifted into a particularly chaotic or unnecessarily complex state for whatever reason, then consolidation and/or modernization work will often pay back convincingly. This will be especially true if the technology team is coming under increasing pressure to cut overheads, innovate more, improve service levels (availability, performance and so on), reduce operational risk and/or generally become more responsive. It can be hard to find the time and resources to spend on such exercises, but if an important part of the IT environment is highly fragmented or dependent on old or obsolete technology, then it will continue to hold the business back until the issues are addressed.

Success with digital business requires the delivery of good user experiences. This depends not just on appealing mobile apps and Web interfaces, but also on backend systems that are fast, reliable and secure, and flexible enough to keep pace with modern DevOps delivery.

Against this background, regarding IT operations as simply about “keeping the lights on” is a recipe for poor business performance. The bottom line is that the “Ops” is at least as important as the “Dev” in “DevOps” from a business perspective.

By Marcel den Hartog | 01 Jul 2017

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