The real world of “Real IT” is populated by a few “unicorns” doing amazing DevOps things, but most of the work is done by “horses” doing normal stuff and “mules” doing industrial-strength heavy IT. There are some wonderful new ideas and technologies, but reality has a nasty habit of getting in the way.
Recently, I presented a webinar entitled “To Protect and Serve” with Rob Stroud of CA Technologies in which we discussed the tough job IT has of balancing its role to protect the existing investment in information against its role to serve the needs of the enterprise for new value. One of the most important artifacts to help maintain this balance is the Service Portfolio (as defined by ITIL). Through the portfolio, we can communicate the real situation to decision-makers: the holistic portfolio view across both programs of change and the catalogue of existing services.
Slow and Steady Wins in IT
Another concept I’d like to introduce, which goes with Real IT, is the need for “Slow IT.” There is a concept getting some currency, especially on the West Coast of the U.S., of slow business: An organization must exhibit mindfulness and carefulness, to act in a measured manner to meet its needs in a managed and sustainable way. Warren Buffett famously described his investing strategy as “lethargy bordering on sloth.”
“Slow IT challenges the hysterias and fads of IT to ensure that these results are really needed as quickly as we think they are.”
— Rob England, The IT Skeptic
This imperative to be mindful and careful cascades down to IT: we need to manage our demand for new and changed services in our service portfolio in a measured way to ensure we do not upset that protect and serve balance too much; that we do not break our information assets in pursuit of novelty; that we do not overstretch our organizational capability to the point that we endanger the enterprise. I call this Slow IT.
The Governance Game
Slow IT is a provocative name. It doesn't mean IT on a go-slow. It means managing the pace of business demands on IT so as to focus better on what matters and to reduce the risk to what already exists. The intent of Slow IT is to allow IT to deliver important results more quickly. It does this by concentrating on the interfaces between business executives and CIOs. Slow IT highlights the importance of the governance of IT and of the service portfolio in order to make the right decisions, to do the right things in the right way at the right time, to maximize benefit and minimize risk. Slow IT challenges the hysterias and fads of IT to ensure that these results are really needed as quickly as we think they are.
I see it all the time: IT organizations who don’t have time to perform basic maintenance on systems, let alone introduce new ways of doing things within IT. They’ve no sooner rolled out new Windows desktops across the organization than they’re challenged to support BYOD effective immediately, migrate the sales team to Salesforce, and devise a policy for Dropbox. As a result, most of the internal IT projects get pushed back, accruing significant “technical debt” that will surely have to be paid one day. There is no hope of keeping up with new developments like DevOps. There is too much serve and not enough protect.
The onus is on the owners of IT to understand (or at least be aware of) the limits of IT and to manage that risk responsibly, to manage the balance of protect and serve. This is good governance of IT and good management of the business.
IT Quid Pro Quo
That’s all well and good, you say, but our masters still demand greater agility from us regardless. How do we respond?
I recommend a “Meet In The Middle” strategy, a quid pro quo: if the business will slow up its demands on the portfolio by pressing harder for the true value and, more importantly, the true urgency, then IT will buy some headspace from that to implement innovations such as Agile, DevOps and enhanced cybersecurity to be more nimble in the future. Right now, we would love to be lighter and faster, but we’re too involved in the day-to-day demands to do much about it.
Certainly, this easing up on demand is a hard sell to the business, but we have data on our side. Show them:
- The value: of the existing informational assets and everybody’s accountability for them.
- The fragility: of the existing informational assets—stop hiding risk.
- The landscape: how innovation is just as challenging to competitors; how your organization’s users and customers can’t change that quickly anyway.
- The scale and complexity: of the portfolio of planned and current change.
- The people: most of all you need to create empathy, to show how hard the IT people are working, how they’re not stupid, they’re not misanthropic and they’re doing their best in challenging conditions.
What’s in it for our customers?
Since we’re talking about Slow IT, I guess you could call the benefit from it “Fast IT.” If we can just improve the governance of IT so that a reasonable conversation can be had about the priorities and impacts of new services, and we can slow down the currently unrealistic deluge of demands on IT, then we can buy enough breathing space to make improvements in IT, to adopt new approaches which allow us to deliver faster, such as:
- ITSM standard changes
- Continual service improvement
- Lean IT
... and so on. These are all great ideas for making IT more nimble and responsive, but they all require time, energy and resources to implement. If we don’t have to frantically serve new needs all the time, we c