The Changing Role of IT Professionals

Information Technology is a great field. With technology advancing at the speed of sound, there is never a period when IT becomes boring, or hits an intellectual wall. New devices, new software, more network bandwidth, and new opportunities to make all this technology do great things for our professional and private lives.

image  Or, it becomes a frightening professional and intellectual cyclone which threatens to make our jobs obsolete, or diluted due to business units accessing IT resources via a web page and credit card, bypassing the IT department entirely.

One of the biggest challenges IT managers have traditionally encountered is the need for providing both process, as well as utility to end users and supported departments or divisions within the organization. It is easy to get tied down in a virtual mountain of spreadsheets, trouble tickets, and unhappy users while innovation races past.

The Role of IT in Future Organizations

In reality, the technology component of IT is the easy part. If, for example, I decide that it is cost-effective to transition the entire organization to a Software as a Service (SaaS) application such as MS 365, it is a pretty easy business case to bring to management.

But more questions arise, such as does MS 365 give business users within the organization sufficient utility, and creative tools, to help solve business challenges and opportunities, or is it simply a new and cool application (in the opinion of the IT guys…) that IT guys find interesting?

Bridging the gap between old IT and the new world does not have to be too daunting. The first step is simply understanding and accepting the fact internal data center are going away in favor of virtualized cloud-enabled infrastructure. In the long term Software as a Service and Platform as a Service-enabled information, communication, and service utilities will begin to eliminate even the most compelling justifications for physical or virtual servers.

End user devices become mobile, with the only real requirement being a high definition display, input device, and high speed network connection (not this does not rely on “Internet” connections). Applications and other information and decision support resources are accessed someplace in the “cloud,” relieving the user from the burden of device applications and storage.

The IT department is no longer responsible for physical infrastructure

If we consider disciplines such as TOGAF (The open Group Architecture Framework), ITIL (Service Delivery and Management Framework), or COBIT (Governance and Holistic Organizational Enablement), a common theme emerges for IT groups.

IT organizations must become full members of an organization’s business team

If we consider the potential of systems integration, interoperability, and exploitation of large data (or “big data”) within organization’s, and externally among trading partners, governments, and others, the need for IT managers and professionals to graduate from the device world to the true information management world becomes a great career and future opportunity.

But this requires IT professionals to reconsider those skills and training needed to fully become a business team member and contributor to an organization’s strategic vision for the future.  Those skills include enterprise architecture, governance modeling, data analytics, and a view of standards and interoperability of data.  The value of a network routing certification, data center facility manager, or software installer will edge towards near zero within a few short years.

Harsh, but true.  Think of the engineers who specialized in digital telephone switches in the 1990s and early 2000s.  They are all gone.  Either retrained, repurposed, or unemployed.  The same future is hovering on the IT manager’s horizon.

So the call to action is simple.  If you are a mid-career IT professional, or new IT professional just entering the job market,  prepare yourself for a new age of IT.  Try to distance yourself from being stuck in a device-driven career path, and look at engaging and preparing yourself for contributing to the organization’s ability to fully exploit information from a business perspective, an architectural perspective, and fully indulge in a rapidly evolving and changing information services world.

Putting Enterprise Architecture Principles to Work

This week brought another great consulting gig, working with old friends and respected colleagues.  The challenge driving the consultation was brainstorming a new service for their company, and how best to get it into operation.

image The new service vision was pretty good.  The service would fill a hole, or shortfall in the industry which would better enable their customers to compete in markets both in the US and abroad.  However the process of planning and delivering this service, well, simply did not exist.

The team’s sense of urgency to deliver the service was high, based on a perception if they did not move quickly, then they would suffer an opportunity loss while competitors moved quickly to fill the service need themselves.

While it may have been easy to “jump on the bandwagon” and share the team’s enthusiasm, they lacked several critical components of delivering a new service, which included:

  • No specific product or service definition
  • No, even high level, market analysis or survey
  • No cost analysis or revenue projection
  • No risk analysis
  • No high level implementation plan or schedule

“We have great ideas from vendors, and are going to try and put together a quick pilot test as quickly as possible.  We are trying to gather a few of our customers to participate right now” stated one of the team.

At that point, reluctantly, I had to put on the brakes.  While not making any attempt to dampen the team’s enthusiasm, to promote a successful service launch I forced them to consider additional requirements, such as:

  • The need to build a business case
  • The need for integration of the service into existing back office systems, such as inventory, book-to-bank, OSS, management and monitoring, finance and billing, executive dashboards (KPIs, service performance, etc.)
  • Staffing and training requirements
  • Options of in-sourcing, outsourcing, or partnering to deliver the service
  • Developing RFPs (even simple RFPs) to help evaluate vendor options
  • and a few other major items

“That just sounds like too much work.  If we need to go through all that, we’ll never deliver the service.  Better to just work with a couple vendors and get it on the street.”

I should note the service would touch many, many people in the target industry, which is very tech-centric.  Success or failure of the service could have a major impact on the success or failure of many in the industry.

Being a card-carrying member of the enterprise architecture cult, and a proponent of other IT-related frameworks such as ITIL, COBIT, Open FAIR, and other business modeling, there are certainly bound to be conflicts between following a very structured approach to building business services, and the need for agile creativity and innovation.

In this case, asking the team to indulge me for a few minutes while I mapped out a simple, structured approach to developing and delivering the envisioned service.  By using simplified version of the TOGAF Architecture Development Method (ADM), and adding a few lines related to standards and service development methodology, such as the vision –> AS-IS –> gap analysis –> solutions development model, it did not take long for the team to reconsider their aggressive approach.

When preparing a chart of timelines using the “TOGAF Light,” or EA framework, the timelines were oddly similar to the aggressive approach.  The main difference being at the end of the EA approach the service not only followed a very logical, disciplined, measurable, governable, and flexible service.

Sounds a bit utopian, but in reality we were able to get to the service delivery with a better product, without sacrificing any innovation, agility, or market urgency.

This is the future of IT.  As we continue to move away from the frenzy of service deliveries of the Internet Age, and begin focusing on the business nature, including role IT plays in critical global infrastructures, the disciplines of following product and service development and delivery will continue to gain importance.

Adopting Critical Thinking in Information Technology

The scenario is a data center, late on a Saturday evening.  A telecom distribution system fails, and operations staff are called in from their weekend to quickly find the problem and restore operations as quickly as possible.

Critical Thinking As time goes on,  many customers begin to call in, open trouble tickets, upset at systems outages and escalating customer disruptions.

The team spends hours trying to fix a rectifier providing DC power to a main telecommunications distribution switch, and start by replacing each systems component one-by-one hoping to find the guilty part.  The team grows very frustrated due to not only fatigue, but also their failure in being able to s0lve the problem.  After many hours the team finally realizes there is no issue with either the telecom switch, or rectifier supplying DC power to the switch.  What could the problem be?

Finally, after many hours of troubleshooting, chasing symptoms, and hit / miss component replacements,  an electrician discovers there is a panel circuit that has failed due to many years of misuse (for those electrical engineers it was actually a circuit that oxidized and shorted due to “over-amping” the circuit – without preventive maintenance or routine checks).

The incident highlighted a reality – the organization working on the problem had very little critical thinking or problem solving skills.  They chased each obvious symptom, but never really addressed or successfully identified the underlying problem.  Great technicians, poor critical thinkers.   And a true story.

While this incident was a data center-related trouble shooting fail, we frequently fail to use good critical thinking in not only trouble shooting, but also developing opportunities and solutions for our business users and customers.

A few years ago I took a break from the job and spent some time working on personal development.  In addition to collecting certifications in TOGAF, ITIL, and other aerchitecture-related subjects I added a couple of additional classes, including Kepner-Tregoe (K-T) and Kepner-Fourie (K-F) Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Courses.

Not bad schools of thought, and a good refresher course reminding me of those long since forgotten systems management skills learned in graduate school – heck, nearly 30 years ago.

Here is the problem: IT systems and business use of technologies have rapidly developed during the past 10 years, and that rate of change appears to be accelerating.  Processes and standards developed 10, 15, or 20 years ago are woefully inadequate to support much of our technology and business-related design, development, and operations.  Tacit knowledge, tacit skills, and gut feelings cannot be relied on to correctly identify and solve problems we encounter in our fast-paced IT world.

Keep in mind, this discussion is not only related to problem solving, but also works just as well when considering new product or solution development for new and emerging business opportunities or challenges.

Critical Thinking forces us to know what a problem (or opportunity) is, know and apply the differences between inductive and deductive reasoning, identify premises and conclusions, good and bad arguments, and acknowledge issue descriptions and explanations (Erlandson).

Critical Thinking “religions” such as Kepner-Fourie (K-F) provide a process and model for solving problems.  Not bad if you have the time to create and follow heavy processes, or even better can automate much of the process.  However even studying extensive system like K-T and K-F will continue to drive the need for establishing an appropriate system for responding to events.

Regardless of the approach you may consider, repeated exposure to critical thinking concepts and practice will force us to  intellectually step away from chasing symptoms or over-reliance on tacit knowledge (automatic thinking) when responding to problems and challenges.

For IT managers, think of it as an intellectual ITIL Continuous Improvement Cycle – we always need to exercise our brains and thought process.  Status quo, or relying on time-honored solutions to problems will probably not be sufficient to bring our IT organizations into the future.  We need to continue ensuring our assumptions are based on facts, and avoid undue influence – in particular by vendors, to ensure our stakeholders have confidence in our problem or solution development process, and we have a good awareness of business and technology transformations impacting our actions.

In addition to those courses and critical thinking approaches listed above, exposure and study of those or any of the following can only help ensure we continue to exercise and hone our critical thinking skills.

  • A3 Management
  • Toyota Kata
  • PDSA (Plan-Do-Adjust-Study)

And lots of other university or related courseware.  For myself, I keep my interest alive by reading an occasional eBook (Such as “How to Think Clearly, A Guide to Critical Thinking” by Doug Erlandson – great to read during long flights), and Youtube videos.

What do you “think?”

Developing a New “Service-Centric IT Value Chain”

imageAs IT professionals we have been overwhelmed with different standards for each component of architecture, service delivery, governance, security, and operations.  Not only does IT need to ensure technical training and certification, but it is also desired to pursue certifications in ITIL, TOGAF, COBIT, PMP, and a variety of other frameworks – at a high cost in both time and money.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have an IT framework or reference architecture which brings all the important components of each standard or recommendation into a single model which focuses on the most important aspect of each existing model?

The Open Group is well-known for publishing TOGAF (The Open Group Architecture Framework), in addition to a variety of other standards and frameworks related to Service-Oriented Architectures (SOA), security, risk, and cloud computing.  In the past few years, recognizing the impact of broadband, cloud computing, SOAs, and need for a holistic enterprise architecture approach to business and IT, publishing many common-sense, but powerful recommendations such as:

  • TOGAF 9.1
  • Open FAIR (Risk Analysis and Assessment)
  • SOCCI (Service-Oriented Cloud Computing Infrastructure)
  • Cloud Computing
  • Open Enterprise Security Architecture
  • Document Interchange Reference Model (for interoperability)
  • and others.

The open Group’s latest project intended to streamline and focus IT systems development is called the “IT4IT” Reference Architecture.  While still in the development, or “snapshot” phase, IT4IT is surprisingly easy to read, understand, and most importantly logical.

“The IT Value Chain and IT4IT Reference Architecture represent the IT service lifecycle in a new and powerful way. They provide the missing link between industry standard best practice guides and the technology framework and tools that power the service management ecosystem. The IT Value Chain and IT4IT Reference Architecture are a new foundation on which to base your IT operating model. Together, they deliver a welcome blueprint for the CIO to accelerate IT’s transition to becoming a service broker to the business.” (Open Group’s IT4IT Reference Architecture, v 1.3)

The IT4IT Reference Architecture acknowledges changes in both technology and business resulting from the incredible impact Internet and automation have had on both enterprise and government use of information and data.  However the document also makes a compelling case that IT systems, theory, and operations have not kept up with either existing IT support technologies, nor the business visions and objectives IT is meant to serve.

IT4IT’s development team is a large, global collaborative effort including vendors, enterprise, telecommunications, academia, and consulting companies.  This helps drive a vendor or technology neutral framework, focusing more on running IT as a business, rather than conforming to a single vendor’s product or service.  Eventually, like all developing standards, IT4IT may force vendors and systems developers to provide a solid model and framework for developing business solutions, which will support greater interoperability and data sharing between both internal and external organizations.

The visions and objectives for IT4IT include two major components, which are the IT Value Chain and IT4IT Reference Architecture.  Within the IT4IT Core are sections providing guidance, including:

  • IT4IT Abstractions and Class Structures
  • The Strategy to Portfolio Value Stream
  • The Requirement to Deploy Value Stream
  • The Request to Fulfill Value Stream
  • The Detect to Correct Value Stream

Each of the above main sections have borrowed from, or further developed ideas and activities from within ITIL, COBIT, and  TOGAF, but have taken a giant leap including cloud computing, SOAs, and enterprise architecture into the product.

As the IT4IT Reference Architecture is completed, and supporting roadmaps developed, the IT4IT concept will no doubt find a large legion of supporters, as many, if not most, businesses and IT professionals find the certification and knowledge path for ITIL, COBIT, TOGAF, and other supporting frameworks either too expensive, or too time consuming (both in training and implementation).

Take a look at IT4IT at the Open Group’s website, and let us know what you think.  Too light?  Not needed?  A great idea or concept?  Let us know.

NexGen Cloud Conference in San Diego – Missing the Point

The NexGen Cloud Computing Conference kicked off on Thursday in San Diego with a fair amount of hype and a lot of sales people.  Granted the intent of the conference is for cloud computing vendors to find and NexGen Cloud Conference develop either sales channels, or business development opportunities within the market.

As an engineer, the conference will probably result in a fair amount of frustration, but will at least provide a level of awareness in how an organization’s sales, marketing, and business teams are approaching their vision of a cloud computing product or service delivery.

However, one presentation stood out.  Terry Hedden, from Marketopia, made some very good points.  His presentation was entitled “How to Build a Successful Cloud Practice.”  While the actual presentation is not so important, he made several points, which I’ll refer to as “Heddonisms,” which struck me as important enough, or amusing enough, to record.

Some of the following “Heddonisms” were paraphrased either due to my misunderstanding of his point, or because I thought the point was so profound it needed a bit of additional highlight.

Heddonisms for the Cloud Age:

  • Entire software companies are transitioning to SaaS development.  Lose the idea of licensed software – think of subscription software.
  • Integrators and consultants have a really good future – prepare yourself.
  • The younger generation does not attend tech conferences.  Only old people who think they can sell things, get new jobs, or are trying to put some knowledge to the junk they are selling (the last couple of points are mine).
  • Companies selling hosted SaaS products and services are going to kill those who still hang out at the premise.
  • If you do not introduce cloud services to your customers. your competitor will introduce cloud to your customers.
  • If you are not aspiring to be a leader in cloud, you are not relevant.
  • There is little reason to go into the IaaS business yourself.  Let the big guys build infrastructure – you can make higher margins selling their stuff.  In general, IaaS companies are really bad sales organizations (also mine…).
  • Budgets for security at companies like Microsoft are much higher than for smaller companies.  Thus, it is likely Microsoft’s ability to design, deploy, monitor, and manage secure infrastructure is much higher than the average organization.
  • Selling cloud is easy – you are able to relieve your customers of most up front costs (like buying hardware, constructing data centers, etc.).
  • If you simply direct your customer to Microsoft or Google’s website for a solution, then you are adding no value to our customer.
  • If you hear the word “APP” come up in a conversation, just turn around and run away.
  • If you assist a company in a large SaaS implementation (successfully), they will likely be your customer for life.
  • Don’t do free work or consulting – never (this really hurt me to hear – guilty as charged…).
  • Customers have one concern, and one concern only – Peace of Mind.  Make their pains go away, and you will be successful.  Don’t give them more problems.
  • Customers don’t care what is behind the curtain (such as what kind of computers or routers you are using).  They only care about you taking the pain of stuff that doesn’t make them money away from their lives.
  • Don’t try to sell to IT guys and engineers.  Never.  Never. Never.
  • The best time to work with a company is when they are planning for their technology refresh cycles.

Heddon was great.  While he may have a bit of contempt for engineers (I have thick skin, I can live with the wounds), he provided a very logical and realistic view of how to approach selling and deploying cloud computing.

Now about missing the point.  Perhaps the biggest shortfall of the conference, in my opinion, is that most presentations and even vendor efforts solved only single silos of issues.  Nobody provided an integrated viewpoint of how cloud computing is actually just one tool an organization can use within a larger, planned, architecture.

No doubt I have become bigoted myself after several years of plodding through TOGAF, ITIL, COBIT, Risk Assessments, and many other formal IT-supporting frameworks.  Maybe a career in the military forced me into systems thinking and structured problem solving.  Maybe I lack a higher level of innovative thinking or creativity – but I crave a structured, holistic approach to IT.

Sadly, I got no joy at the NexGen Cloud Computing Conference.  But, I would have driven from LA to San Diego just for Heddon’s presentation and training session – that made the cost of conference and time a valuable investment.

It is Time to Get Serious about Architecting ICT

Just finished another ICT-related technical assistance visit with a developing country government. Even in mid-2014, I spend a large amount of time teaching basic principles of enterprise architecture, and the need for adding form and structure to ICT strategies.

Service-oriented architectures (SOA) have been around for quite a long time, with some references going back to the 1980s. ITIL, COBIT, TOGAF, and other ICT standards or recommendations have been around for quite a long time as well, with training and certifications part of nearly every professional development program.

So why is the idea of architecting ICT infrastructure still an abstract to so many in government and even private industry? It cannot be the lack of training opportunities, or publicly available reference materials. It cannot be the lack of technology, or the lack of consultants readily willing to assist in deploying EA, SOA, or interoperability within any organization or industry cluster.

During the past two years we have run several Interoperability Readiness Assessments within governments. The assessment initially takes the form of a survey, and is distributed to a sample of 100 or more participants, with positions ranging from administrative task-based workers, to Cxx or senior leaders within ministries and government agencies.

Questions range from basic ICT knowledge to data sharing, security, and decision support systems.

While the idea of information silos is well-documented and understood, it is still quite surprising to see “siloed” attitudes are still prevalent in modern organizations.  Take the following question:

Question on Information Sharing

This question did not refer to sharing data outside of the government, but rather within the government.  It indicates a high lack of trust when interacting with other government agencies, which will of course prevent any chance of developing a SOA or facilitating information sharing among other agencies.  The end result is a lower level of both integrity and value in national decision support capability.

The Impact of Technology and Standardization

Most governments are considering or implementing data center consolidation initiatives.  There are several good reasons for this, including:

  • Cost of real estate, power, staffing, maintenance, and support systems
  • Transition from CAPEX-based ICT infrastructure to OPEX-based
  • Potential for virtualization of server and storage resources
  • Standardized cloud computing resources

While all those justifications for data center consolidation are valid, the value potentially pales in comparison of the potential of more intelligent use of data across organizations, and even externally to outside agencies.  To get to this point, one senior government official stated:

“Government staff are not necessarily the most technically proficient.  This results in reliance on vendors for support, thought leadership, and in some cases contractual commitments.  Formal project management training and certification are typically not part of the capacity building of government employees.

Scientific approaches to project management, especially ones that lend themselves to institutionalization and adoption across different agencies will ensure a more time-bound and intelligent implementation of projects. Subsequently, overall knowledge and technical capabilities are low in government departments and agencies, and when employees do gain technical proficiency they will leave to join private industry.”

There is also an issue with a variety of international organizations going into developing countries or developing economies, and offering no or low cost single-use ICT infrastructure, such as for health-related agencies, which are not compatible with any other government owned or operated applications or data sets.

And of course the more this occurs, the more difficult it is for government organizations to enable interoperability or data sharing, and thus the idea of an architecture or data sharing become either impossible or extremely difficult to implement or accomplish.

The Road to EA, SOAs, and Decision Support

There are several actions to take on the road to meeting our ICT objectives.

  1. Include EA, service delivery (ITIL), governance (COBIT), and SOA training in all university and professional ICT education programs.  It is not all about writing code or configuring switches, we need to ensure a holistic understanding of ICT value in all ICT education, producing a higher level of qualified graduates entering the work force.
  2. Ensure government and private organizations develop or adopt standards or regulations which drive enterprise architecture, information exchange models, and SOAs as a basic requirement of ICT planning and operations.
  3. Ensure executive awareness and support, preferably through a formal position such as the Chief Information Officer (CIO).  Principles developed and published via the CIO must be adopted and governed by all organizations,
    Nobody expects large organizations, in particular government organizations, to change their cultures of information independence overnight.  This is a long term evolution as the world continues to better understand the value and extent of value within existing data sets, and begin creating new categories of data.  Big data, data analytics, and exploitation of both structured and unstructured data will empower those who are prepared, and leave those who are not prepared far behind.
    For a government, not having the ability to access, identify, share, analyze, and address data created across agencies will inhibit effective decision support, with potential impact on disaster response, security, economic growth, and overall national quality of life.
    If there is a call to action in this message, it is for governments to take a close look at how their national ICT policies, strategies, human capacity, and operations are meeting national objectives.  Prioritizing use of EA and supporting frameworks or standards will provide better guidance across government, and all steps taken within the framework will add value to the overall ICT capability.

Pacific-Tier Communications LLC provides consulting to governments and commercial organizations on topics related to data center consolidation, enterprise architecture, risk management, and cloud computing.

ICT Training and Requirements Survey

Pacific-Tier Communications LLC is preparing our ICT courseware development plan for 2015.  We would be very grateful if you took a minute and filled out the following linked survey.

We are not collecting any personal or location information – just interested in what your organization would find useful for professional ICT training and courseware.

Thanks for your support!

If you have any questions, please send us a note at info@pacific-tier.com

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