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.

Business Drives Transition to IT as a Utility

Is there a point where business can safely assume they have hit the limit of what traditional IT organizations have to offer?  In an Internet and data driven world, does IT simply lack the agility and depth needed to fulfill business requirements and need for innovation?

Parts of cloud computing have chimed a loud and painful wake up call for many IT managers.  Even at the most simple level, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), it might be fair to say this is simply a utility to accelerate data center imagedecommissioning, and the process of physically decoupling underlying compute, storage, and network infrastructure from the business.

Due to a lack of PaaS and SaaS interface and building block standards, we still have a long ways to go before we can effectively call either utilities, or truly serve the needs of interoperability and systems integration.

Of course this idea is not new.  Negroponte kicked off the idea in his great view of the future in the “Big Switch,” with a lot of great analogies about compute, network, and storage capacity as a modern day adaptation of the electrical grid.

We like to look at the analogy of roads (won’t look at water today, but the analogy still applies).  Roads are built using standards.  In the US the Department of Transportation establishes the need, and construction standards for Interstate Highways, and US highways.  The states establish standards and requirements for state roads, and county / local governments establish standards for everything else.

The roads are standard.  We know what to expect when driving on an Interstate Highway.  Whether it be bridge height, lane sizing, on / off ramps, or even rest stops – it is hard to be surprised when driving the Interstate Highway system.

However the highway system does not unnecessarily inhibit development of vehicles which use the highways – there are hundreds of different makes, models, and sizes of vehicles on the road, and all use the same basic infrastructure.

Getting back to cloud computing, to make our IaaS a true utility, we need to ensure interoperability and portability within the IaaS underlying technologies, and allow for true on-demand portability of the physical infrastructure, management systems, provisioning systems, and billing systems.  Just like with the electrical grid.  And standards much like the highway system, with the flexibility to support predictable, innovative ideas.

Once we have removed the burden of underlying physical IT infrastructure from our planning model, we can focus our energy on higher levels of utility, including PaaS and SaaS.

Enterprise Architecture frameworks, such as TOGAF, promote the use of Architecture Building Blocks (ABB) and Solution Building Blocks (SBB).  Where ABBs may define global, industry, and local standards, SBBs provide definition for solutions which are specific to a project, and do not normally have either standards or other reusable components to draw from.  However, development of SBBs should still acknowledge and have a design which will support either an existing  standard, or broader development of new standard interfaces in the future.

This includes the most important component of open, standard, and reusable interfaces (APIs) which support service-orientation, interoperability, and portability of data.  Which may also be considered characteristics of the future PaaS and SaaS utilities.  Or in more simple terms, edging closer to the death of proprietary data or physical interfaces and functionality.

Now a reminder – at this level we are still striving to create utilities which will ultimately reduce or eliminate our need for specialized IT.  Yes, there are exceptions where specific equipment interfaces are unique to a technology, such as rock crushers in the mining industry.  However, for example, we are still able to conduct agile business on a global scale with all our customers, competitors, suppliers, and vendors all using compatible email.

That is the objective, to make the underlying infrastructure, including much of PaaS and SaaS, standard, and serve he needs of business innovation, without the danger of being inhibited by proprietary and non-standard or compatible interfaces.

Build a business on innovative ideas, create competitive or unique selling points and products, focus energy on developing those innovations, and relieve yourselves of the burden resulting from carrying excessive and unproductive IT infrastructure below the business.

And then IT is a utility

Now that We Have Adopted IaaS…

Providing guidance or consulting to organizations on cloud computing topics can be really easy, or really tough.  In the past most of the initial engagement was dedicated to training and building awareness with your customer.  The next step was finding a high value, low risk application or service that could be moved to Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) to solve an immediate problem, normally associated with disaster recovery or data backups.

Service Buss and DSS As the years have continued, dynamics changed.  On one hand, IT professionals and CIOs began to establish better knowledge of what virtualization, cloud computing, and outsourcing could do for their organization.  CFOs became aware of the financial potential of virtualization and cloud computing, and a healthy dialog between IT, operations, business units, and the CFO.

The “Internet Age” has also driven global competition down to the local level, forcing nearly all organizations to respond more rapidly to business opportunities.  If a business unit cannot rapidly respond to the opportunity, which may require product and service development, the opportunity can be lost far more quickly than in the past.

In the old days, procurement of IT resources could require a fairly lengthy cycle.  In the Internet Age, if an IT procurement cycle takes > 6 months, there is probably little chance to effectively meet the greatly shortened development cycle competitors in other continents – or across the street may be able to fulfill.

With IaaS the procurement cycle of IT resources can be within minutes, allowing business units to spend far more time developing products, services, and solutions, rather than dealing with the frustration of being powerless to respond to short window opportunities.  This is of course addressing the essential cloud characteristics of Rapid Elasticity and On-Demand Self-Service.

In addition to on-demand and elastic resources, IaaS has offered nearly all organizations the option of moving IT resources into either public or private cloud infrastructure.  This has the benefit of allowing data center decommissioning, and re-commissioning into a virtual environment.  The cost of operating data centers, maintaining data centers and IT equipment, and staffing data centers vs. outsourcing that infrastructure into a cloud is very interesting to CFOs, and a major justification for replacing physical data centers with virtual data centers.

The second dynamic, in addition to greater professional knowledge and awareness of cloud computing, is the fact we are starting to recruit cloud-aware employees graduating from universities and making their first steps into careers and workforce.  With these “cloud savvy” young people comes deep experience with interoperable data, social media, big data, data analytics, and an intellectual separation between access devices and underlying IT infrastructure.

The Next Step in Cloud Evolution

OK, so we all are generally aware of the components of IaaS, Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS).  Let’s have a quick review of some standout features supported or enabled by cloud:

  • Increased standardization of applications
  • Increased standardization of data bases
  • Federation of security systems (Authentication and Authorization)
  • Service busses
  • Development of other common applications (GIS, collaboration, etc.)
  • Transparency of underlying hardware

Now let’s consider the need for better, real-time, accurate decision support systems (DSS).  Within any organization the value of a DSS is dependent on data integrity, data access (open data within/without an organization), and single-source data.

Frameworks for developing an effective DSS are certainly available, whether it is TOGAF, the US Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework (FEAF), interoperability frameworks, and service-oriented architectures (SOA).  All are fully compatible with the tools made available within the basic cloud service delivery models (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS).

The Open Group (same organization which developed TOGAF) has responded with their model of a Cloud Computing Service Oriented Infrastructure (SOCCI) Framework.  The SOCCI is identified as the marriage of a Service-Oriented Infrastructure and cloud computing.  The SOCCI also incorporates aspects of TOGAF into the framework, which may drive more credibility into a SOCCI architectural development process.

The expected result of this effort is for existing organizations dealing with departmental “silos” of IT infrastructure, data, and applications, a level of interoperability and DSS development based on service-orientation, using a well-designed underlying cloud infrastructure.  This data sharing can be extended beyond the (virtual) firewall to others in an organization’s trading or governmental community, resulting in  DSS which will become closer and closer to an architecture vision based on the true value of data produced, or made available to an organization.

While we most certainly need IaaS, and the value of moving to virtual data centers is justified by itself, we will not truly benefit from the potential of cloud computing until we understand the potential of data produced and available to decision makers.

The opportunity will need a broad spectrum of contributors and participants with awareness and training in disciplines ranging from technical capabilities, to enterprise architecture, to service delivery, and governance acceptable to a cloud-enabled IT world.

For those who are eagerly consuming training and knowledge in the above skills and knowledge, the future is anything but cloudy.  For those who believe in status quo, let’s hope you are close to pension and retirement, as this is your future.

Why IT Guys Need to Learn TOGAF

ByeBye-Telephones You are No Longer RequiredJust finished another frustrating day of consulting with an organization that is convinced technology is going to solve their problems.  Have an opportunity?  Throw money and computers at the opportunity.  Have a technology answer to your process problems?  Really?.

The business world is changing.  With cloud computing potentially eliminating the need for some current IT roles, such as physical server huggers…, information technology professionals, or more appropriately information and communications technology (ICT) professionals, need to rethink their roles within organizations.

Is it acceptable to simply be a technology specialist, or do ICT professionals also need to be an inherent part of the business process?  Yes, a rhetorical question, and any negative answer is wrong.  ICT professionals are rapidly being relieved of the burden of data centers, servers (physical servers), and a need to focus on ensuring local copies of MS Office are correctly installed, configured, and have the latest service packs or security patches installed.

You can fight the idea, argue the concept, but in reality cloud computing is here to stay, and will only become more important in both the business and financial planning of future organizations.

Now those copies of MS Office are hosted on MS 365 or Google Docs, and your business users are telling you either quickly meet their needs or they will simply bypass the IT organization and use an external or hosted Software as a Service (SaaS) application – in spite of your existing mature organization and policies.

So what is this TOGAF stuff?  Why do we care?

Well…

As it should be, ICT is firmly being set in the organization as a tool to meet business objectives.  We no longer have to consider the limitations or “needs” of IT when developing business strategies and opportunities.  SaaS and Platform as a Service (PaaS) tools are becoming mature, plentiful, and powerful.

Argue the point, fight the concept, but if an organization isn’t at least considering a requirement for data and systems interoperability, the use of large data sets, and implementation of a service-oriented architecture (SOA) they will not be competitive or effective in the next generation of business.

TOGAF, which is “The Open Group Architecture Framework,” brings structure to development of ICT as a tool for meeting business requirements.   TOGAF is a tool which will force each stakeholder, including senior management and business unit management, to work with ICT professionals to apply technology in a structured framework that follows the basic:

  • Develop a business vision
  • Determine your “AS-IS” environment
  • Determine your target environment
  • Perform a gap analysis
  • Develop solutions to meet the business requirements and vision, and fill the “gaps” between “AS-IS” and “Target”
  • Implement
  • Measure
  • Improve
  • Re-iterate
    Of course TOGAF is a complex architecture framework, with a lot more stuff involved than the above bullets.  However, the point is ICT must now participate in the business planning process – and really become part of the business, rather than a vendor to the business.
    As a life-long ICT professional, it is easy for me to fall into indulging in tech things.  I enjoy networking, enjoy new gadgets, and enjoy anything related to new technology.  But it was not until about 10 years ago when I started taking a formal, structured approach to understanding enterprise architecture and fully appreciating the value of service-oriented architectures that I felt as if my efforts were really contributing to the success of an organization.
    TOGAF was one course of study that really benefitted my understanding of the value and role IT plays in companies and government organizations.  TOGAF provide both a process, and structure to business planning.
    You may have a few committed DevOps evangelists who disagree with the structure of TOGAF, but in reality once the “guardrails” are in place even DevOps can be fit into the process.  TOGAF, and other frameworks are not intended to stifle innovation – just encourage that innovation to meet the goals of an organization, not the goals of the innovators.
    While just one of several candidate enterprise architecture frameworks (including the US Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework/FEAF, Dept. of Defense Architecture Framework /DoDAF), TOGAF is now universally accepted, and accompanying certifications are well understood within government and enterprise.

What’s an IT Guy to Do?

    Now we can send the “iterative” process back to the ICT guy’s viewpoint.  Much like telecom engineers who operated DMS 250s, 300s, and 500s, the existing IT and ICT professional corps will need to accept the reality they will either need to accept the concept of cloud computing, or hope they are close to retirement.  Who needs a DMS250 engineer in a world of soft switches?  Who needs a server manager in a world of Infrastructure as a Service?  Unless of course you work as an infrastructure technician at a cloud service provider…
    Ditto for those who specialize in maintaining copies of MS Office and a local MS Exchange server.  Sadly, your time is limited, and quickly running out.  Either become a cloud computing expert, in some field within cloud computing’s broad umbrella of components, or plan to be part of the business process.  To be effective as a member of the organization’s business team, you will need skills beyond IT – you will need to understand how ICT is used to meet business needs, and the impact of a rapidly evolving toolkit offered by all strata of the cloud stack.

Even better, become a leader in the business process.  If you can navigate your way through a TOGAF course and certification, you will acquire a much deeper appreciation for how ICT tools and resources could, and likely should, be planned and employed within an organization to contribute to the success of any individual project, or the re-engineering of ICTs within the entire organization.


John Savageau is TOGAF 9.1 Certified

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