How To Re-engineer Your IT Silos

Kevin Gruneisen

How To Re-engineer Your IT Silos To Release The Teamwork Within

The technology exists today to implement a fully converged infrastructure that integrates servers, storage, networks and management into a single, flexible, and adaptable IT environment. Among its other benefits, a functional converged infrastructure is the gateway to all the advantages of cloud computing. When it comes to realizing the full potential of a converged infrastructure environment, however, technology may be the easy part. Probably the single biggest barrier to realizing a converged infrastructure is political. Before you can effectively change the technology, you have to change the culture of the typical IT department.

Traditionally, IT departments are divided into different groups or silos depending on the specific technology they are responsible for. There’s a server group, a storage group, a network group, an applications group. Separated from each other by specialty, there is often very little interaction between members of the different silos. Each silo makes decisions independently and often competes with each other for budget.

In many ways, the silos in IT departments are configured like the conventional component-based IT infrastructure that they have supported. As their respective technology focus has become more complex and specialized, they have become more vertically oriented. IT departments have worked that way for years, and there is a definite tendency to want to keep working that way.

Fear of Change

The advantages of a converged infrastructure are very compelling on a broad technological and financial level. When you get down to the people involved, however, it can get more nuanced. Questions of job security and anxiety about future downsizing can cause technologists to feel threatened by their own technology. Fear of change, may well explain some of the resistance to converged infrastructure and cloud computing within IT departments, even though these advances in technology hold the promise of making their jobs easier…and more interesting.

The existing silo-culture reflects the mindset that every application requires its own dedicated environment: server, network interface, storage device, etc. As a result, when some business user comes in asking for a new application, each department head in IT has to spend hours figuring out the current optimal hardware (which may be different than what was specified six months ago), order it, get it in, stand it up, test it, and move it into production.

With a converged infrastructure, there is a shared-use model where resources are available by going to a portal and requesting them. Intelligence built into the IT fabric takes care of the provisioning and deployment of the appropriate resources according to the rules and best practices established by the IT department. Now instead of spending all his or her time assembling the technology piece by piece, the technologist can focus on the more creative task of enhancing what the business user actually wants to accomplish.

This capability doesn’t happen over night. Implementing a converged infrastructure is a long term project. The best way to get your server and storage people collaborating with your networking people is to get them participating directly in the process of defining what it will take to make the culture reflect the horizontal orientation of a converged infrastructure IT environment.

It is also important that the technical specialists in your department understand that a converged infrastructure doesn’t make their knowledge irrelevant, or diminish their value to the organization in any way. Virtualization abstracts the physical hardware and software in separate layers, but you still have to have the people who know how each layer interacts with the one above it.

Cultural Challenges

In our experience, the organizations that are successful in implementing converged infrastructure environments address both the technology and the cultural challenges that this new model represents. Typically, the decision to implement converged infrastructure and advance toward cloud computing comes from the top down. The CEO wants the increased performance, flexibility and resilience. The CFO wants the pay-for-what-you-need efficiencies of the shared-resource model. And the CIO realizes he or she can’t get to the kind of intelligent, dynamic, self-regulating IT environment that will be required in the future with the component-based data center architectures of the past.

The better CIOs also realize that, just as they can’t toss out all their old technology and get new stuff, they can’t just tear down the silos that have existed in their department and expect spontaneous team spirit and high fives around the IT department. The transition to converged infrastructures, and the development of an ITIL-based IT system management (ITSM) strategy, automation, orchestration that lead to cloud computing means a dramatic change for the IT department itself.

A good way to get your technologists to embrace the shared-use mindset is to engage them directly in strategy meetings to re-organize themselves in a way that reflects the convergence of the underlying technologies. Most will appreciate being given the opportunity to drive change as opposed to being run over by it. The decision to commit to converged infrastructure may come from the top, but it needs the buy-in of the people who are going to implement and support it, if it is to succeed.

Opportunity for Innovation

The process of working together to implement a new shared-resource architecture can actually contribute to a more inclusive and cohesive sense of team spirit as new working relationships develop across the technology specialties that once defined—and separated–departmental silos. In fact, the greatest opportunity for game changing innovation today exists around the edges of the technological specialties that once divided your IT team into competing fiefdoms.

As advanced as it is, technology still can’t think. Designing solutions, implementing them, managing and supporting them is still essentially a task for people. Fortunately, the activity of developing and carrying out a converged infrastructure strategy as a precursor to cloud computing can be an ideal exercise in building team familiarity. Many studies have shown that people who have collaborated before work better together than people who have not.

The latest generation of ITIL best practices is available to guide you in the development of an effective IT System Management Strategy that contains the intelligence your IT environment needs to run smoothly. But every IT environment for every organization is unique. The intelligence to empower your IT environment to live up to its full potential still has to come from your IT team.

For my next column, I’ve asked our ITSM expert Mike Alley to sit in for me and talk about how—and why–to develop a service catalog and put in place the ITIL processes that will allow you to progress with confidence along the IT Transformation Journey.

By Kevin Gruneisen

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