IT can no longer live in the past, according to research firm Gartner, which says infrastructure and operations professionals should begin the process of overhauling outdated IT processes and technologies to help enable their organisations to become the agile service providers businesses demand today.
"IT modernisation is the escape route from the accidental architecture of 20th century IT," said Gartner Fellow Andy Kyte during the kick-off keynote presentation at Gartner's recent IT Infrastructure, Operations and Management Summit 2008.
"Every company is dealing with the history of IT," said Kyte. "Some fundamental change is needed. I don't think we can carry on the bad habits and siloed decisions of the past. I'm looking for infrastructure and operations to begin the process of transforming IT."
Kyte explained that if IT is waiting on the business to share its long-term plans, it will be waiting for some time. He said IT needs to initiate the change that ultimately will help the organisation better align with business needs and provide the agility and support businesses require during times when long-term planning isn't always possible.
This fundamental change begins with how IT acquires and maintains technology, Kyte explained. Until now companies measured success of an IT purchase on return on investment, or ROI; Kyte contended that IT should now value its investments based on a different metric: return on assets. ROA would enable IT departments to measure success based on the return it gains from assets already deployed in the infrastructure and help IT better plan for future assets going forward.
"We still have IT organisations obsessed with acquiring new stuff. We need to get obsessed putting well-defined business processes in place to make us better at managing what we've already got," Kyte said. "We see people putting money into products and solutions that are clearly dying. Instead of investing in them, they should be investing in migrating off of them."
Yet moving from ROI to ROA would require IT shops to reinstitute a strategic planning officer who does more than allocate funds tactically, but rather devises short- and long-term goals for IT assets and organisations. Instead of viewing some IT investments as short-term fixes, Kyte said, IT needs to see the cost and time investment that is truly associated with every IT purchase.
"Every time you acquire an IT asset, you're making a long-term commitment to living with this thing and managing it," he said.
Shifting the mindset from technology being something IT buys as a band-aid or to address an immediate need into something IT invests in because it aligns with long-term plans will be a challenge. It would mean truly evolving from a tactical, fire-fighting approach for IT to a more strategic state of operations, Kyte said.
"If fire-fighting is the norm, you will probably find the organisation has quite a few arsonists. The hero culture needs to change," Kyte said. "IT strategy seems to be almost a dirty word. You can't plan for a highly persistent asset in 12 to 18 month chunks. That's daft."
A transformation starting with IT infrastructure and operations management would ultimately have to land in the hands of the CIO, Kyte said. While the teams that manage the life cycle of assets are a good place to start, implementing an enterprise-wide governance strategy is better suited for a CIO.
"CIOs need to start addressing this problem, but they won't as long as people are still fighting turf wars," Kyte said. "CIOs need to recognise they are responsible for the asset base, and they need to make those assets sweat."