IT Transformation

The Mythos of IT Transformations

By Sheppard Narkier December 10, 2015

Why the Mythos?

IT transformation is a very hot topic this year. It spans everything from the acceleration towards Cloud Native Apps, to improving your internal processes with the fluid integration of development and operations, and of course the big push to make everything cloud enabled.

But despite all the advances that make these new capabilities possible, much of the IT and business world is struggling to make these IT transformations feasible, especially as they are confronted with current fixes such as bi-modal IT.

This blog is about the realities of inertia that impede progress in many complex or large organizations when it comes to IT transformations. I have looked at some of the obstacles that inhibit progress which paint a different reality, hence the difference between what is desired and the fundamental work required in achieving the following outcome:

Empower IT to become a strategic enabler of the business and contribute to market relevant moves that are instrumental to the business’s strategic vitality.


Meet the Players of IT Transformation

The key stakeholders in this IT transformation drama can be characterized according to the icons of Greek Mythology.

  • TantalusThe Business Executive who is thirsting for nimbleness, costs aligned with growth, the ability to have the right business strategy enacted by IT. The reality for most business executives is that much like Tantalus, they are chained to a rock while dying of endless thirst. No matter what they try to achieve, they get bogged down in fits and starts. They see some business units buy public cloud via credit cards, make some progress for a year and get locked down unable to move to a new vendor when their requirements change. They see one tactic after another tried only to watch as technical debt and chaos remain. All answers seem to take one extreme or the other, cut costs or increase agility, but where is the middle ground?
  • Sisyphus The CIO who is reacting to one fad or mission critical initiative after another. Rolling a new rock up the hill every quarter only to watch it roll down again. If the rock stays in place, will the next rock mesh with the one on the hill? This is the role of the order taker, “roll the rock, just make sure it’s big enough so it can be measured, but not too big that it can’t be rolled there by the end of the quarter.” The CIO is compelled to take the next order, while reacting to a burgeoning shadow IT movement that is almost completely under the radar until a glaring error is found that must be fixed OR a huge success happens. The latter is not always sustainable, but Tantalus is not always focused on the long term effect. The CIO is too often moving the next rock, but the CIO doesn’t often get to answer the questions about how the rocks fit together or what is being built.
  • HeraclesIT practitioners – The technical staff see their lives as the constant reenactment of the 12 labors of Heracles. One quarter it’s the Augean stables, the next it is slaying the Hydra, whose heads regrow after they are cut off. These labors are complex, involving changes in technology, process and skills, and often have unexpected consequences as they are changed. As changes of direction occur it can be frustrating, especially if it means loss of control, hence the tendency to become shadow IT. There is also the fear that supporting these initiatives could mean the loss of employment.

What the Stakeholders Face

Most IT transformations are initiated from a deep urgency, such as reduction of Capital or Operating Expenditures (CapEx) or (OpEx). A more common theme is the need for agility.  I deconstructed agility in a previous blog.

The executive leadership of most complex companies deal with these competing needs on a regular basis across their entire Business Value Chain. Often logistics, and an all market facing activities need an exponential increase in agility, but cost is never out of the equation and the history of change in these last 20 years since the internet has left a massive “wasteland of technical debt.” So our brave PS practitioners are constantly walking the line at these large clients where the pressures of moving to cloud native apps are being inhibited by legacy concerns that profoundly hurt the business’s ability to compete.

IT Transformations: The Hope Behind the Myth

Many of my colleagues have been writing blogs about IT Transformations that are both insightful and realistic. They mention lessons learned in large transformations, how to approach the tough questions of what should be invested in, and perhaps most important of late, how IT needs to view its operating models.

They show how taking the right approach to looking at these complex interdependent moves. Recognizing that complexity is the where the gap between success and failure lies. That difference gap can only be bridged by multi-faceted decision making: Taking in several seemingly divergent or disassociated knowledge sets and making intelligent decisions that affect multiple stakeholders.

This is neither easy nor comfortable; think of Tantalus; and in many cases the expedient road is taken (e.g. lift and shift to an outsourcer) because the root of most inertia is analysis paralysis, (i.e. not feeling comfortable enough with facts at hand). EMC has been addressing that head on with some unique services which my colleagues allude to in the above mentioned blogs. We are about to revolutionize that ability to make complex decisions, but first some perspective is in order.

Changing the Mythos

  • Picking the right investments. Not all applications are worth fixing or moving to the cloud, yet this decision making can get ugly really quick if objective Business and IT reasoning is not used.
  • Technology is not the silver bullet. It never has been, but it can be an enabler. Most technology that is impactful in an enterprise requires process support and skill upgrades. Capability improvement is a process in itself.
  • Capabilities. These need to be built to be successful and the organization benefits greatly if they are committed to building a sustainable capability improvement.
  • Moving from Pilot. With the proliferation of new technology, it is wise to consider pilots as long as it is understood that a pilot is not a scalable model for a large complex enterprise. Sustainable change can be started by one seed project, but most organizations must embrace the fact the one project will not suffice, even if it is a successful example. Change Agency has to be a fact of life to break the repeat of the IT transformation Mythos.

Enter Prometheus

EMC Professional Services can act as Prometheus for large organizations, without sharing his ultimate fate. There many reasons for this, including laser focus on client concerns. EMC PS is also armed with an IT decision support system that has been rebranded as Prometheus, using Adaptivity’s core knowledge and decision engine.

  • Adaptivity is designed to create Sustainable Relevance for IT decision making by delivering workload-driven analytics that merges top-down and bottoms-up IT portfolio data across multiple dimensions of IT knowledge.
  • This platform enables experts to add knowledge and create new analytic processes that are repeatable and traceable in order to render decisions based upon facts and observed behaviors/patterns.
  • This empowers IT to become astrategic enabler of the business and contribute to market relevant moves that are instrumental to the business’s strategic vitality.

The Journey and the Premise

As a cofounder and former Chief Scientist of Adaptivity, I co-authored a book on the approach to IT transformations. Many of the founding principles that we used to formulate the decision support platform can be found in this book. If you decide to buy it, I would love to hear your feedback.

About Sheppard Narkier

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