The goal of IT transformation is to move IT from one state to another — from reactive and inflexible to proactive, agile and fundamentally aligned to the changing demands of the business. Increasingly, senior leadership expects the CIO to lead this transition.
According to Deloitte’s 2016-2017 global CIO survey, the top expectations that the business has of CIOs are improving processes, reducing costs and driving efficiencies.
But what’s the driving motivation behind IT Transformation?
For many CIOs and CTOs, the status quo is simply no longer sustainable. The enterprise might be mired in spiraling costs, security vulnerabilities, incompatible technologies, or maybe IT processes are archaic and overwrought. If internal or external stakeholders have voiced their dissatisfaction, then a mandate from the CEO to “innovate or perish” is probably inevitable.
So, the motivation is palpable. But what’s the first step? And how do you know when transformation has had an impact?
While transformation is an evolving process, we believe you have to break it down into knowable, actionable steps. At Rackspace, we favor a framework with these steps: Plan, Assess, Design, Migrate, Manage, Optimize.
This framework can be used to push through one application bundle at a time and repeated as needed in Agile development, or used to work across a broader, end-to-end process in a more traditional “waterfall” development process.
Like any other journey, you must plan your trip. The primary goal in the planning phase of IT transformation is to align IT with the business. Look closely at where IT can add strategic value. Which workloads and applications should be overhauled? Which can be outsourced? Get agreement and buy-in from the business on where to focus first. Most of this phase is centered on business strategy, desired outcomes, needs and goals.
Making the business more efficient is always easier said than done, but CIOs understand it’s their job to get it done one way or the other. When asked by Deloitte which capabilities were most important for their success, an overwhelming majority of CIOs (nearly 75 percent) said, “aligning IT activities to business strategy and performance goals.”
In the real world, we often see enterprises come to us with plans already in the works or somewhat solidified. They may have even identified the key technology platforms that will help them get to a future, optimized state. Often there’s a tailwind behind them — the business, for one reason or another, has determined that the existing service levels within IT are not adequate to meet current and future business requirements.
Successful IT transformation requires careful assessment at the outset. Start by inventorying and evaluating all areas of IT, including workloads, applications, workflows, systems and data centers. Look at utilization rates to see which resources are strained, and which are under used. Take a close look at operational costs. Are energy costs killing your budget? Are administrative costs associated with management and maintenance out of line with industry norms?
This is also the ideal time to address shadow IT systems and solutions. Ask yourself, and your stakeholders, if there are solutions that offer easier management and better integration with the rest of your systems.
Looking ahead, are your development teams or business units clamoring for self-service infrastructure capabilities? Will you need to support emerging use cases such as Internet of Things, machine learning and big data initiatives? Will you need to support massive growth due to a product launch or acquisition? Knowing what you think you’ll need down the road will help you stay on track as you enter the design phase of IT transformation.
In the real world, it’s not uncommon for enterprises not to have a full and comprehensive understanding of their own environments, perhaps the result of highly complex or fragmented systems that have evolved over the years. But without understanding all of the complex interdependencies between data and applications, any assessment will be hampered by the potential for migration snags and obstacles. It’s essential during the assessment phase to identify all the applications that are candidates for replacing, re-hosting, refactoring and rewriting. These decisions will, in turn, affect the design phase.
Now that you’ve assessed where you are, it’s time to design your approach to application, workflow and process transformation. Start by building your vision of the ideal IT department for your organization. What do you want to see long-term? What would be best for IT and the business?
Take a close look at each piece of the business that will be impacted, and identify the decision makers attached to those pieces. These are your stakeholders, and they will expect you to evangelize your vision at the outset, while remaining open to their input and respectful of their needs. Engage them early and work to build consensus on how IT can contribute to the overall business strategy.
Next, you’ll need to build a sustainable business plan. Identify specific, actionable IT transformation projects. Establish a budget and a timeline for each project. It may be most realistic to start small and work toward larger projects by laying the groundwork for them along the way. Once you have a written plan, share it with your stakeholders, keep the lines of communication open and establish regular update intervals.
Many IT departments face a tangled web of security, hardware and network inter-dependencies. You’ll need to identify and solve for these dependencies before you’re mid-stream on a project. Now is a good time to enlist some outside help if you aren’t confident in your internal capabilities. Compile a list of potential service partners, and look at each with a critical eye. Request and compare proposals from a handful of potential partners. Results matter: measurable TCO and ROI should be baked into any design plans.
The migration phase of IT transformation is where the rubber meets the road. All the planning, assessment and design work that’s taken place in previous phases is preparation for this moment. Migration comes with complexity, so preparation puts you in good standing for whatever arises along the way.
Start by identifying what you plan to move. Are you moving applications? Databases? Data centers? Ideally you’re starting small — moving out of the data center probably isn’t the best place to start. But could you move your email system to the cloud? That might help you establish some sound migration practices while cost-effectively moving some administrative tasks off your plate.
Next, craft a continuity and contingency plan that will allow you to maintain operations during the migration. The dependencies you identified in the previous phase are a good starting point for identifying potential continuity challenges and scenarios. If you’re moving data, how will you avoid downtime? And if you cannot avoid downtime, how can you minimize it? How will you protect your data, and how will you ensure that none of it is lost in the move?
Finally, it’s time to pressure test your migration plan. If you’re working with a migration service provider, they will lead you through this process and should deliver a proof-of-concept migration. But if you’re working on your own, be thorough in your testing. Look for issues with your code — is it cloud-ready? Test your applications for compatibility with the cloud, and re-architect them if necessary.
Ok, so you have your primary plan and your contingency plans. You’ve chosen and synced with your service provider. All indications are that your application and/or data is ready to move. It’s time to take the plunge and conduct that first migration. Even with the best-laid plans, these can be sleepless nights for a CIO.
If you planned well, the next step after migration is to iron out new management processes. At this point, you’ve either significantly streamlined administrative responsibilities associated with your migrated application, or you’ve handed that responsibility off to a service provider. Either way, time commitments around operations, monitoring and troubleshooting have been reduced or eliminated.
The CIO’s role during the execution phase of IT transformation projects is essential. At the end of the day, they need to know how to integrate their own service delivery model with the deliverables from service providers outside their own firewall. This is where tangible improvements like self-service options and improved availability come into play.
As we stated earlier, the process of IT transformation doesn’t have a specific endpoint. But as you transition your IT department from a cost center into a proactive participant in steering your business, you’ll see significant operational improvements. The focus of IT can then shift to continual optimization. Processes become faster. Infrastructure performance increases. Automation becomes more the norm and less of an exception. Siloes are reduced or eliminated. And communication is vastly improved.
According to a recent Gartner study, many CIOs identified “culture/structure of organization” as a top barrier to their success — behind only expertise and budget limitations. The processes we’ve outlined for IT transformation go a long way toward eliminating this barrier to success. Here are some telltale signs you’re succeeding:
- IT is aligned with business goals
- IT is focused on application performance
- Workload optimization is ongoing
- IT strategy is relevant, measurable and outcome-focused
- New customer, cost and revenue KPIs are in place
- IT culture engages employees
- IT can attract, recruit and retain top talent
Attracting and retaining top technical talent, with the right expertise, is one of the most important measures of IT transformation. And it’s one of the top indicators every day here at Rackspace that we’re evolving in our own transformation journey.
Learn more about IT Transformation and Rackspace Professional Services.