Successful IT Transformation Starts with a Clear, Pragmatic Vision

Today’s businesses increasingly consider IT transformation essential to success. According to 451 Research, nearly 80 percent are looking to transform their IT environments to meet business needs.

Those firms face myriad challenges: spiraling IT costs, security vulnerabilities, archaic processes, incompatible technologies — no wonder the IT industry overwhelmingly embraces the concept of transformation.

But as we’ve repeatedly heard from customers, the prospect of IT transformation creates concern as well as excitement. Business and IT leaders want a clear, dependable path forward.

With that in mind, we’ve created a framework to help you understand what IT transformation might look like in your organization. After two decades in the hosting business, we’ve learned a few things about complex IT transformation, and we suggest breaking the process down into six knowable, actionable steps: Plan, Assess, Design, Migrate, Manage and Optimize.

Designing your IT transformation

Here, we’ll take a look at the Design phase of IT transformation. (Click on the links above to read about a different phase, or read an overview here.)

At this point, you’ve already completed both the Plan phase — defining a new, more strategic role for IT — and the Assess phase — comprehensively mapping and evaluating your environment. Now you need to design your approach to application, workflow and process transformation. Start by building your vision, and then engage your stakeholders and create a business plan.

Build your vision

What would the ideal IT department for your organization look like? What capabilities would you like IT to develop over the long term? How can IT add value to the business?

Building your vision early in the transformation process will not only clarify your priorities and direction, but also facilitate critical buy-in from the business side. And because the C-suite invariably expects IT to drive efficiency, your vision should include concrete ideas for cost reduction. You might consider:

  • Resizing infrastructure during a cloud migration to boost efficiency
  • Moving spiky workloads to public cloud to reduce unnecessary spend
  • Building out an OpenStack private cloud to reduce TCO over time
  • Refactoring for stateless application design
  • Increasing visibility into performance with enhanced app-level monitoring

Successful transformations lift the burden on in-house IT, so you’ll also want to envision a future in which IT spends less time on maintenance and more on innovation and strategic activities, such as:

  • Accelerating the development and delivery of new features
  • Automating routine tasks and optimizing infrastructure
  • Facilitating big data and predictive analytics

Be sure you can concretely describe how you’ll accomplish this — for example, you might plan to leverage cloud automation templates, implement DevOps practices like CI/CD or outsource daily operational tasks to a managed cloud provider.

Engage your stakeholders

Carefully identify which parts of the business will be affected by transformation, and then identify the corresponding decision-makers. These are your stakeholders, and they will expect you to evangelize your vision even as you remain open to their input.

Engage them early and work to build consensus on IT’s role in the business. You need them to endorse your transformation goals and priorities — lack of business buy-in is a top reason IT transformation projects fail.

To maintain alignment between the business and IT, develop and institute a comprehensive organizational change plan, including regular executive updates, reporting and check-ins to keep key stakeholders informed about progress and potential delays.

Create a business plan

Successful IT transformation requires an actionable business plan. That means identifying specific projects and establishing a budget and timeline for each one. It’s often wise to start with simple projects and gradually transition to more challenging projects (e.g., updating complex business processes across multiple departments).

Remember that the cost benefits of IT transformation aren’t limited to bottom-line dollars saved. Less tangible advantages (improved communication, shorter procurement cycles, etc.) can be equally impactful. In your plan, be sure to account for both hard and soft cost benefits. Hard-cost benefits include:

  • Hardware and networking costs
  • Planned and unplanned downtime costs
  • Disaster recovery/business continuity costs
  • Deployment, performance and operational support costs
  • Application enhancement and “bug fixing” costs

Soft savings aren’t as easy to measure, but these questions will help you articulate expected outcomes and benchmark future success:

  • What’s the productivity impact in terms of hours saved?
  • How much value does accelerated application development add?
  • Can you measure the impact of shorter software lifecycles?
  • How much do human error and outages cost your organization?
  • What’s the value of reduced security risk?

Share your business plan with stakeholders, keep the lines of communication open and establish regular update intervals.

Architect target solutions

Sound cloud architecture is critical to any IT transformation initiative. “Bad architecture decisions can have a detrimental impact on performance and availability that may not be identified for years, after costly damage has already been done,” explains Rackspace Enterprise Architect Sandy Thorsen.

You want your cloud architecture to be resilient, stable, secure, scalable and cost-effective. The following steps will help you get there:

  • Ensure scalability. To fully leverage cloud capabilities, your applications must scale vertically. That means they handle functions as they come in and don’t hold active customer data on servers. (A design pattern for scalable applications follows service-oriented architecture design patterns.)
  • Automate everything. Once your applications are designed to scale, automate as much as you can: logging in, patching, updating, configuration management, code deployment, etc.
  • Use native services. Cloud providers offer diverse infrastructure management services: server authentication, container orchestration, user management, etc. Use them fully and you’ll have much more time to focus on strategic priorities.
  • Leverage existing security features. Cloud security features will simplify networking and auditing, and they’re just as secure as — or more secure than — traditional methods.
  • Deploy big data analytics. Whether you’re concerned with buying behavior, experimental results or production-line efficiency, big data analytics and machine learning platforms can help you make smarter strategic decisions.

Tap into deep IT transformation expertise

For nearly 20 years, Rackspace has guided organizations through the IT transformation process, from massive migrations of data and applications for Fortune 100 companies to the niche challenges posed by major cloud platforms.

Tap into our deep IT transformation expertise by downloading our recent ebook, “The CIO’s Guide to IT Transformation.”

Matt Richins manages a team of cloud architects at Rackspace where he assists customers with the adoption of cloud, DevOps, and emerging technologies. He is a 20+ year IT veteran working with companies across the globe on their enterprise architectures. As a technologist, he has developed an extensive knowledge-base of hardware, software, networking, applications and other technologies which make him a trusted advisor to his peers and customers. Prior to joining Rackspace, Matt was the director of cloud and infrastructure at a large video game company where he oversaw the management of large MMO global games and mobile applications. When not working with IT, Matt focuses his time on working with the Boy Scouts and coaching Soccer.

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