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The Guardian Function - making the Core IT / Fluid IT cooperation work


It is essential that the Core and Fluid cooperate. We need a Guardian Function to ensure that this happens

As we discussed in my last blog post, in order to capitalize on The Digitization of Everything we need to have two modes of IT - the Core IT group and one or more Fluid IT groups.

It is absolutely essential that these two groups cooperate with other. Otherwise our Digitization of Everything products won't integrate with our Systems of Record, we can’t do insightful Big Data analysis, and we have siloed management which is expensive and suboptimal for the organisation as a whole. I talked about this in detail in a previous blog post.

I will talk in a later blog post about the tools and processes we need to put in place to make the Core/Fluid IT cooperation work, but experience tells us we also need governance and facilitation of the relationship. Gartner calls this the “Guardian Function”.

6. Guardian.png


What does the Guardian Function do?

The Guardian Function needs to ensure that there is cooperation between Fluid and Core IT.  Specifically, the Guardian Function needs to manage : 

1. The Funding of Fluid IT

It’s hard to lay down hard and fast rules about the funding of Fluid IT because it can vary between organizations. But we do know that Fluid IT’s funding is speculative, rather than annually planned. And someone has to act as the “venture capitalist”, handing out this speculative funding. This can either be done by the Guardian Function, if Fluid IT is in IT or a combination of business and IT, or by the business if Fluid IT is purely in the business.

2. Planning

The Guardian Function will typically be a part of the Office of the CIO. And hopefully, the Office of the CIO already contains a group that facilitates IT planning. A very important part of IT planning is App Portfolio Management.

To do this planning, we need to add planning between Core and Fluid IT. When, in a future blog post we get to talk about the cooperation areas between Core and Fluid IT and we’ll see that the Service Provider / Service Consumer relationship between Core and Fluid IT is hugely important.

And this Service Brokering interface needs to be planned. Core IT, Fluid IT and other business groups need to sit down together and decide what APIs and cloud-like services Core IT will provide, and when.

There can also be contension about who should build a piece of functionality, Fluid or Core IT. The Guardian function needs to facilitate this decision making.

3. Technical Dept Cleanup

Fluid IT needs to move quickly. If we always make Fluid IT “stick to the rules” about automated testing, about good coding, and so on, they will not move quickly. So, we must expect Fluid IT to leave behind them “technical debt” - things that need to be cleaned up. Fluid IT is need not going to be particularly keen to do this cleanup, but it has to be done for the overall good of the organization, otherwise the organisation’s IT will become increasingly “fragile”.

The Guardian Function needs to drive this technical dept cleanup.

4. Folding functions back into Core IT

As I said above, Fluid IT needs to move quickly. And sometimes those things that it does quickly should really have been done by Core IT, but will be done by Fluid IT in the interests of speed. Time and resource needs to be set aside to bring such functions under the control of Core IT.

A special case of this "folding back" function is when a "cool, boutique" consultancy is used to create the first version of a digitally-fueled product. Once that first version is out there, the business may decide that using the boutique consultancy on an ongoing basis is too expensive or in some other way, suboptimal for the organization. The product is therefore brought in-house. This will typically mean that an inhouse Fluid IT group will take some of the code, but Core IT may need to take those portions of the product that connect to the Systems of Record.

In order to do this "folding back", we need a model that tells us what Core IT should do and what Fluid IT should do. I'll talk about this model in a later blog post.

5. Building Mutual Respect

In a previous blog post, I talked about how Core and Fluid IT will almost certainly have different attitudes and behaviours, and how we need to ensure that the two groups have mutual respect for each other. This is something that the Guardian Function can facilitate.

I know it sounds somewhat “fluffy”, but my own experience is that gaining a mutual respect for the skills and attitudes of people who are unlike your own is hugely important.

6. Ensure that the inter-bimodal processes are working properly

In my next blog post, we will look at the Five Cooperation Areas that must exist between Core and Fluid IT. These include things like service brokering, DevOps, building an engaging customer experience, big data platforms and analysis and protecting the increased "attack surface" from hackers.

The Guardian function needs to ensure that these inter-Core/Fluid IT processes work well.

Where should the Guardian Function report?

If both Core and Fluid IT both report to the CIO, then the Guardian function should also report directly to the CIO - i.e. not directly to either Core or Fluid IT.

If, however, Fluid IT is in the business, then reporting lines are less obvious, and may be a combination of both IT and the business.


I think that the Guardian function is hugely important. In fact, I think that it's essential. Its remit is far reaching and it goes from funding, to planning, to building mutual respect, to governance of inter-team processes.

Other posts on The Digitization of Everything and Core/Fluid IT

Below is a list of related blog posts on The Digitization of Everything and Core / Fluid IT:

1. The Digitization of Everything and A New Style of Business : digitally-based, software-powered products allow the business to do things very differently. We can release "minimum viable product", we can experiment with new products we can "continuously innovate". 

2. Digital Disuption: From Transforming a Product to Disrupting an Industry : digitization starts with a digital product that replaces the analog one. Think CD or DVD or home thermostat. But, once products are digital, the business model can be disrupted - think Spotify, think "the connected home", think Uber, think AirBnB. This blog looks at this disruption for a number of industries including transportation, retail banking and the connected home. 

3.  Digitization of Everything and the role of Central IT : digital disruptions are "software powered". Which is great because IT creates software, doesn't it? But it's a very different style of software development to that that we used for our Systems of Record.  

4.  Capitalize on The Digitization of Everything with two different IT modes : IT can't be innovative, cool, experimental and reliable, careful and solid using the same people, the same behaviours, the same processes, the same supplier relationships. We need to split IT into two - Core IT and Fluid IT. 

5.  The Guardian Function - making the Core / Fluid IT co-operation work (this post) : If the two parts of IT, the Fluid and the Core, don't cooperate with each other, we'll eventually become uncompetitive and inefficient across the whole organization We need to ensure that the two parts of IT work well together. This is part technology (as discussed in the next blog post) and partly about governance, finance and attitudes. This blog post talks about "The Guardian Function"; that function that ensures the cooperation works. 

6.  The Five Areas of Cooperation between Core and Fluid IT : I've broken the technical aspects of cooperation between Core and Fluid IT into five areas : i. Service Brokering, ii. Continuous Delivery, iii. Creating a best-in-class user experience, iv. Big Data and v. Protecting your assets. This blog post looks at these five areas in overview.

7.  Service Brokering for Core and Fluid IT cooperation : This post dives into what customers tell me is the most important of the five cooperation areas; Service Brokering. 

8. How to get to Continuous Delivery and thus, Continuous Innovation : This post looks at the second cooperation area; getting Continuous Delivery of new functionality. This entails a flow of new releases from Fluid across to Core IT. It is, of course, DevOps, but I've put a Core/Fluid IT spin on it. 

9. How to create an Engaging, Best-in-class  Digital User Experience : Digital products pretty much always mean either a mobile application and / or a smart device like a smart cooker, a smart thermostat, or a smart shopping trolley. We need to ensure that the user experience of that mobile application or smart device is best-in-class. How do we do this across our Fluid and Core IT teams?

My "" topic on the Digitzation of Everything - a couple of times a week, I post interesting articles on what's happening in the world of "the Digitization of Everything".

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Everything I post related to The Digitization of Everything, I also tweet  -  @mike_j_shaw.  

Or, connect to me on LinkedIn - Mike Shaw at HP.

Mike Shaw
Director Strategic Marketing

linkedin.gifMike Shaw

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About the Author


Mike has been with HPE for 30 years. Half of that time was in research and development, mainly as an architect. The other 15 years has been spent in product management, product marketing, and now, strategic marketing. .

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