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Twelve IT Management Trends for '12: #9 - the service broker goes mainstream


Gartner analyst Cameron Haight stirred up some controversy recently in his blog post, the 100 year starship project” where he postulates that the last 10 years of IT management have all been largely incremental gains on concepts laid down 20 years ago.  His concern was, and still appears to be, that IT management tools and processes have been stretched and patched to the point where the seams and tears are starting to show, especially in large scale, rapidly changing and highly heterogeneous environments.


In many respects, I agree. As I’ve written about extensively as part of my series on the coming changes in enterprise IT, we’re living through a time of remarkable change in technology. It’s a change that’s akin to, but more profound than, the change we last went through during the move to client server. (I would argue it’s closer to the shift we saw when Henry Ford democratised personal transportation).


Critical warningIt shouldn’t come as a surprise therefore that IT management will need to be “rebooted,” in order to re-invent itself in light of these changes.  And I believe that in the coming year we’ll witness the emergence of case studies in modern IT management from enterprises that have not only embraced these concepts, but have used them to reduce the Total Cost of Innovation of IT and hence the enterprise itself. (hint: I can say this with confidence because I have seen the results achieved by a handful of my major enterprises clients using private cloud IaaS, DevOps processes and an integrated IT Performance Suite to accelerate the flow of work at scale and they’re breathtaking.  Sadly, they’re also considered to be of such competitive advantage that I’m sworn to secrecy for the time being). 


3 things the CIO must do to reboot IT


In addition to the technology changes I’ve outlined in previous articles, the rebooting of IT will also require the CIO to:

  • put the business back in charge without letting consumerisation consume their budgets 
  • embrace Enterprise Architecture as a core competency
  • initiate a deep risk and compliance overhaul aimed at making risk management a competitive advantage

But before the CIO can do any of that, they need to consider the brave new world of hybrid cloud. I like to think of it as moving from being the “builder” of IT services to being the “builder and broker” of IT services. The challenge is that most IT shops have built their people, tools, processes and most importantly their sourcing strategies on the idea that IT was either “in” sourced or “out” sourced but rarely, if ever, truly multi-sourced.


I asked HP’s Cloud CTO Christian Verstraete how he would describe the idea. He said the “service broker provides the business with the appropriate ‘services’ to enable their enterprise.” He said “the role also is responsible for the proper governance between business and IT, to know what the required processes are and to establish their lifecycle.” Good definition. (But then I’ve always largely seen eye-to-eye with Christian, despite his being Dutch ;-). 


Others, such as Gartner’s Benoit Lheuroux, take a slightly different tack as in his podcast. And the doyens of dial tone, the TeleManagement Forum (TMForum), believe cloud service brokers “will deliver just-in-time services by federating multiple cloud service provider resources.”


5 requirements to move from IT service builder to broker


No matter whose definition you take, the challenges of being an effective, builder/broker are non-trivial.  Here are the 5 requirements to get there:

  1. Establish a selection mechanism for vendors based on demonstrable objective evidence
  2. Automate acquisition and monitoring to ensure the services are meeting the agreed objectives (and initiating remediation)
  3. Integrate demand management, delivery management and incident/case management processes and toolchains
  4. Establish and publish a service catalog that allows for segregation of concerns (so that only the people/suppliers who need to see the service availability, quality, cost, etc. can)
  5. Provide well defined mechanisms for importing and exporting both business data and logic when the time comes to swap suppliers


Send lawyers, guns and money!

In my article “look before you click,” I highlighted the need for enterprises to read the fine print (terms and conditions) of the SaaS and web services their end-users are consuming. The CIO must establish the technology foundation of a “social” service catalog of reputable services (meaning it contains both objective price and SLA data along with subjective experiences).  In addition, now is the time to engage your legal team early and often as you develop a strategy that protects for the likely without penalising the end-users with the burden enterprise legalese that so coddles them from hypothetical threats that it stifles innovation.   


“A bargain is something you can't use at a price you can't resist.”  - Frank Jones

Creating a strategic service broker culture will also require us to manage organisational change within IT. One of the most profound changes will be in making procurement a core competence in enterprise architects and operations teams. Despite the cliché, most IT professionals are not “born to shop.”  In fact we’re generally specifically educated, hired, promoted and rewarded on the strength of our technical chops — our ability to build.

Now that sourcing is a core competence, IT leaders need to set about teaching their teams how to buy.  This shouldn’t be limited to procurement; this is a skill that should be taught to those who are likely to resist looming change such as technology managers who might otherwise mutate into project “huggers” valiantly fending off sound cloud sourcing strategies out of the mistaken idea that their job is in jeopardy as a result of cloud. (If you believe Jevon’s Paradox, it’s not. If anything you can expect to be busier than ever!).


Re-think, reboot, repeat

Daunting, huh? Yep, it is. Making all of this work will require IT managers to rethink the relationship with the business and time is not on IT’s side. Bestselling books like The 4-hour Work Week and Hacking Work are practically screaming at knowledge workers and executives alike to “bring your own” everything - service, software and people, let alone device. The benefits of de-capitalising IT, of making the enterprise more responsive to innovative disruptions, are so great that a blanket change freeze is likely to hurt more than it helps.


For its part HP is actively involved in defining standards for interoperability, creating toolchain meta-management layers capable of de-coupling IT processes from tools and building hybrid IT aware management tools for the discovery, security and assurance of services capable of “seeing inside” cloud, virtualised and physical services alike. In addition, we envisage multi-sourcing “aware” collaboration systems that will enable seamless hand-off between vendors and internal staff whether working on a project or resolving a help desk incident some of which you can see today.


The question for IT leaders is whether multi-sourcing is madness or manna from heaven. What do you think?

Paul Muller has a wealth of experience working with CIOs and VPs of IT improve IT performance and business alignment.
About the Author


Paul Muller leads the global IT management evangelist team within the Software business at HP. In this role, Muller heads the team responsible for fostering HP’s participation in the IT management community, contributing to and communicating best-practice in helping IT perform better.

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