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The business case for IT4IT: Why you need it. How to build it.

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Daniel Warfield Senior Enterprise Architect, CC and C Solutions
Russian dolls

In a recent survey, the Open Group IT4IT Forum reached out to people who had viewed or downloaded the IT4IT standard, the "open standard reference architecture and value chain-based operating model for managing the business of IT." It asked each invididual whether they were using it, and why or why not.

IT4IT is a reference architecture maintained by the Open Group, which defines its purpose as “to help organizations identify the activities that contribute to business competitiveness.”

IT4IT describes a core set of functions and information flows in the lifecycle of an IT service—i.e., everything consumed by IT customers. It provides an open-source template for IT transformation, tool interoperability, and service management. The Open Group offers an extensive set of blogs, papers, webinars, and other resources for IT4IT.

The survey results showed that one common factor holding back IT4IT was a lack of understanding and management buy-in.

My favorite cringe-worthy response in this vein was: “It is a challenge to get CIO and leadership team buy-in while the IT organization is in the midst of large transformations.” Why cringe-worthy? Because large-scale IT transformation is exactly where IT4IT is most useful. The pain points generated by transformation are directly in IT4IT’s target zone. 

IT4IT will succeed because it fills a need. It has offered answers for me, and for others. I asked five of my fellow early adopters for their perspective on how IT4IT can help, and who it helps.

A management structure for new digital landscapes

Philippe Geneste, senior executive partner at Accenture and an active IT4IT forum member, advises his clients on IT strategy. He is an advocate for IT4IT, but only brings it up in the context of problems that resonate with the C-suite.

“IT4IT is fairly technical,” said Geneste. “It can be quite difficult even for some IT people to understand. Most CEOs will not take a deep interest in it. However, many of them have a deep interest in digital transformation, cloud, and IT as a service broker. Linking IT4IT to these concerns makes a lot of sense.”

Integrating with traditional IT

Geneste said many people embark on digital transformation without paying attention to how they will operate their new digital landscape or how they will integrate it with traditional IT.

“If you move IT to the cloud, you still need service management. And if you are redefining your cloud strategy, doing digital transformation for infrastructure management, then you will need to answer a question like: What should my IT tools portfolio look like in 2020?" he said.

To answer that question coherently requires an end-to-end view of how IT will operate. IT4IT provides the basis for this.

Open source is not the sole solution

Geneste says open-source advocates can miss the point of using IT4IT’s open-source architecture. “The business case for using IT4IT to address these questions is about using an open architecture standard versus, for instance, implementing a suite of open-source tools and writing your own APIs, which is a fashionable approach, but incomplete.

“Yes, you can use open-source solutions to support new cloud and service broker technologies, but there is a whole existing environment that needs to be managed if you want to connect to it.

“The game,” Geneste said, “is to combine both approaches. The more heterogeneous you are, the more useful will be open standards like IT4IT.”

Sometimes the entry point for IT4IT is less expansive than an IT transformation—it may just be about reducing the burdens of complexity.

“Organizations often start with ‘We have to address tools and clean up the mess,’ but relatively quickly you see the transformation people are really trying to make,” he said, “and then you have a wider discussion.”

Is IT4IT a roadmap for tool rationalization?

Charlie Betz has been a participant and thought leader in the Open Group’s IT4IT forum since its inception. He has watched the standard mature beyond its original focus on IT service management (ITSM) and IT operations management (ITOM) tool interoperability, and he has seen how the IT tools discussion leads practitioners to IT4IT.

“You see interest in IT4IT,” he said, “when people have a large-scale problem in the tools space across the IT value chain. A large number of chief architects and chief digital officers need to rationalize their digital assets. They have questions like: How does this all fit together? What is the relationship between the configuration management database and the enterprise architecture tool?

“There is a body of interest that needs a technical architecture for the business of IT.”

Betz, principal analyst at Forrester Research, has long been a passionate advocate for a standard way of understanding IT as a value chain, not just as a collection of silos. He argues strongly in favor of open, vendor-neutral standards such as IT4IT.

“In my own experience, I wanted an industry standard. People are getting tired of proprietary approaches to IT bodies of knowledge,” he said. “IT4IT provides a prescriptive model that complements other types of standards and that is not owned by a vendor with a specific product agenda. IT4IT was the right use case for me.”

Beyond ITIL and COBIT

In addition to his advocacy for IT4IT, Betz has contributed to a variety of standards efforts, including ITIL and COBIT, and respects the value of both.

IT4IT is strongly connected to these venerable standards. But both encompass the perspective of a particular interest group in a way that IT4IT transcends with a different purpose and provenance.  

Betz has deep roots in the ITIL space and he is keenly aware that many ITIL practitioners in particular have trouble seeing the point of IT4IT. Betz emphasizes the need for more specific guidance on how to proceed, which IT4IT provides, and ITIL does not.

“IT4IT was never intended to replace ITIL,” he said. “In IT4IT, change management is 2 pages, versus 35 pages in ITIL. On the other hand, IT4IT lets you view technology management from a more prescriptive, architectural perspective. You can see ITIL as a set of requirements. But you need a data architecture, you need a systems architecture.”

Deeper understanding with IT4IT

Mark Bodman, senior product manager at ServiceNow and also a longtime member of the IT4IT Forum, takes this thought a step further. “ITIL isn’t really requirements,” he said. “It suggests that you need to do these things, but with ITIL you can’t test whether you are successful. With IT4IT it’s very easy to understand what you’re doing or not doing, line by line.

He also echoed the point that Betz and Geneste made about the importance of standards and the value of adopting open standards.

“IT4IT encompasses everything in IT. The cost of making this kind of thing is huge. With IT4IT you don’t have to make it up,” Bodman said, “and you don’t have to pay for it. It’s a dense standard. The things that went into this are diverse and deep; it represents many topics in a much more simplified manner. It puts a lot of the argument and speculation about points of view to bed.”

A key concern for Bodman is automation, which is essential for realizing the DevOps vision and for streamlining the IT value chain.

“IT4IT is a framework for automation,” he said. “It’s meant to be automated, versus ITIL, which is meant for human consumption. IT4IT gives you a clear view, so you can see where you need to improve.”

Don’t reinvent the wheel . . . again

An early IT4IT adopter and business architect at a major defense contractor has also seen the value of IT4IT firsthand. He reaffirmed the importance of not starting with a blank sheet of paper.

In his experience, it has become easier to see the path leading from the complexity of things IT leaders care about—service broker, agile, DevOps—to the utility of IT4IT.

“Let’s not focus on the 80% that’s not really unique,” he said. “We get such a jump-start in thinking about IT by using the top-level model. Just to have this as a reference architecture, we don’t have to try to ‘name the animals.’ It is much better to use a reference architecture than to invent one.”

This is even more relevant, he said, in an IT landscape where third parties are a key part of the value delivery chain. IT4IT can help with formal descriptions of third-party roles, responsibilities and service levels by placing them in a context of an overarching end-to-end model.

IT4IT addresses real-world problems 

Like other architecture models, IT4IT is only useful if it can deliver.

As early adopters have begun reporting success, real IT4IT use cases are coming into view, where real-world pain has been answered with what Tony Price, who leads HPE’s IT4IT services practice for EMEA, calls “proved, realized value.”

“More than 100 EMEA customers are in early conversations,” he said, “and in about 25, active delivery is taking place. We take an agile approach, with short cycles of value delivery. We tell customers that tool mapping should not be your starting point. We see customers with thousands of tools for running IT. They start with tools inventories and mapping, and find themselves looking at a huge transformation program.

“This has a place, but we don’t push that. Rather than start with tools inventories, we ask, What is the highest priority business pain?”

The range of problems for which Price has seen IT4IT be helpful goes well beyond traditional ITSM issues such as service desks.

  • Operational problems that were not noticed in IT
  • Risk to the lives of soldiers in a defense organization
  • Badly awarded outsourcing contracts
  • Demand management and portfolio management

In his practice, Price triangulates the opposing forces of the need for a holistic end-to-end vision and the business need to get things done.

“We focus on that. We say, 'Think big, start small.' Let’s not only take away pain, let’s do it in an agile way. We call it Agile IT4IT. Each sprint is planned to prove realized value. We validate and then move on to the next sprint.”

Insights into the disconnect

Modernizing initiatives such as cloud, DevOps, and digital transformation soon reveal the weaknesses of traditional IT management practices that often can’t keep up.

It’s like a set of Russian dolls. Inside the business problem of enabling digital transformation is the problem of IT transformation. And inside that problem is the need for a solid reference architecture for managing and planning IT operational management. And yes, ITIL is in there, too.

My own path to IT4IT

My own introduction to IT4IT started with a top-down interest in mapping a large business application portfolio from conceptual model to the configuration management database (CMDB). Application portfolio management (APM) had become a key management concern for several of the usual reasons, such as improved governance, business continuity planning, and better control of technology lifecycles.

At the same time I was leading a parallel effort to define a reference architecture for IT operations management and IT service management. As complexity increased in the IT landscape, legacy management tools and methods were trending toward the crisis zone.

The first problem was highly visible to the business; the second was more technical but tied to visible operational pain. Long-standing operational annoyances were becoming high-profile targets for change.

Both efforts struggled because these problems could only be solved in a big-picture way, by aligning information about applications and services—created in planning, design, and development—with the information held in the runtime environment. This means traceability across the entire IT value chain.

Navigation by dead reckoning was not getting the job done. We needed a map, and we didn’t want to create one from a blank sheet of paper. None of the tool vendors had a comprehensive vision of IT operations in 2020. IT4IT entered the frame as the basis for that map, and it entered as part of a solution, not as a buying decision. It can work for your organization as well.


Image credit: Flickr

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