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Why interest in IT4IT is on the rise

Christopher Null Freelance writer

Given the increasing complexity of IT, one would think the Open Group's IT4IT Reference Architecture would be enthusiastically welcomed. But even though years have passed since its 2011 introduction, the standard still hasn't become well known or well understood, despite some rousing cheerleading.

But that finally appears to be changing, as evidenced by a steady uptick of interest from enterprises over the last 12 months or so, say the architecture's backers. To find out why IT4IT is finally gaining a foothold, TechBeacon reached out to some of IT4IT's principal players to review where the reference architecture has been, where it's going, and how companies can start using it to gain a competitive advantage today.

What is IT4IT?

The Open Group describes IT4IT as "a standard reference architecture for managing the business of IT. It uses a value-chain approach to create a model of the functions that IT performs to help organizations identify the activities that contribute to business competitiveness."

Micro Focus distinguished technologist Lars Rossen, who wrote the original IT4IT specification, recognized that to manage the delivery of services in a digital enterprise, you need to have an operating model and a clear, end-to-end understanding of all the capabilities and systems surrounding it. That includes understanding everything about the key information artifacts you manage, such as service models, incidents, subscriptions, and plans.

Prior to IT4IT's introduction (and particularly the release of its second version in 2015), there was no prescription for how to do this. "There were various frameworks like ITIL that described some of the processes you need to put in place, but none of them were comprehensive, prescriptive, and vendor-agnostic," Rossen said. "We created IT4IT to address this."

The first version of IT4IT was constructed in collaboration with some large customers and consultancies, including Shell, PwC, HPE, AT&T, and Accenture, Rossen explained. Once the group built a strong enough foundation, IT4IT management transitioned to the Open Group, a fulfillment of its original goal to be open and available to all.

"Instead of every IT organization having to invent their own operating model and architecture or be fully dependent on a single vendor model, now IT can adopt a proven blueprint, and, regardless of vendor choice, they can rationalize and optimize how to deliver IT services."
Lars Rossen

Steady adoption stoked

Despite the initial fanfare upon launch, adoption of the standard never really took off.

One reason, said Virtual Clarity's Tony Price, a former IT4IT expert at HPE: The Open Group "delayed the IT4IT vendor compliance approach it wanted to introduce. This slowed vendor adoption." Another reason, according to an Open Group survey of people who had viewed or downloaded the IT4IT standard, was a lack of understanding and management buy-in.

In the last year, however, interest has started trending upward. More than 100 companies have now adopted it, according to Linda Kavanagh, IT4IT forum director for the Open Group. The list includes Fortune 500 enterprises ExxonMobil, Oracle, and Microsoft, among others. Additionally, she said, the specification has been downloaded 10,000 individual times, and four books have been published on IT4IT.

Dan Warfield, a member of the Open Group who also provides consulting and training services on the standard, said people were now approaching his organization asking for training.

"That didn't happen a year ago. Large companies are suddenly using IT4IT for things, although they're not always talking about what exactly they’re doing."
Dan Warfield

Rossen attributed the upswing in interest in IT4IT partly to consultancy groups and outsourcing companies picking it up, which is fueling growth. He also credited the fact that Micro Focus itself now has a clear strategy that leverages IT4IT alongside DevOps, hybrid IT, security, and predictive analysis.

"We use IT4IT as an architecture to tie it all together, and this resonates very well with our customers."
—Lars Rossen

Many organizations are looking beyond the traditional model of separating IT operations and business lines, said Kavanagh. They're adopting an agile structure in which business lines and product lines work directly with the technologists who can deliver products to a digital marketplace.

"Doing this effectively requires clear operational models and data to prove results, which the IT4IT Reference Architecture provides."
Linda Kavanagh

How to get started with IT4IT

Both Rossen and Kavanagh suggest thinking big but starting small.

To get started, create a small team of transformation champions and ensure they get trained in IT4IT, Rossen said.

Kavanagh offered two jumping-off points. Many enterprise IT departments can use the IT4IT Reference Architecture as the blueprint for IT management software application rationalization. By mapping their portfolios of IT-management applications to the IT4IT Reference Architecture functional components, they can identify missing gaps in the flow of their IT value chain, she said.

In turn, they'll be able to identify application sprawl within the IT function and use this to develop a roadmap for competitive advantage, helping to cut maintenance costs for redundant licenses and redeploy staff to more strategic endeavors.

Another common use case, Kavanagh added, is to initiate cultural change within an enterprise IT department to help reorient them to a more value-stream mindset.

Typically, consultants bring the leadership responsible for the areas described in the four IT4IT value streams—S2P, R2D, R2F, D2C—together into one room, one or more times, Kavanagh said. Consultants can explain value-stream thinking using enlarged versions of the IT4IT Value Chain and Reference Architecture, describing the basics, and by asking IT leaders to identify their direct reports within the IT4IT Reference Architecture. In this exercise, leaders and managers "can clearly see their upstream and downstream adjacent partners.”

How IT4IT will shape the future of IT

Despite its slow start, IT4T seems poised to reshape IT in some significant ways. Rossen is already seeing the signs.

"Many of the ideas around request to fulfill, which was an innovation five to seven years ago when we introduced it, are now increasingly part of transforming IT to be focused on an automated and aggregated offer catalog," he said. "We also innovated the concept of system of insight that was later launched by Gartner as an important concept for all industries, not only IT."

"I am tempted to say that it is already reshaping IT today."
—Lars Rossen

Kavanagh also expects the standard’s impact to only get bigger as time goes on.

"IT4IT provides organizations with the know-how to operate in the digital age," she said. While digital transformation may be erasing the boundary between business and IT, the need to provide structure and metrics to technology delivery doesn't go away.

"If anything, it may become more important as the need to shorten continuous delivery iteration time becomes the norm.”
—Linda Kavanagh

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