Is dynamic IT management necessary for mid-sized firms?
Or are 'good enough' approaches sufficient?
Workshop It’s a fair assumption that the operational management of IT follows some kind of maturity model. Many organizations are, in theory, chaotic; a logical next step is to implement a layer of control, and from there one might say one could start building a managed environment. After that – hurrah! – it is reputedly an easy hop, skip and jump towards fully dynamic IT management.
The problem with this model is simply that it isn’t true. The ‘chaos’ myth – that a majority of IT operations are doing no more than fire fighting, at best shoring up the defenses and just managing to keep the lights on – doesn’t actually represent the majority of IT organizations out there. In reality, most places are working at a level we could term “good enough” – the last time we researched this directly with the Reg audience we found the challenge was more one of running through the mud, than fighting fires.
In truth, most mid-sized organizations hover somewhere between a ‘controlled’ and a ‘managed’ level of IT management capability. When, on occasion, things tend towards chaos - for example after a security breach or a more significant systems failure - budget can miraculously become available to sort things out. When it comes to making budget available for more general improvements however, systems management tools and techniques have not been seen as a major priority. “Good enough” is a phrase that can cut both ways.
To be fair as well, the “mid-market” has been traditionally been under-served by management software vendors, who have tended to put their efforts into providing big-ticket ‘enterprise management’ offerings. The big four providers (HP, IBM, CA and BMC) all fit into this category. Solutions available for non-enterprise organizations have traditionally been complex, time consuming and expensive to get running. Until quite recently there has been something of a gap between the simpler management tooling suitable for use in smaller companies and the management suites deployed by the largest organizations.
All this being said, there is still scope for improvement. Management tools are certainly more broadly available than they were in the past for mid-sized companies, so it may be worth you revisiting what is available today - (Sun, Symantec, Microsoft, Quest, Spiceworks and LanDesk to name a few). But let’s be clear: the primary goal is one of efficiency. This is not just a sign of the cash strapped times, though that obviously plays its part. It also reflects the fact that if IT operations spends more of its time in a managed state, rather than just keeping control, it will be better able to deliver the right services, and less likely to descend into chaos. It also makes it more straightforward to make the business case.
From my own IT management days, I absolutely knew I could benefit from having better tools in place. But while they might have reduced my stress levels, would they have actually saved my company money? I don’t know the answer to that – and I don’t suppose I should have been that surprised in hindsight, when my finance director told me I couldn’t have them.
As a further point, it’s worth remembering that efficiency doesn’t have to be about tools at all. A training course on writing administration scripts, for example, could have a very quick payback. There is also much to be said for implementing the right policies/processes in the first place. As we have seen from research such as the above, experienced practitioners understand that most systems management projects are exercises in people and process management just as much as dealing with technology challenges.
It may be that some of the developments in IT infrastructure – notably virtualisation, which encourages the more flexible use of physical resources – may require IT management to up the ante and adopt more dynamic approaches. In the meantime, and for the majority of organizations who just want ‘good enough’ IT, any visions of hyper-dynamic environments may well be a step too far.
“Good enough” IT requires good enough management tools and practices, which may be sufficient as an end in themselves, as well as offering a potential stepping stone for more dynamic approaches in the future. Though perhaps the hyper-dynamic vision will always remain just that – a vision. ®
"Good enough IT."
You will work 18 hours, get paid for 8, be on call 24/7/365 learn to embrace your wage freeze and "extend the investment return" on equipment by "ensuring increased operational life" or you will be replaced by any of the few million unemployed IT folks. (Or outsourced to India.)
No, you can’t have management tools. No, you can’t have new hardware and no, you can’t buy spares. When something breaks that directly affects upper management, your replacement can buy replacements to deal with your incompetence because you’re fired!
And pay for your own damned support cell phone! That it’s used for your unpaid 24/7 support calls has no relevance to the company. It’s a cost of being employed, like the gas you burn running around the city, or driving to work in the morning.
Yeah. “Good enough IT.” We’ve heard of it…
is walking through the mud good enough?
I think we should strive to drive, in cars, on highways instead.
Why didn't you set out to quantify the savings (or losses) to be gained by better management software. yes, no surprise it wasn't bought after that, but it is a surprise you use this as proof for uncertainness of savings. it only proves you didn't really look into them.
second, while you state that breaches/failures and so on make investments easier, you ignore the relation between missing management tools and the very cause of some (by numbers: many) of these failures
if we ask for good policies to be put in place at the start, there is a certain need to look at better classification of failures into causes like hardware that turns into smoke(technical), lack of knowledge (people), mistake (people), lack of skill (people) and lack of planning(people)
bad management tools are in the "lack of planning" bit for me. you can't set up a good policy that won't include tools.
noone says they need be costly, i.e. having a wiki+database with hourly switchport:ip<->mac mappings or dns zone backups is in the two-digit price ratio, but most companies live without such basics. what they instead do, is run around hunting problems. sure that's good enough, but it will take longer => cost the company money.
"good enough" is where you don't have costly tools that do it by themselves and staff that can't do it by themselves either.
it'll cost you dearly with every outage, with every client pc that takes more than 30 mins to replace and so on. if your helpdesk staff has the account reinitialized because he doesn't know enough details of windows offline sync's suckage, or if the exchange admin wasn't forced by any policy to set up weekly consistency checks and you need a full restore where a service restart should suffice.
summing up the cost of "good enough IT" DOES need a business perspective.
if you don't take the time to look for and notice the small daily fuckups and don't see where they turn into the smaller disasters, everything will look ok.
but i don't think this kind of attitude can be acceptable, unless the companies wages are just enough to hire chimps. still, we don't need to lie to ourselves and think everything is great.
last, dynamic IT is possible and there are shops that are running far better than the rest.
the problem is that if you call up any of the big vendors and ask to "buy dynamic IT" you'll get the shiny marketing materials, the stacks of new hardware, the expensive outdated management tools and the lot of newbie consultants and the huge bill that will actually prove how important your choice was and that'll get you the big raise.
but you won't get the last missing piece: the dynamic stuff you tried to get.
i suggest you call up steve traugott some day and hear his side of "good enough IT" (as in no compromises made) management.