Friday, April 24, 2009

Fear Nothing!

CEO Ramblings – The heterogeneous hairball of IT and thinking in a fundamentally different way about managing it

I am just returning to Toronto from San Francisco where I saw some very cool three wheel Aptera electric cars in front of the Westin, location for the America’s Growth Capital Emerging Technologies conference this week. If you haven’t seen these cars, go take a look. Wired online did a nice write up this week.

The purpose for my trip was to talk about how to sort out some of the complexity of managing physical, virtual and cloud environments with the mixture of heterogeneous management tools and systems deployed in enterprise IT today. The good news is that IT process automation can help sort this mess to bring a consistency of process execution within IT while delivering the control lacking to date, all while driving down OpEx cost.

As I wrote the presentation and really thought about what it takes to move IT process automation forward, I decided to tell a story connected to my past as an analogy. I was born and raised for the first years of my life in Sioux City, Iowa, in a single story, red brick, flat roof building that was purpose built in the ‘20s or ‘30s for telephone operators. You can just picture the rows of women manually connecting the calls via the switchboard. I say women because they were the only people hired to do this job. In the early days, hiring telephone companies actually measured the length of a woman’s arm as part of the hiring criteria to ensure she could fully reach the top of the switchboard. Everything was optimized around efficiency of a human connecting a call.

Somewhere along the way, with the growth of call volumes, it was calculated that unless something was done to improve productivity, one out of two people in the US would have to be telephone operators. Today that would be about 150 million people.

Clearly something changed. There was an inflection point and automated switching came into existence. But can you imagine the first guy who brought the idea up to the operators or the guy who managed the operators? ‘Say Mac, I have a swell new idea to complete calls and take the operator out of the picture’. ‘But Ralph, we can’t take the operator out of the picture. They are the ones completing the calls. If the calls aren’t completed we don’t earn money. I couldn’t possibly try something so risky as removing the operators’.

Sound familiar?

Guess what – Ralph was a visionary, calls became automated, operators didn’t go away but fewer of them were needed because the mind numbing work was automated. The operators could focus on exceptions or conversations where people by necessity had to interact.

Could all the operators evolve to new roles? Probably not all, but the best ones did. Interestingly, telephone companies started out using young boys as operators because the telegraph companies had used them to deliver telegraphs. However, they found that the young boys didn’t have the maturity, patience or focus to handle sitting at a switchboard for hours at a time so the telephone companies evolved their hiring to bring in women.

Today, because of virtualization, one of the technologies creating additional complexity, we have the capability to automate 70-80% of operational processes and tasks necessary to run a data center. When coupled with IT process automation to provide the intelligent policy decisions, the ‘when and why’ become coupled with the ‘how’ that virtualization delivers.

So who are you going to be like – Mac or Ralph?

I’ll tell you one thing, managed service providers are a collection of Ralphs. They fear nothing and they are pulled to IT process automation because they know it is the only possible way to dramatically bring down the cost and complexity of managing IT while improving service levels. Labor arbitrage from off-shoring to low cost locations will only take you so far. These MSPs are ‘no-shoring’, actually taking out the manual effort and using automation to complete a majority of IT operations processes and tasks.

The good news is that if you are in enterprise IT, you can do it to – you just have to think differently and fear nothing. We will help.

Next blog I will talk about your IT process automation journey and what the end state can look like as well as the path to take you there.

Chief Bottle Washer