These are trying times! The financial crisis has businesses reeling. Slowing economies are resulting in lower revenues, with many now talking recession. Layoffs and purchasing delays have already started. To survive the downturn, network professionals (and IT pros in general) need to demonstrate their value to the business and do it in terms that the business understands.
So how can network professionals use their knowledge and experience to help their businesses survive? Implementing Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) best practices is one of the best steps that can be taken to help your business weather the storm. Adopting ITIL holistically will take significant time and effort. One need not deploy ITIL in its entirety, however. The network team can take advantage of selected ITIL best practices individually, providing measurable value to the business and enabling the network team to shine during trying times.
This article is the first in a series that will explore ways in which network professionals can employ ITIL best practices to help their business partners make more informed decisions on cost reductions and to coordinate ways to reduce costs. In this series, we will explore ways to understand business processes, align reporting to business processes, develop financials, and establish sound working relationships with your business units.
Understand business processes
Currently, many senior executives are analyzing financial impacts on different areas of the business. Many may be considering selling business units or outsourcing functions and services in an attempt to reduce costs. Unfortunately, most capacity planning organizations are not in a position to provide substantial value to business decisions. Studies by Forrester and Gartner show that less than half of all IT organizations have a formal capacity management program. Many of those programs tend to look at individual IT components and therefore cannot attribute usage to a particular business process or function.
Since its very beginnings in the late 1980s, ITIL has recognized the value of capacity management. All three versions recognize the different types of capacity management: component, service and business.
- Component-level capacity planning manages individual infrastructure components.
- Service-level capacity planning aggregates usage across components according to predefined IT services.
- Business-level capacity planning manages IT infrastructure resources at a business process view, aggregating service and component views as they pertain to supporting individual business units.
For the most part, Version 1 adopters chose to implement a component-view process. ITIL Version 2 touched on alignment to the business. Few adopters chose to make the leap to a business-level view, however, instead choosing the component-level and service-level views. The recently released ITIL Version 3 outlines a methodology that aligns all IT services with business processes, where IT is an integral, equal partner with all the other business units. Unfortunately, organization-wide ITIL implementations take considerable time and effort to be successful. The good news is that specific best practices can be adopted independently, so you do not have to endure a full-blown implementation. As a result, portions of the ITIL Version 3 methodology can be quickly employed to provide immediate value to the business.
The network is in a unique position in enterprise IT because it is the glue that holds all the infrastructure components together. Not unlike traffic managers for large shipping companies, network professionals see how business data moves across the enterprise. Networking professionals typically focus on individual components in terms such as routers, T1s, and VoIP packets, and they rarely get a view of how these IT resources affect the businesses processes and transactions.
In order to provide value to the business, it is necessary to understand the impact of changes to customer-driven and internally driven transactions on the infrastructure. For example, reductions in customer transactions may have only minimal impact on a few telecommunications links; but reductions in internal support transactions may have greater impact, especially if the lower volumes occur at a single location or on a single VLAN, permitting a greater number of networking resources to be decommissioned. Once that understanding is attained, you can move on to later steps where reporting is customized and costs are associated with the individual business processes. Doing so permits you to express network usage in business terms, such as business process network footprints, allowing more informed business decisions. Once business process network footprints are understood, those relationships can be easily transferred to other areas such as servers and printers, making possible a much wider business view of IT resource consumption by business process.
The first step in moving to business capacity management is to understand the different business processes. Without that knowledge, you cannot effectively associate usage to individual business processes. The best way to accomplish this task is to pick up an organizational chart or corporate telephone directory. Find the leaders of individual business units and schedule time with them to discuss how they use IT systems. In my experience, those leaders are proud of their contribution to the business and will welcome the opportunity to show off their teams' accomplishments.
During the discussion, it will be important for you to determine the specific ways the business units use IT services. Keep the conversation to function-specific usage. Stay away from complaint sessions. Your goal is to understand how the business actually uses the IT applications. Besides day-to-day activities, you are looking for location-specific and cyclical business processes, as they can skew general assumptions. For example, most retail businesses are influenced by specific events such as Christmas and the start of school. In contrast, many healthcare companies are influenced by outbreaks of influenza or handling the open enrollment season.
Visit each business unit, gather each piece of information, and document it. Start to draw a picture of process flows and dependencies. Once you have put all the pieces together, you have a comprehensive view of how the business uses IT services, especially those that affect network usage. You are now ready to proceed to Step 2: Aligning Reporting to Business Processes and Functions.