How IT4IT helps turn IT into a transformational service for digital business innovation

The next BriefingsDirect expert panel discussion examines the value and direction of The Open Group IT4IT initiative, a new reference architecture for managing IT to help business become digitally innovative.

IT4IT was a hot topic at The Open Group San Francisco 2016 conference in January. This panel, conducted live at the event, explores how the reference architecture grew out of a need at some of the world's biggest organizations to make their IT departments more responsive, more agile.

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We’ll learn now how those IT departments within an enterprise and the vendors that support them have reshaped themselves, and how others can follow their lead. The expert panel consists of Michael Fulton, Principal Architect at CC&C Solutions; Philippe Geneste, a Partner at Accenture; Sue Desiderio, a Director at PriceWaterhouseCoopers; Dwight David, Enterprise Architect at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE); and Rob Akershoek, Solution Architect IT4IT at Shell IT International. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: How do we bridge the divide between a cloud provider, or a series of providers, and have IT take on a brokering role within the organization? How do we get to that hybrid vision role?

Geneste: We'll get there step-by-step. There's a practical step that’s implementable today. My suggestion would be that every customer or company that selects an outsourcer, that selects a cloud vendor, that selects a product, uses the IT4IT Reference Architecture in the request for proposal (RFP), putting a strong emphasis on the integration.

We see a lot of RFPs that are still silo-based -- which one is the best product for project and portfolio management, which one is the best service management tool -- but it’s not very frequent that we see the integration as being the topnotch value measured in the RFP. That would be one point.

The discussions with the vendors, again, cloud vendors or outsourcers or consulting firms should start from this, use it as an integration architecture, and tell us how you would do things based on these standardized concepts. That’s a practical step that can be used or employed today.

In a second step, when we go further into the vendor specification, there are vendors today, when you analyze the products and the cloud offerings that are closer to the concepts we have in the reference architecture. They're maybe not certified, maybe not the same terminology, but the concepts are there, or the way to the concepts is closer.

And then ultimately, step 3 and 3.5 will be product vendor certified, cloud service offering certified, hopefully full integration according to the reference architecture, and eventually, even plug-and-play. We're doing a little bit about plug-and-play, but at least integration.

Gardner: What sort of time frame would you put on those steps? Is this a two-year process, a four-year process, to soon to tell?

Achievable goals

Geneste: That’s a tough one. I suppose the vendor should be responding to this one. For the service providers, for the cloud service providers, it’s a little bit trickier, but for the consulting firm for the service providers it should be what it takes to get the workforce trained and to get the concepts spread inside the organization. So within six to 12 months, the critical mass should be there in these organizations. It's tough, but project by project, customer by customer it’s achievable.

Some vendors are on the way, and we've seen several vendors talk about IT4IT in this conference. I know that those have significant efforts on the way and are preparing for vendor certification. It will be probably a multiyear process to get the full suite of products certified, because there is quite a lot to change in the underlying software, but progressively, we should get there.

So, it's having first levels of certification within one to two years, possibly even sooner. I would be interested in knowing what the vendor responses will be.

Gardner: Sue, along the same lines, what do you see needed in order to make the IT department able to exercise the responsibility of delivering IT across multiple players and multiple boundaries?

 

Desiderio: Again, it’s starting with the awareness and the open communication about IT4IT and, on a specific instance, where that fits in. Depending on the services we're getting from vendors, or whether it's even internal services that we are getting, where do they fit into the whole IT4IT framework, what functions are we getting, what are the key components, and where are our interface points?

Have those conversations upfront in the contract conversations, so that everyone is aware of what we're trying to accomplish and that we're trying to seek that seamless integration between those suppliers and us.

Gardner: Rob, this would appear to be a buyer’s market in terms of their ability to exercise some influence. If they go seeking RFPs, if there are fewer cloud providers than there were general vendors in a traditional IT environment, they should be able to dictate this, don’t you think?

Akershoek: In the cloud world, the consumer would not dictate at all. That’s the traditional way that we dictate how an operator should provide us data. That’s the problem with the cloud. We want to consume a standard service. So we can't tell the cloud vendor, send me your cost data in this format. That won't work, because we don’t want the cloud vendor to make something proprietary for us.

That’s the first challenge. The cloud vendors are out there and we don’t want to dictate; we want to consume a standard service. So if they set up a catalog in their way, we have to adopt that. If they do the billing their way, we have to adopt it or select another cloud vendor. That’s the only option you have, select another vendor or adopt the management practices of the cloud vendor. Otherwise, we will continuously have to update it according to our policy. That’s a key challenge.

 

That’s why managing your cloud vendor is really about the entire value chain. You start with making your portfolio, thinking about what cloud services you put in your offerings, or your portfolio. So for past platforms, we use vendor A, and for infrastructure and service, vendor B. That’s where it starts. Which vendors do I engage with?

And then, going down to the Request to Fulfill, it’s more like what are the products that we're allowed to order and how do we provision those? Unfortunately, the cloud vendors don’t have IT4IT yet, meaning we have to do some work. Let’s say we want to provision the cloud environment. We make sure that all the cloud resources we provision are linked to that subscription, linked to that service, so at least we know the components that a cloud vendor is managing, where it belongs, and which service is consuming that.

Different expectations

Fulton: Rob has a key point here around the expectations being different around cloud vendors, and that’s why IT4IT is actually so powerful. A cloud vendor is not going to customize their interfaces for every single individual company, but we can hold cloud vendors accountable to an open industry standard like IT4IT, if we have detailed out the right levels of interoperability.

 

To me, the way this thing comes together long term is through this open standard, and then through that RFP process, customer organizations holding their vendors accountable to delivering inside that open standard. In the world of cloud, that’s actually to the benefit of the cloud providers as well.

Akershoek: That’s a key point you make there, indeed.

David: And just to piggyback on what we're saying, it goes back to the value proposition. Why am I doing this? If we have something that’s an open standard, it enables velocity. You can identify costs much easier. It’s simpler and it goes back again to the value proposition and showing these cloud vendors that because of a standard, I'm able to consume more of your services, I'm able to consume your services easier, and here I'm guaranteed because it’s a standard to get my value. Again, it's back to the value proposition that the open standard offers.

Gardner: Sue, how about this issue of automation? Is it essential to be largely automated to realize the full benefits of IT4IT or is that more of a nice-to-have goal? What's the relationship between a high degree of automation in your IT organization for the support of these activities and the standard and Reference Architecture?

Automation is key

Desiderio: I'm a believer that automation is key, so we definitely have to get automation throughout the whole end-to-end value chain no matter what. That’s really part of the whole transformation going into this new model.

You see that throughout the whole value chain. We talked about it individually on the different value streams and how it comes back.

I also want to touch on what’s the right size company or firm to pick up IT4IT. I agree with where Philippe was coming from. Smaller shops can pick it up and start leveraging it more quickly, because they don't have that legacy IT that was done, where it's not built on composite services and things. Everything on a system is pinpointing direct servers and direct networks, instead of building it on services, like a hosting service and a monitoring response service.

For larger IT organizations, there's a lot more change, but it's critical for us to survive and be viable in the future for those IT shops, the larger ones in large organizations, to start adopting and moving forward.

It's not a big bang. We, in a larger IT shop, are going to be running in a mixed mode for a long time to come. It's looking at where to start seeing that business value as you look at new initiatives and things within your organization. How do you start moving into the new model with the new things? How do you start transitioning your legacy systems and whatnot into more of the new way of thinking and looking at that consumption model and what we're trying to do, which is focus on that business outcome.

So it's much harder for the larger IT shops, but the concepts apply to all sizes.

Gardner: Rob, the subject of the moment is size and automation.

Akershoek: I think the principle we just discussed, automation, is a good principle, but if you look at the legacy, as you mentioned, you're not going to automate your legacy, unless you have a good business case for that. You need to standardize your services on many different layers, and that's what you see in the cloud.

Cloud vendors are standardizing extremely, defining standard component services. You have to do the same and define your standard services and then automate all of those. The legacy ones you can't automate or probably don’t want to automate.

So it's more standardization, more standard configurations, and then you can automate and develop or Detect to Correct as well, if you have a very complex configuration and it changes all the time without any standards.

The size of the organization doesn’t matter. Both for large and smaller organizations you need to adopt standard cloud practices from the vendors and automate the delivery to make things repeatable.

Desire to grow

David: Small organizations don’t want to remain small all the time; they actually want to grow. Growth starts with a mindset, a thinking mindset. By applying the Reference Architecture, even though you don't apply every single point to my one-man or two-man shop, it then helps me, it positions me, and it gives me the frame of reference, the thinking to enable growth.

 

It grows organically. So, you don't end up with the legacy baggage that most of the large companies have. And small companies may get acquired, but at least they have good discipline or they may acquire others as they grow. The application of the IT4IT Reference Architecture is just not for large companies, it’s also for small companies, and I'm saying that as a small-business owner myself.

Akershoek: Can I add to that? If you're starting out deployed to the cloud, maybe the best way is to start with automation at first or at least design for automation. If you have a few thousand servers running in the cloud and you didn't start with that concept, then you already have legacy after a few years running in the cloud. So, you should start thinking about automation from the start, not with your legacy of course, but if you're now moving to the cloud design, build that immediately.

Fulton: On this point, one of the directions we're heading is to figure out this very issue, what of the reference architecture applies at what size and evolution in a company’s growth.

As I mentioned, I think I made this comment earlier, the entire reference architecture applies from day one for companies of any size; it's just a question of whether it's explicit or implicit.

If it's implicit, it's in the head of the founder. You're still doing the elements, or you can be still doing the elements, of the reference architecture in your mind and your thought process, but there are pieces you need to make explicit even when you are, as Charlie likes to say, two people in a garage.

On the automation piece, the key thing that has been happening throughout our industry related to automation has been, at least in my perspective, when we've been automating within functional components. What the IT4IT Reference Architecture and its vision of value streams allow us to do is rethink automation along the lines of value streams, across functional components. That's where it starts to really add a considerable value, especially when we can start to put together interoperability between tooling on some of these things. That’s where we're going to see automation take us to that next level as IT organizations.

Gardner: As IT4IT matures and becomes adopted and serves both consumers and providers of services, it seems to me that there will be a similar track with digital business of how you run your business, which is going to be more a brokering activity at a business level, that a business is really a constituency of different providers across supply chains, increasingly across service providers.

Is there a dual track for IT4IT on the IT side and for business management of services through a portal, through dashboard, something that your business analyst and on up would be involved with? Should we let them happen separately? How can we make them more aligned and even highly integrated and synergistic?

Best practices

Geneste: We have such best practices in IT4IT that the businesses themselves can replicate that and use that for themselves. I suppose certain companies do that a little bit today; if you take the Ubers and the Airbnbs and have these disintermediation connecting with private individuals a lot of the time, but have some of these service-oriented concepts today effectively, even though they don’t use IT4IT.

Just as much as we see today, we have cases where businesses, for their help-desks or for their request management, turn to the likes of HPE for service-management software to help them with their business help-desk. We're likely to see that those best practices in terms of individualization and specification of individual conceptual service, service catalogue, or subscription mechanisms. You're right; the concepts could very easily apply to businesses. As to how that would turn out, I would need to do a little bit more thinking, but I think from a concept’s standpoint, it truly should be useful.

Desiderio: We're trying to move ourselves up the stack to help the businesses in the services that they're providing and so it’s very relevant as we're looking at IT4IT and how we're managing the IT services. It’s also those business services, it’s concurrent, it’s evolving and training and making the business aware of where we're trying to go and how they can leverage that in their own services that they are providing outward.

When you look at adopting this, even when you go back down to your IT in your organization where you have your different typical organizational teams, there's a challenge for each IT team to look at the services they're providing and how they start looking at what they do in terms of services, instead of just the functions.

That goes all the way up the stack including the business, the business services, and IT’s job. When we start talking about transformation, we must be aligned with the business so we understand their business processes and the services that they're trying to serve and then how are we truly that business-enabler.

Akershoek: I interpret your question like it's about shadow IT, that there is no shadow IT. Some IT management activity is performed by the business, and you mentioned as well, the business needs to apply IT4IT practices as well. As soon as IT activities are done by the business, like they select and manage their own software-as-a-service (SaaS) application, they need to perform the IT4IT related activities themselves. They're even starting to configure SaaS services themselves. The business can do the configuration and they might even provide the end-user support. Also in these cases, these management activities fit in the IT4IT reference structure model as well.

Gardner: Dwight, we have a business scorecard, we have an IT scorecard, why shouldn’t they be the same scorecard?

David: I'm always reminded that IT is in place to help the business, right? The business is the function, and IT should be the visible enabler of business success. I would classify that as catching up to the business expectations. Could some of the principles that we apply in IT be used for the business? Yeah, it can be, but I see it more the other way around. If you look at a whole value chain that came from the business perspective being approached, being applied to IT, I still see that the business is driven, but really IT is becoming more seamless in enabling the business to achieve their particular goals.

Application of IT

Fulton: The whole concept of digital business is actually a complete misnomer. I hate it; I think it’s wrong. It’s all about the application of information technology. In the context of what we typically talk about with IT4IT, we're talking about the application of information technology to the management of the IT department.

We also talk about the application of information technology to the transformation of business processes. Most of the time, that happens inside companies, and we're using the principles of IT4IT to do that. When we talk about digital business, usually we're talking about the application of information technology into the transformation of business models of companies. Again, it’s still all about applying information technology to make the company work in a different way. For me, the IT4IT principles, the Reference Architecture, the value streams, will still hold for all of that.

Geneste: The two innovations that we have in the IT4IT Reference Architecture -- the Service Backbone and the Request to Fulfill (R2F) value stream -- are the two greatest novelties of the reference architecture.

Are they mature? They're mature enough, and they'll probably evolve in their level of maturity. There are a number of areas that are maturing, and some that we have in design. The IT Financial Management, for instance, is one that I'm working on, and the service costing within that, which I think we'll get a chance to get ready by version 2.1. The idea is to have it as guidance in version 2.1.

The value streams by themselves are also mature and almost complete. There are a number of improvements we can make to all of them, but I think overall the reference architecture is usable today as an architecture to start with. It's not quite for vendor certification, although that’s upcoming, but there are a number of good things and a number of implementations that would benefit from using the current IT4IT Reference Architecture 2.0.

Gardner: Sue, where do you see the most traction and growth, and what would you like to see improved?

Desiderio: An easy entry point to start with is Detect to Correct because it’s one of the value streams that’s a little bit more known and understood. So that’s an easier point of entry for the whole IT4IT Value Chain, compared to some of the other value streams.

The service model, as we've stated all along, is definitely the backbone to the whole IT value chain. Although it's well-formed and in a good, mature state, there's still plenty of work to do to make that consumable to the IT organizations to understand all the different phases of the life cycle and all the different data objects that make up the Service Backbone. That's something that we're currently working on for the 2.1 version, so that we have better examples. We can show how it applies in a real IT organization, and it’s not just what’s in the documentation today.

More detail

Akershoek: I don’t think it’s about positive and negative in this case, but more about areas that we need to work on in more detail, like defining the service-broker role that you see in the new IT organization [and] how you interface with your external service providers. We've identified a number of areas where the IT organization has key touch points with these vendors, like your service catalog, you need to synchronize catalog information with the external vendors and aggregate it into your own catalog.

But there's also the fulfillment API -- how do you communicate a request to your suppliers or different technology stacks and get the consumption and cost data back in? I think we define that today in the IT4IT standard, but we need to go to a lower level of detail -- how do we actually integrate with vendors and our service providers?

So interfacing with the vendors in the eco-system sits on many different levels. It’s on the catalog level and the request fulfillment, that you actually do provision, the cost consumption data, and those kind of aspects.

Another topic is still the linking in to security and identity and access management. It's an area where we still need to clarify. We need to clarify how all the subscriptions in a service link in to that access management capability, which is part of the subscription and, of course, the fulfillment. We didn’t identify it as a separate functional component.

Gardner: Dwight, where are you most optimistic and where would you put more emphasis?

David: I'll start with the latter. More emphasis needs to be on our approach to Detect to Correct. Oftentimes, I see people thinking about Detect to Correct as in the traditional mode of being reactive, as opposed to understanding that this model can be applied even to the new changing user-friendly type of economy and within the hybrid type of IT. A change in thinking in the application of the value streams would also help us.

Many of us have a lot of gray hairs, including myself, and we revert to the old way of thinking, as opposed to the way we should be moving forward. That’s the area where we can do the most.

What's really good, though, is that a lot of people understand Detect to Correct. So it’s an easy adoption in terms of understanding the Reference Architecture. It’s a good entry point to the IT4IT Reference Architecture. That’s where I see the actual benefit. I would encourage us to make it useful, use it, and try it. The most benefit happens then.

Gardner: And Michael, room for optimism and room for improvement?

Management Guide

Fulton: I want to build on Dwight’s point around trying it by sharing. The one thing I'm most excited about, particularly this week, is the Management Guide -- very specifically, chapter 5 of the Management Guide. I hope all of you got a chance to grab your copy of that. If you haven’t, I recommend downloading it from The Open Group website. That chapter is absolutely rich in content about how to actually implement IT4IT.

And I tip my hat to Rob, who did a great piece of work, along with several other people. If you want to pick up the standard and use it, start there, start with chapter 5 of the Management Guide. You may not need to go much further, because that’s just great content to work with. I'm very excited about that.

From the standpoint of where we need to continue to evolve and grow as a standard, we've referenced some of the individual pieces, but at a higher level. The supporting activities in general all still need to evolve and get to the level of detail that we have with the value streams. That’s a key area for me.

The next area that I would highlight, and I know we're actively starting work on this, is around getting down to that level of detail where we can do data interoperability, where we can start to outline the specifics that are needed to define APIs between the functional components in such a way that we can ultimately bring us back to that Open Group vision of a boundaryless information flow.

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