doing a jigsaw puzzle
PHOTO: Ryoji Iwata

The IT department’s job has long been to give business a technology-powered edge over its competitors. Today, that mandate is expressed as “digital transformation,” which emphasizes disruptive innovations over iterative process refinements.

No matter what you call it or what you emphasize, today’s technologies are fundamentally changing the way we do business. In turn, businesses need to fundamentally change the way they manage IT. Below, we’ll take a look at the front lines of digital transformation and the IT management solutions needed to support it.

Context for Transformation

The technologies driving change today include cloud, mobility, the Internet of Things, machine learning, big data and social networks that enable people to freely and easily communicate and collaborate. While each of these technologies is significant in its own right, their convergence is creating a force that’s bringing about profound, irreversible changes in our business and personal lives.

Value migration: The first change is value migration, which renders established companies irrelevant by startups using technology to disrupt traditional business models. Here, think of cab companies giving way to Uber and hotels giving way to Airbnb. No business or business unit is immune. Value migration can happen just as ruthlessly in legal, R&D, marketing, sales and IT as it did in public transportation and hospitality.

Decentralization: Organizations are becoming increasingly decentralized. That’s the second change. Frequently, decision-making and information flow are random, with no top-down structure or clear chain of command. This applies to business decisions and technology decisions alike.

Customer expectations: The third change concerns what people expect from the technology they use. The days when technology was only used at work are long gone. Now, it permeates our lives, on the job and off, leaving customers and internal users alike with high expectations for accessibility and ease of use.

In the IT department, the changes above present a two-fold challenge as the team deals with the transformation impacting itself and the rest of the organization simultaneously. Here’s how IT teams can rise to that management challenge.

Related Article: Is Digital Really Transformative?

Managing Transformation: 360-Degree IT Management

The IT department typically has several functions: managing desktops, applications, network devices, security and other IT elements. The problem is these functions are usually done in silos that don’t talk to each other. Each function has its own goals, its own processes, and often, its own tools that don’t integrate with each other.

As a result, information doesn’t flow in the right context to the right person to make decisions. Without standard processes for the team to follow, productivity is low as is the ability to respond to incidents. Adopting a 360-degree IT service management strategy — an integrated IT management approach that promotes optimal operations — will eliminate these silos. Let’s take a look at a few scenarios that provide immediate management benefits in response to digital transformation.

Employee onboarding: Typically, employee onboarding involves complex workflows with multiple approvals in various departments, from HR to legal, administration and IT. On the IT side alone, there would typically be several tools used to handle each task, from creating a user account to provisioning laptops and smartphones. With a 360-degree strategy, however, all of those processes can be unified within a single workflow and executed with a single click.

Incident management: Imagine a cipher used in one of your mission-critical applications is broken. Now, somebody must physically go into the server and enable an integration change to make sure that cipher is no longer used by any of your internet-facing applications. If that change is made on, say, a Sunday evening, there’s a good chance the change wasn’t cleared. And while not a best practice, directly changing something in the server happens when you have multiple teams and multiple tools that don’t talk to each other.

Here, too, a 360-degree strategy can enable a single workflow that monitors SSL certifications, generates tickets and sends notifications, and manages the incident end to end. The workflow can even include granting temporary rights to specific admins to make changes to specific folders on the affected server.

Analytics: IT managers ask a lot of questions every day, from team workload to application performance. Usually, answers are found after writing and running a complex query. When analytics is part of a 360-degree IT management strategy, answers can be graphically presented after dragging and dropping a few data points on an iPad or mobile phone.

Related Article: Think Digital Renovation, Not Digital Transformation

Managing Transformation: Enterprise Service Management

As organizations get more decentralized, IT teams can fill the procedural gap with enterprise service management (ESM). In other words, the tools that IT teams use to manage services, incidents, changes and other processes can be adapted to manage the services provided by other departments in the organization. After all, each of those other departments is providing some sort of service to the others.

Each department would get its own, isolated service management instance tuned specifically for its requirements. While the instances would be isolated, the users would be common across all instances so that a user could have different roles across various instances. IT could still have control over which applications are used in the company yet allow the other teams to configure and consume applications the way they want, making them available in an enterprise application store.

ESM can also be extended to include an enterprise credential store, which could be used to securely manage passwords, digital identities, and important documents such as license fees and contracts. Another ESM extension is centralized analytics that support any tabular data and correlate that with IT management data to generate reports that provide the answers and insights that are often a casualty of decentralization.

Related Article: Goodbye Digital Transformation, Hello Cathedral Thinking

Managing Transformation: Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Users today want to do all of their work in one place, in a one-stop application that handles their communications and collaboration as well as the work that is particular to their jobs. With AI, we can meet those expectations and deliver everything into a single enterprise application, with a user experience that’s on par with the best consumer-grade applications around.

In addition to providing an automated interface to access information, another benefit of AI is how simple it is to create and consume data from that interface. Similarly, AI lets users delegate work that humans typically don’t do well such as predicting future events, making data easier to understand, and performing mundane and routine tasks.

To that last point, AI can handle routine IT management tasks such as taking help desk calls from users, creating tickets, and assigning them to technicians. The AI could also assess an inbound ticket and determine whether it violates an SLA (and flag it if it does).

Beyond the help desk, AI can be applied to areas such as information security. For instance, imagine a company insider is stealing data on IP filings and IT insights. However, rather than copy all of the information to a USB flash drive in one big file transfer, they write a script and copy multiple 100MB chunks over time, in different locations. AI can easily detect such apparently random, disconnected file transfers and notify the administrator.