Running IT as an Ecosystem

Ecosystem

The New York Times (27 November 2011) has an interesting article under “bright ideas” called Turn on the Server. It’s Cold Outside.

The idea in the age of cloud and distributed computing, where physical location of infrastructure is besides the point, is to place (racks of) servers in people’s homes to warm them from the cold.
The idea is really pretty cool and quite intuitive: Rather than use expensive HVAC systems to cool the environment where servers heat up and are housed, instead we can use the heat-generating servers to warm cold houses and save money and resources on buying and running furnaces to heat them.
While some may criticize this idea on security implications–since the servers need to be secured–I think you can easily counter that such a strategy under the right security conditions (some of which are identified in the article–encrypting the data, alarming the racks, and so on) could actually add a level of security by distributing your infrastructure thereby making it less prone to physical disruption by natural disaster or physical attack.
In fact, the whole movement towards consolidation of data centers, should be reevaluated based on such security implications.  Would you rather have a primary and backup data center that can be taken out by a targeted missile or other attack for example, or more distributed data centers that can more easily recover. In fact, the move to cloud computing with data housed sort of everywhere and anywhere globally offers the possibility of just such protection and is in a sense the polar opposite of data center consolidation–two opposing tracks, currently being pursued simultaneously.
One major drawback to the idea of distributing servers and using them to heat homes–while offering cost-saings in term of HVAC, it would be very expensive in terms of maintaining those servers at all the homes they reside in.
In general, while it’s not practical to house government data servers in people’s homes, we can learn to run our data centers more environmentally friendly way. For example, the article mentions that Europe is using centralized “district heating” whereby more centralized data center heat is distributed by insulated pipes to neighboring homes and businesses, rather than actually locating the servers in the homes.
Of course, if you can’t heat your homes with data servers, there is another option that gets you away from having to cool down all those hot servers, and that is to locate them in places with cooler year-round temperatures and using the areas natural air temperature for climate control. So if you can’t bring the servers to heat the homes, you can at least house them in cold climates to be cooled naturally.  Either way, there is the potential to increase our green footprint and cost-savings.
Running information technology operations with a greater view toward environmental impact and seeing IT in terms of the larger ecosystem that it operates in, necessitates a careful balancing of the mission needs for IT, security, manageability, and recovery as well as potential benefits for greater energy independence, environmental sustainability, and cost savings, and is the type of innovative bigger picture thinking that we can benefit from to break the cycle of inertia and inefficiency that too often confronts us.
(Source Photo: here)

>Business Process Reengineering and Enterprise Architecture

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User-centric EA analyzes problem areas in the organization and uncovers gaps, redundancies, inefficiencies, and opportunities; EA uses this information to drive business process reengineering and improvement as well as to introduce new technologies to the enterprise.

According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-130, Management of Federal Information Resources, business process reengineering needs to take place to achieve the benefits of new information technology: “Moreover, business process reengineering should accompany all attempts to facilitate a transaction through information technology. Often the full benefits will be realized only by restructuring the process to take advantage of the technology. Merely moving an existing paper based process to an electronic one is unlikely to reap the maximum benefits from the electronic system.”

In the book The 21st Century Organization by Bennis and Mische the authors explain how organizations can reinvent themselves through reengineering.

What exactly is reengineering?

Reengineering is reinventing the enterprise by challenging its existing doctrines, practices, and activities and then innovatively redeploying its capital and human resources into cross-functional processes. This reinvention is intended to optimize the organization’s competitive position, it value to shareholders, and its contribution to society.”

What are the essential elements of reengineering?

There are five:

  1. A bold vision
  2. A systemic approach
  3. A clear intent and mandate
  4. A specific methodology
  5. Effective and visible leadership”

What activities are involved in reengineering?

  • “Innovating
  • Listening to customers
  • Learning
  • Generating ideas
  • Designing new paradigms
  • Anticipating and eclipsing competitors
  • Contributing to the quality of the workplace and the community
  • Constructively challenging established management doctrines”

“Reengineering the enterprise is difficult. It means permanently transforming the entire orientation and direction of the organization. It means challenging and discarding traditional values, historical precedents, tried-and-true processes, and conventional wisdom and replacing them with entirely different concepts and practices. It means redirecting and retraining workers with those new concepts and practices…The very cultural fiber of the enterprise must be interrogated and redefined. Traditional work flows must be examined and redesigned. Technology must be redirected from supporting individual users and departments to enabling cross-functional processes.”

What are the goals of reengineering?

  • “Increasing productivity
  • Optimizing value to shareholders
  • Achieving quantum results
  • Consolidating functions
  • Eliminating unnecessary levels of work”

Reengineering seeks to increase productivity by creating innovative and seamless processes…the paradigms of vertical ‘silo’ tasks and responsibilities is broken down and replaced with a cross-functional, flatter, networked structure. The classical, top-down approach to control is replaced with an approach that is organized around core processes, is characterized by empowerment, and is closer to the customer….Reengineering constructively challenges and analyzes the organization’s hierarchy and activities in terms of their value, purpose, and content. Organizational levels and activities that represent little value to shareholders or contribute little to competitiveness are either restructured or eliminated.”

What is the role of EA?

EA is the discipline that synthesizes key business and technology information across the organization to support better decision-making. EA develops and maintains the current and target architectures and transition plan for the organization. As OMB recommends, in setting enterprise targets, EA should focus first and foremost on business process reengineering and then on technology enablement. If the organization does not do process reengineering first, the organization risks not only failing to achieve the benefits of introducing new IT, but also causing actual harm to the organizations existing processes and results. For example, adding a new technology without reengineering process can add additional layers of staff and management to implement, maintain, and operate the technology instead of creating a net resource savings to the organization, from more efficient operations. Similarly, without doing reengineering before IT implementation, the enterprise may actually implement IT that conflicts with existing process and thus either require timely and costly system customization or end up adversely impacting process cycle time, delaying shipments, harming customer satisfaction, and creating bloated inventories, and so on.

Bennis and Mische predict that in the 21st century “to be competitive, an organization will have to be technology enabled…the specific types of technology and vendors will be unimportant, as most organizations will have access to or actually have similar technologies. However, how the organization deploys its technological assets and resources to achieve differentiation will make the difference in whether it is competitive.”

>The Enlightened Enterprise and the Total CIO

>The Total CIO is responsible for the strategy, operations, and governance of everything IT.

The strategy ensures that we are doing the right things and doing them the right way. It’s the CIO’s vision, goals, and objectives for developing IT solutions that meet business requirements.

The operations is providing for core IT functions like voice and data communications, information, applications, infrastructure, security, and so forth,

The governance is how we make decisions about IT. Through good governance we enhance visibility of IT requirements and projects, enable better communication and vetting, share risks, and prioritize, authorize, and control IT investments.

Architecture and Governance Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 2, has a good article titled “Bringing IT Governance from Theory to Action.” (by Davin Gellego and Jon Borg-Breen)

The problem is complexity:

“Even as technology has simplified and become almost invisible to most audiences, the complexity of maintaining technology is reaching a breaking point for information technology organizations…little time is invested between the lines of business and IT to communicate corporate goals and how technology can support these goals. The mandate is simply ‘do more with less.’”

The solution is governance:

Lines of business and IT can no longer work in their respective vacuums. This new interconnectedness means that what affects one now affects all. If problems are no longer confined to one functional area, solutions can’t be either. IT governance defines accountability and decision making and simplifies the challenges of consolidation, outsourcing, and increased visibility—ensuring IT expenditures deliver real business value.

The traditional organizational paradigm was silos. Everyone works for their particular unit, division, line of business and so on. Each is functionally and organizationally independent. Each develops their own strategy, products and services, customer base, and so on. Each has their own profit and loss statement. Working with other divisions, conducting joint product development, sharing information or ideas, cross-selling, and other collaborative efforts are discouraged, shunned, minimized, and looked at with suspicion. It’s every line of business or man for themselves. A unit that is not “producing” gets disciplined, downsized, reorganized, spun off, or otherwise eliminated. A division head that isn’t meeting their targets is toast! (Interestingly enough, people traditionally work in a “division”—that very word connotes separation, distinctiveness, and divisiveness.)

The enlightened paradigm is cross-functional. Everyone works for the enterprise. Each unit of the enterprise is part of a functional whole. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Collaboration, integrated product teams, working groups, information sharing, cross selling, corporate brand, interoperability, standards, component re-use, and other unifying activities are encouraged, taught, mandated, recognized, and rewarded. Performance measures take into account not only how your division is doing, but how it is contributing to overall mission of the organization. The goals of each individual and unit are aligned to the enterprise.

In the enlightened enterprise, The CIO is not running “the IT division,” but rather is providing IT services and solutions to the enterprise. In this paradigm, the CIO requires a structured and mature governance process, so that all stakeholders have a voice at the table and can influence the decision process and ensure more successful project delivery. IT governance provides for a consistent, collaborative decision process. Governance bring business and IT subject matter experts together to communicate, make visible, align, share risks, vet, prioritize, and issue decisions.

“The most successful enterprises engage in both business and IT in investment decisions. IT governance strengthens and clarifies the connection between corporate goals and IT initiatives. And with both business and IT aware of the strategic benefits of a given initiative, the initiative has a far greater chance of company-wide adoption and success.”

In the enlightened enterprise, “no line of business or IT department is an island. What affects one, affects all.” And in this environment, it is The Total CIO who can reach out across the enterprise bringing a unifying IT strategy, a sound, reliable, secure, and cost-effective operations platform, and a governance process to communicate, make visible, share risks, and make better decisions through the participation of all the pertinent IT stakeholders.

>Occam’s Razor and Enterprise Architecture

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“Occam’s razor (sometimes spelled Ockham’s razor) is a principle attributed to the 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham…The principle is often expressed in Latin as the lex parsimoniae (‘law of parsimony’ or ‘law of succinctness’)..This is often paraphrased as ‘All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.’… it is more often taken today as a heuristic maxim (rule of thumb) that advises economy, parsimony, or simplicity.’” (Wikipedia)

In Occam’s razor, “razor refers to the act of shaving away unnecessary assumptions to get to the simplest explanation.”

Thomas Aquinas made a similar argument in the 13th century: “If a thing can be done adequately by means of one, it is superfluous to do it by means of several; for we observe that nature does not employ two instruments where one suffices.” (Pegis, A. C., translator (1945). Basic Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. New York: Random House, 129.)

The principle of Occam’s razor is very applicable to enterprise architecture—how?

Occams razor is a call for simplicity, and this principle is a foundation for enterprise architecture in terms of consolidation, integration, and cost efficiency and takes specific form in terms of:

  • Systems interoperability and component re-use
  • Technology standardization and simplification

Paul O’Neill, the former Secretary of the Treasury was a true advocate of Occams razor and frequently asked “if not one, why not one?”

“The philosopher of science Elliott Sober once argued along the same lines as Popper, tying simplicity with ‘informativeness’: The simplest theory is the more informative one, in the sense that less information is required in order to answer one’s questions.” (Wikipedia)

In this sense, Occam’s razor is a validation for User-centric Enterprise Architecture, which seeks to make information simpler, easier to understand, and generally more valuable and actionable to the end-user to enhance decision making. Moreover, Occam’s razor is also evident in User-centric EA application of principles of communication and design like simplifying complex information and maximizing use of information visualization in order to more effectively communication EA information.

Occams razor makes clear the need to transform from traditional EA’s development of “artifacts” that are often difficult for the user to understand and apply and instead develop more useful and usable information products and governance services.

>Virtualization and Enterprise Architecture

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“[Virtualization is] a technique for hiding the physical characteristics of computing resources from the way in which other systems, applications, or end users interact with those resources. This includes making a single physical resource (such as a server, an operating system, an application, or storage device) appear to function as multiple logical resources; or it can include making multiple physical resources (such as storage devices or servers) appear as a single logical resource.” (Mann, Andi, Virtualization 101, Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), Retrieved on 29 October 2007 according to Wikipedia)

Virtualization places an intermediary between consumers and providers; it is an interface between the two. The interface allows a multiplicity of consumers to interact with one provider, or one consumer to interact with a multiplicity of providers, or both, with only the intermediary being aware of multiplicities. (adapted from Wikipedia)

ComputerWorld, 24 September 2007, reports in “Virtual Machines deployed on the Sly” that according to an InfoPro survey “28% of the respondents said they expect that half of all new servers installed at their companies this year will host virtual applications. And about 50% said that, by 2010, at least half of their new servers will likely host virtual software.

What are the major concerns in going virtual?

  • Service levels—users are concerned that performance will suffer without having dedicated hardware to run their applications.
  • Security—there is concern that application and information security will be compromised in a virtual environment.
  • Vendor support—“some vendors won’t support their software at all if it’s run on virtual machines.”
  • Pricing—pricing for software licensing utilized in a virtual environment can be higher due to added complexity of support.

From a User-centric Enterprise Architecture perspective, plan on moving to virtual machines. There is potential for significant cost savings from consolidating IT infrastructure that includes reducing the number of servers, reducing related facility costs, as well as increasing overall utilization rates of machines and balancing loads to achieve greater efficiency. Soon there is no need for a dedicated server to host applications anymore.

>Simplification and Enterprise Architecture

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Enterprise architecture seeks to simplify organizational complexity through both business processes reengineering and technology enablement. Technology itself is simplified through standardization, consolidation, interoperability, integration, modernization, and component reuse.

Harvard Business Review, December 2007, reports on simplifying the enterprise.

Large organizations are by nature complex, but over the years circumstances have conspired to add layer upon layer of complexity to how businesses are structured and managed. Well-intentioned responses to new business challenges—globalization, emerging technologies, and regulations…–have left us with companies that are increasingly ungovernable, unwieldy, and underperforming. In many more energy is devoted to navigating the labyrinth than to achieving results.”

Having worked for a few large organizations myself, I can “feel the pain.” Getting up to 8 levels of signature approval on routine management matters is just one such pain point.

What causes complexity?

Complexity is the cumulative byproduct or organizational changes, big and small that over the years weave complications (often invisibly) into the ways that work is done.

What is sort of comical here is that the many change management and quality processes that are put in place or attempted may actually do more harm than good, by making changes at the fringes—rather than true simplification and process reengineering at the core of the enterprise.

Here is a checklist for cutting complexity out of your organization:

  • “Make simplification a goal, not a virtue—include simplicity…[in] the organization’s strategy; set targets for reducing complexity; create performance incentives that reward simplicity.
  • Simplify organizational structure—reduce levels and layers…consolidate similar functions.
  • Prune and simplify products and services—employ product portfolio strategy; eliminate, phase out, or sell low-value products; counter feature creep.
  • Discipline business and governance processes—create well-defined decision structures (councils and committees); streamline operating processes (planning, budgeting, and so on).
  • Simplify personal patterns—counter communication overload; manage meeting time; facilitate collaboration across organizational boundaries.”

Leading enterprise architecture and IT governance for a number of enterprises has shown me that these initiatives must be focused on the end-user and on simplifying process and improving results, rather than creating more unnecessary complexity. The chief architect needs to carefully balance the need for meaningful planning, helpful reviews, and solid documentation and an information repository with simplifying, streamlining, consolidating, reengineering, and facilitating an agile, nimble, and innovative culture.

>IT Consolidation adds Up To Cost Savings and Enterprise Architecture

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For CIOs, one of the secrets of the trade for building cost efficiency is consolidation of IT assets, such as data centers and help desks. Of course, to accomplish this you need to executive commitment and user buy-in.

The Wall Street Journal, 29 January 2008, reports that “H-P Hits Snag in Quest for Savings through System Consolidation.”

“Since July 2005 [the Compaq merger]…the firm [HP] has been in a project to cut the number of computer program is uses by more than half [from 6000 to 1600], and reduce the number of its data centers…to six from 85.”

Have the benefits of consolidation been documented?

In a survey of 1500 CIOs by Gartner last year, “reducing costs through IT consolidation and other means is one of their top ten priorities.”

Further, according to Forrester Research, “the benefits can be significant” In a survey, last fall, of eight companies that consolidated IT, “nearly all ‘lowered …overall operational costs by at least 20%.’”

What are some of the critical success factors?

  1. User buy-in—“vice president often aren’t used to taking order from the chief information officer on what computer programs they can use. ‘It’s about politics.’” The way to get around this and develop buy-in is to set the targets with the CEO and CFO, but let the users decide which systems to keep and which to fold into the consolidation.
  2. Executive commitment— “The solution is to get management support from the top. ‘Getting the CEO lined up is hard, and that’s the key person.’” At HP the CEO “threatened some with termination” that didn’t follow along with his commitment to consolidate.

From a User-centric EA perspective, IT standardization, consolidation, and cost efficiency are important goals. Of course, this needs to be done in the context of developing a sound, secure, reliable, state-of-the-art IT infrastructure. Achieving cost effectiveness must involve building enterprise solutions, merging disparate data centers and help desks, consolidated purchasing, and otherwise standardizing products and streamlining operations. Of course, user buy-is a prerequisite when using a User-centric EA approach.