“Could you please stop saying there’s no such thing as an IT project?” a reader politely asked. “When I have switches/routers/servers that are out of support from their vendors and need to be replaced with no business changes I have to call these IT projects.”
I get this a lot, and understand why folks on the IT infrastructure side of things might find the phrase irritating.
And I agree that projects related to IT infrastructure, properly executed, result in no visible business change.
But (you did know “but” was hanging in the air, didn’t you?) … but, these projects actually do result in significant business change.
It’s risk prevention. These projects reduce the likelihood of bad things happening to the business — bad things like not being able to license and run software that’s essential to operating the business; to purchase and use hardware that’s compatible with strategic applications, and so on.
It’s important for business executives to recognize this category of business change project, if for no other reason that none of us want a recurrence of what happened to IT’s reputation following our successful prevention of Y2K fiascoes. Remember? Everyone outside IT decided nothing important or interesting had happened, and that’s if they didn’t conclude we were just making the whole thing up.
Successful prevention is, we discovered, indistinguishable from the absence of risk. So we need to put a spotlight on the business risks we’re preventing so everyone recognizes our successes when we have them.
Not to mention the need for everyone to be willing to fund them.
Which leads to a quick segue to IT architecture, which, depending on the exact framework and source, divides the IT stack into information systems architecture, subdivided into applications and data; and technology architecture, subdivided into platforms, infrastructure, and facilities.
Switches and routers, along with everything else related to networking are infrastructure. With the exception of performance engineering, infrastructure changes ought to be invisible to everyone other than the IT infrastructure team responsible for their care and feeding.
Servers, though, belong to the platform sub-layer, along with operating systems, virtualization technology, development environments, database management systems … all of the stuff needed to build, integrate, and run the applications that are so highly visible to the rest of the business.
The teams responsible for platform updates know from painful experience that while in theory layered architectures insulate business users from platform changes, in fact it often turns out that:
- Code written for one version of a development environment won’t run in the new version.
- The vendors of licensed COTS applications haven’t finished adapting their software to make it compatible with the latest OS or DBMS version.
- Especially in the case of cloud migrations, which frequently lead to platform, infrastructure, and facilities changes, performance engineering becomes a major challenge. And as everyone who has ever worked in IT infrastructure management knows, poor application performance is terribly, terribly visible to the business.
Not that these platform update challenges are always problems. They can also be opportunities, for clearing out the applications underbrush. Part of the protocol for platform updates is making sure all application “owners” (really, stewards) aren’t just informed of the change but are actively involved in the regression testing and remediation needed to make sure the platform change doesn’t break anything.
The opportunity: If nobody as the steward for a particular application, retiring it shouldn’t be a problem.
On a related topic, regular readers will recall the only IT infrastructure metric that matters is the Invisibility Index. Its logic: Nobody notices the IT infrastructure unless and until something goes wrong.
Invisibility = success. Being noticed = failure.
Something else regular readers will recognize is that Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is a dreadful metric, violating at least three of the 7 C’s of good metrics. TCO isn’t consistent, complete, or on a continuum: It doesn’t always go one way when things improve and the other when they deteriorate; it measures costs but not benefits; and it has no defined scale, so there’s no way to determine whether a given product’s TCO is good or bad.
But perhaps we should introduce a related metric. Call it TCI — the Total Cost of Invisibility. It’s how much of its operating budget a business needs to devote so those responsible for the IT infrastructure can continue to keep it invisible.
They’ll keep it invisible by running what aren’t IT projects. But are quite technical nonetheless.