KJR’s ITaaS series (IT as a Service, the old run-IT-as-a-business mannequin dressed up in a new suit) has been longer than a bad shaggy dog story. So it’s time, and maybe past time for the punchline. But it’s a two week punchline. Ready?
Start with the business model. I snuck the best one in (or at least, best in most situations) several weeks ago when you weren’t looking. It’s called Landlord/Tenant, and it solves many of the most egregious problems with product-focused, catalog-oriented versions of ITaaS that dominate industry discussions of the subject.
With this business model, IT takes on rights and responsibilities equivalent to a landlord (hence the name). But not just any ordinary landlord. We’re talking about a high-end landlord who provides lots of valuable services for tenants beyond just providing a roof and four walls.
Our high-end landlord provides three types of service: Core, metered, and custom.
Paying the rent buys tenants all core services — niceties like kitchen appliances, bathroom fixtures, a parking space, garbage removal, and, in this day and age, telephones (local calls), basic cable, and internet service. They’re built into the rent even for renters who don’t want one or more of them, on the grounds that most renters do and it’s cheaper and easier to provide them universally at a single fixed price than to provide them as a la carte options.
Their IT equivalents might include PCs, file and print services, email, telephones, and the never-popular time entry system.
Real landlords also take care of snow plowing, grounds keeping, and building maintenance. IT landlords run the data center and network infrastructure.
The tenants’ rent also has to cover their landlord’s costs of running the business itself. IT has parallels for these too — in particular, the cost of maintaining a coherent technical architecture. More about this later.
Our high-end landlord also provides metered services, whose cost depends on usage. HVAC is an obvious example. Long-distance calls, too.
For IT, metered services might include “How-do-I?” help desk calls and long distance charges. Maybe mobile phones, and tablets, too. Metering doesn’t just mean services consumed in fine-grained increments.
The thing about metered services is that they’re standard and available to everyone, just like core services, but unlike core services they’re optional.
The third class of service is custom services. For actual landlords these might include custom painting or wallpapering, premium lighting fixtures, or replacing the standard kitchen appliances with higher-end alternatives.
For IT-as-landlord they might include application development and enhancement … or these might be provided as metered services; there’s no right or wrong answer to this.
Package selection, configuration, and integration will probably be delivered as custom services too, but again, this depends on how the CIO wants to run the IT-as-landlord business.
Turning IT into a landlord has an interesting and useful property: While “the customer is always right,” tenants aren’t. Landlords have well-understood rights that renters aren’t allowed to violate. For example:
Tenants don’t get to install their own window air conditioners. They use the building’s central air conditioning, just as managers don’t get to install answering machines on their telephones — they use the enterprise voicemail system, like it or not.
Tenants don’t get to install their own satellite dishes. They use the building’s cable connection. That’s because, in addition to the poor aesthetics that would result from lots of individual dishes attached to the side of the building, tenants would have to drill holes through the outside wall to run a cable from the dish to their televisions. That’s called “damaging the landlord’s property” and it’s not allowed.
And so on. Landlords have responsibilities beyond giving each tenant what that tenant asks for, in the form the tenant asks for it.
IT-as-landlord is in a similar situation. It provides the capabilities each “internal customer” (shudder) needs, but that’s different from providing the exact make and model each manager prefers.
That’s as it should be, because IT is responsible for more than a catalog of services. It’s responsible for maintaining a coherent enterprise technical architecture … for the enterprise integration of these services, so they make sense as a whole and not just as independent parts.
Which also, by the way, means there’s no competition. If a business tenant wants something, whether it’s custom or metered, that tenant has to work through the IT landlord … and unlike real tenants, IT’s tenants can’t move to a different building.
Which goes to show that every analogy has its limits.
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Next week: Chargebacks. Hey, everyone needs something to look forward to.