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7 March 2006

System governance: automating IT improvement

By Andrew Clifford

You can use system governance to identify and prioritise improvements to your systems, and justify your improvements. Automating this helps you tackle all of the problems, not just the obvious ones.

System governance involves defining and measuring what is important about your IT systems. But this is only half the work. You need to turn your measurements into an action plan.

Coming up with an action plan can be difficult and time-consuming. It is hard to consider all of the issues on all of the systems, work out what improvements would really make a difference, and put together a compelling justification for the work. There is so much information that we can not make sense of it all, and we have to focus on a few obvious strategic systems and hot topics. We never really get to grips with most of the problems on most of the systems.

Perhaps we could produce more effective plans if we automated some of the process. We need to consider three questions: is automation possible? can we rely on automated advice? and where does this leave human experts?

Technically, it is certainly possible to automate the identification and prioritisation of improvements. At Metrici, we have found that using an expert system to analyse system governance information allows us to draw out the main points for management attention, with recommendations and priorities. Of course there are always new or unusual conditions that an automated system can not spot. But most IT problems are not new and are not unusual.

To be relied on, an automated system needs to explain its recommendations so that you can make sure they are appropriate, and to justify the work. Since you can only get out what you put in, you need an approach that requires you to describe systems well enough that validation is possible. Recommendations based on a simple tick-in-the-box questionnaire are hard to validate.

Automation does not do away with experts. I worked for years giving general technical advice to IT projects. I did not need to be an expert, but I needed to understand enough about the specialist areas to know when they needed to get involved. In the same way, we need to be realistic about the level of advice that it is appropriate to automate. An automated tool can help us identify, justify and quantify where action is appropriate, but we still need human experts to validate and implement the recommendations.

It is both feasible and valuable to automate a lot of the process of identifying, prioritising and justifying improvements. Most IT problems are not that hard to identify, and it is not that hard to understand what needs to be done. What is hard is keeping track of and making sense of all of the issues on all of the systems all of the time, and turning this into a justifiable action plan.

We can automate a lot of this work. As well as saving time and effort, automation lets us look more broadly. And this allows us, through time, to fix all of the problems on all of the systems, not just the obvious ones.

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