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30 October 2007

Today, tomorrow and for ever

By Andrew Clifford

In IT we need to achieve three things: delivery of service today; change for tomorrow; and fitness for the future. Each requires a different management approach.

IT services are critical to the running of our businesses. We have to deliver service today, and every day.

Service delivery depends on implementing effective and repeatable processes. Major frameworks such as ITIL define a complete set of processes for service delivery.

We run projects to support where the business is heading tomorrow.

Projects are not as repeatable as service delivery. Every project is different. The most effective approach is to have a strong method for running projects that takes account of these differences, and then a consistent framework that sits above the project method to balance competing priorities and to control individual projects.

Approaches such as PRINCE/2 provide a strong project approach, and disciplines such as project portfolio management (PPM) provide a framework above this.

But what do we do about the future? How can we make systems last as long as the business needs them? How do we prepare for future changes years before they materialise into projects?

Managing these "for evers" is not the same as managing service delivery or change. We are not yet carrying out any processes, so a process definition approach can not work. We are not yet running projects, so a project method and framework can not work.

The best preparation we can make for the future is to make sure that each and every part of our IT is as fit as it can be for whatever the future might bring. Of course, we do not know exactly what the future will bring, but that is not a reason for inaction. We need to be creative and think what characteristics will best prepare our IT for the future, and then to actively manage our IT to achieve these.

We can prepare for the future by setting and enforcing standards, and by creating specialist roles that focus on different aspects of IT fitness. But a common complaint of everyone charged with enforcing standards or pursuing a specialist agenda is that they are constantly pushed aside because of the pressures of service and project delivery. To redress this, we need to raise the profile of standards and specialist work so that it can compete with service delivery and projects for management attention and resources.

System governance is a framework for the long-term management of IT. It is based on the definition, assessment and improvement of the characteristics of IT systems. It highlights the business case for managing fitness of systems, letting it compete for resources with service delivery improvements and project opportunities. System governance provides a focus and a home for standards and specialist work, and gives these the profile that they need to deliver fitness for the future.

We need a three-pronged approach to IT management. We need a strong process management framework to manage today's challenges of service delivery. We need an effective project management method to deliver tomorrow's changes. We need system governance to manage the fitness of our systems to prepare them for whatever the future might bring.

Next: A principle of management control

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