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5 May 2009

Advanced IT Management

By Andrew Clifford

What does advanced IT management look like?

In IT, we build increasingly sophisticated solutions, and tend to equate "advanced" with "technologically sophisticated".

I recently saw the phrase "Advanced IT Management", and it conjured up images of technologically sophisticated tools, with really clever Web 2.0 interfaces and web services and Ajax and things like that.

I kicked myself for falling into this mental trap. Just because we are in the business of IT, it does not follow that we can only improve management by improving technology. We can make big advances in management that are not technologically sophisticated at all.

These advances go further than following our current methods better. Of course we can apply project controls more diligently, seek out good design patterns, and refine our service delivery processes. But in the work I do, I see some step changes we can make, some real advances, especially in the long-term management of our IT.

We can:

  • Halt the decline into legacy. We are good managing projects, and managing day-to-day service delivery. But we tend to let existing systems decline, and they inevitably slip into unsupportable legacy.
  • Base technical decisions on business objectives, and communicate technical decisions effectively to a business audience.
  • Manage different technical specialisms consistently. Instead of managing each specialism separately - such as design, databases, infrastructure, information security, compliance, architecture - we can manage all of these under a consistent management framework.
  • Use numbers, not just anecdote and argument, to manage technology. There is a need for specialist opinion, but to understand value and set priorities, we need numbers. The best technicians may not be the best politicians, and we need a way for them to make a case for their work that isn't just based on clever argument.
  • Apply policy consistently. Too often our IT policies are merely statements of good intention, with no way of ensuring they are applied consistently across all of our IT. We need an approach that makes it easy to set a direction and stick to it.
  • Manage outcomes as well as processes. Much of our management is process-based, basically checking that people are doing what they are told. We also need to check that the processes are working, and that we are consistently achieving the IT outcomes that we want.

Taken together, these are a significant advance, and nothing to do with sophisticated technology.

I saw the phrase "Advanced IT Management" when we were playing around with ideas for our new Metrici website. We put it on the site as some filler words, to try out layout. We laughed at ourselves for such a bold claim. We do not use advanced sophisticated technology.

But then we realised that we were not being unreasonably bold. The areas in which we specialise are not technologically sophisticated, but they do pursue all the advances listed above. We can, and should, describe them as advanced.

Perhaps one of the reasons we find IT management hard is that we look for improvements in the wrong places. For advances in IT management, we should not look for advanced IT, but look more closely at management itself, and what we need to change to drive it forward.



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