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9 June 2009

What's really going on 3: thinking of IT differently

By Andrew Clifford

Despite the effort put into managing people, processes and technology, IT management is chronically fragmented and inward-looking. We need to think of IT differently.

We need to understand clearly the purpose of IT and how IT delivers value.

The purpose of IT is to provide useful information to the business. IT delivers value because it allows this information to be preserved through time (storage), derived from other information (transformation) or moved from place to place (communication). Higher-order value can be built on top of this, such as decision support, process automation, or enabling business change, but these can all be traced back to these basic capabilities.

We also need a simple structure for thinking about IT that counterbalances the complexities of people, process and technology. Our requirements for this are:

  • Easy to understand.
  • Shows the connection between what we do and the value that IT delivers.
  • Provides a common point of reference between IT and business.
  • Provides a common point of reference between different IT specialists.

Value is delivered from IT by the automation of the storage, transformation and communication of information. To get the structure we need, we can split IT down into understandable and manageable units around this information automation capability.

That is what a business application is - a related set of IT capability. We can use this as the basic granularity for our understandable IT structure.

But we need to think much further than just business applications. When we talk of applications, we think of software, as distinct from hardware or infrastructure or support processes. We want to bring all the people, processes and technology of IT into our definition.

For this reason, use the term "system". A system is an interrelated set of people, processes and technology that does something useful for the business. The granularity we need is the same as business applications. But we need a much broader scope, and our definition of system include the business usage of the application, the software and hardware on which it runs, the service and support processes around it, and all the people needed to deliver the IT capability.

Using this definition, "system" meets our requirements. It is understandable and recognisable by both business and IT. It is connected to value because we can consider the value derived from the information that it stores, processes and communicates. We can understand all the people, processes and technology that go to make up the system.

Next week I will cover how we can use this way of thinking to overcome the problems caused by fragmented and inward-looking IT management.

Next: What's really going on 4: putting it all together

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