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8 September 2009

Wrapping infrastructure and architecture 1: why

By Andrew Clifford

Make IT infrastructure and architecture easier to manage by wrapping it in a management model.

What do we manage in IT, and how do we manage it?

We manage money. We negotiate purchases, raise orders, manage invoice payments. But at a higher level, we do not talk about individual purchases, orders and invoices, we talk about budgets. We use budgets to set spending limits and to control expenditure. We use budgets as a way of wrapping up money to make it easier to manage, leaving the detail of the management to the managers involved.

We manage activities. We plan work, assign tasks, manage resources, control progress. But at a high level, we do not talk about individual tasks and resources, we talk about projects. We use projects to wrap related work into meaningful units of change, making them easier to manage, and leaving the details of management to the managers involved.

We manage the delivery of services. We run operational schedules, run help desks, contract offsite services, purchase connectivity, and so on. But at a high level, we do not talk about schedules, staff, offsite services and connectivity. We use wrappers like Service Level Agreements (SLAs) to embody a set of service requirements and to manage and control their achievement, making them easier to manage, and leaving the details of management to the managers involved.

In each of these cases, we create a wrapper to help management. Instead of dealing with the detail, we create a management model that hides the detail. Budgets, projects and SLAs are not perfect, but they are much better than dealing with all of the detail all of the time.

Some parts of IT have not got wrappers. We have not got good wrappers for the long-term management of IT, for infrastructure investment, for architecture. To a small extent they are managed within other wrappers. But mostly, we try to deal with them as they are. We try to get justification for a new storage array, try to make a case for improving documentation, or get business sign-off for an enterprise architecture. However much we try to make these business-facing and high-level, we are stuck with trying to manage them naked, without a wrapper to make their management easier.

We need a wrapper for these other parts of IT. We need something that allows us to record requirements for them, and to manage and control these aspects, without getting into the detail all of the time. We need something that helps us have meaningful conversations with our business colleagues.

What should this wrapper look like? The other wrappers are high-level abstractions that represent the main thing that management is concerned about, but which can contain and structure the detail reasonably well. What sort of high-level abstraction do we need for the long-term management of IT, for ongoing infrastructure investment, or for architecture?

We need a new wrapper, separate from budgets, projects and SLAs, to help us manage these other parts of IT better.

Next week I will introduce what I think this new wrapper should be.

Next: Wrapping infrastructure and architecture 2: how

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