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15 September 2009

Wrapping infrastructure and architecture 2: how

By Andrew Clifford

A management model based on systems and qualities provides a wrapper that makes IT infrastructure and architecture easier to manage

To make management easier, we wrap money, activity and service delivery in management models, such as budgets, projects and SLAs. We need to do the same for infrastructure investment and architecture.

We need to start by considering why we care about infrastructure investment and architecture. In the long term, these have a big impact on the value of what is delivered, on its cost and risk, and the ease with which new business changes can be accommodated.

We need a way of modelling this long-term value. It is not to do with "spending within budget", or "delivery on time and to budget", or "repeatable low-cost service excellence". A better model is to see IT as an asset, and infrastructure investment and architecture are ways of maintaining and improving the value of the asset.

It is hard to measure the value of the asset directly. It is hard to understand the business value of the processes an IT system currently supports, and to disentangle the contributions of IT from human resources, finance and so on. It is even harder to understand how the management decisions you make now will impact value in the long term.

The best we can do is to model long-term asset value by using a set of characteristics, or qualities, that act as indicators of likely long-term value.

To give an idea of practicalities, I will outline what we do in our Metrici ESQM method.

We do not deal with the whole of IT as a single asset. We split IT down into a series of assets that people recognise, typically using the granularity of business applications. We call these assets "systems", where each system includes all the technology, process and people required to deliver the services from the applications.

To establish measures, we agree a basket of qualities that are indicators of likely long-term value, and which are impacted by infrastructure investment and architecture. For example, we might consider clarity of ownership, ease of change, scalability, consistency with corporate standards. We also capture key management data such as strategic importance.

We assess each system against each quality. This gives a view of the likely long-term value of the assets, and shows risks and opportunities where infrastructure investment and architecture can have an impact.

This approach is simple and effective. It gives simple numerical measures. Because it is based on assets that people recognise (such as the "Sales System"), it is easy for business colleagues to understand. It shows which systems are good and bad, and through time shows which systems are improving and which are failing.

Importantly, this model provides the wrapper we need for parts of IT management that we find difficult. It wraps infrastructure investment and architecture using in a simple management model (systems, qualities, assets, value), and leaves the detail (server purchase, routers, architectural standards, systems design) to the managers involved.

It is not a perfect model, but neither are budgets, projects and SLAs. But it is a good-enough model that can improve the management of infrastructure investment and architecture to the levels of maturity achieved in other part of IT.

Next: Do you know what business you are in?

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