Swimming in the IT Value Stream

IT StressBefore 2001, when information technology promised companies a means to greater advantage, the general thought was that greater IT investment meant greater advantage. So, IT spend was focused on growing company IT infrastructures and staffing highly technical staff to support and operate it. As time passed and the rate of new technology increased, the economic pressure of owning and maintaining large IT infrastructures became burdensome for companies.

Eventually, opportunity seeking companies learned that standardizing the components of IT delivery would not only allow them to operate lean, but if done in a certain way, also be used by others. They found that they could off-set their own IT spend and increase their margins by leveraging unused portions of their compute resources. This was followed by the establishment of these as products unto themselves which could further improve margins. Many aspects of IT delivery became commoditized and offerings of Infrastructure, platform and software “as a service” were born. These services began to compete with other corporate IT departments who delivered at much higher costs and significantly slower speeds. Companies began to re-think their IT investment options in favor of more frugal offerings.

The overall effectiveness for an organization’s IT strategy is not so much determined by the amount of IT investment, but rather how it has chosen to invest in IT. The Cloud has become a very attractive option for companies. However, the model for these services was not designed to be a total replacement for IT, but rather an alternative for certain IT components. Mapping business goals to viable solutions and administering them so they do so still remained essential. Key to this is successfully identifying the IT Value Stream and directing finances in a manner that maximizes productivity.

So…what does this mean? … The “IT Value Stream” is the flow between the various functions which deliver information-related solutions to the advantage of the organization that it supports. The amount of advantage that IT can provide is directly related to the volume and speed of this stream as compared to the cost of keeping it flowing. The level of success depends on how much the delivered information provides a competitive edge to the company while minimizing the cost of supplying it.

IT Leadership plays the role of custodian and guardian for the IT value stream. If the flow is impaired or misdirected, leadership acts to re-align or fix it.

Improved Data @ Lower Costs = Business Advantage

All of this makes sense…but only if the value stream is recognized and managed. Without due diligence, the value stream will tend to break into different directions and the advantages that were intended to be gained are weakened. Here are a few items to consider:

  • Identify the components that make up the value stream
  • Strategize how to increase the throughput of each component
    • Encourage focus on efficiency…re-usability, automation (IT as code)
  • Architect for smaller loosely coupled value stream components (Services)
    • Service Orientated Architecture
    • Design for scalability
  • Build quality control into the flow
  • Look to continuously improve

These are some of the fundamentals behind the “DevOps“ shift in IT culture. DevOps examines the intersection between software development, technology operations and quality assurance, and then optimizes them to provide rapid delivery of IT solutions. As businesses move faster to compete and technologies advance at a more rapid pace, solutions such as virtualization, cloud services, agile development, and data center automation are heavily influencing how IT is operating.
Many organizations choose to invest in generalized technologies. Ambiguously defined IT departments deliver solutions from scratch, often building or coding items similar to ones they have done before. Also, assumptions are made as to their responsibility and ability… (“The DBAs take care of that.”, “Then the Sysadmins do their thing.”, “I thought you guys were supposed to watch for that!”)

When evaluating the various functions within a company’s IT value stream, benefit can be gained by identifying generalized technology based solutions and rethinking them as service providers. As IT components are defined as distinct services, the delivery of applications and information becomes more nimble. Expectations from teams consuming these services are clear and rework is avoided. Efficiency becomes a byproduct and higher costs are replaced by greater value.


About Bob Sacca

A member of the Senior IT Leadership team for General Electric Corporate with 20 years of experience in IT management and leading Both cloud and data related initiatives. Current responsibilities include organizational migration of applications to cloud based architectures. Strategic administration of public, hybrid and internal cloud offerings for business solutions.
This entry was posted in CIO, Cloud, CTO, Information Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

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