7 years, 17 days ago

Ramblings of a disturbed consultant – Part 1.

Ramblings of a disturbed consultant…

“If all you have is a fire hose, every problem is a fire.”

-One police officer says to another while a firefighter attempts to stop a bank robbery with a large hose.

You spent a few million dollars on a really awesome IT Operations software suite. Hooray for the ever expanding (or dwindling as the case may be) IT budgets! Fast forward a few months. Now you have to justify the money that has been spent, and prove your value to the organization. How do you do this?  It’s really easy. You go to your solution provider, and ask them to show you the value of their solution. “Show me why I should continue to give you money,” you say sarcastically, knowing that the amount of money that is spent and the value of the solution are not necessarily related.

fix-bugAs a solution provider, the answer is as clear as it always has been, “Here, Mr. Customer, are your top 10 problems that we are currently addressing, and here is the progress we have made for each.” Now, honestly, how many times have your largest IT problems been solved in a few months? In a year? If you work in the average IT organization your answer is never. You make progress towards your goals, but checking the “complete” box in a few months on the problems that have plagued your organization from the beginning, that’s a different story.

Let’s listen to your current project status the way your boss hears it. “You spent 2.5 million dollars of our company’s money to monitor and improve the performance of our most critical business services, and 1 year later we still don’t even have a baseline to measure the performance against.  How could you possibly show me the value in this solution?” You know that there are many moving parts to monitoring application performance (network, middleware, and infrastructure), and that they have different owners who work on different teams, follow different processes, and answer to different managers. This is a cooperative effort that requires an absurd amount of coordination, but your peers, your boss, and your business only cares about the results.  How did you get into this predicament? Let’s rewind:

Ramblings-of-a-disturbed-consultantThe likelihood that you woke up one morning and said, “That is a really cool piece of software; let’s go spend a couple million on it” is pretty low. Most likely, you had a fire to put out (or several fires). While you are pretty damn good at putting out your day-to-day fires with a fire extinguisher, this problem is a huge backdraft, and you know opening the wrong door is going to blow up in your face.  For this problem, you need a professional firefighter. So who do you call? The New York City fire department (read “Vendor X”), and you can bet your life that they attempted to sell you every firefighting tool at their disposal. You have problems? “Vendor X” has solutions.

“So?  What’s your point?” That’s what you’re thinking, you skeptical yet somewhat intrigued reader, you.

Well this isn’t the website for “Ma + Pa Donuts” that we’re attempting to monitor and optimize; this is an enterprise IT environment. It consists of several data centers, thousands of servers in physical and virtual forms, heterogeneous business services that span applications, subnets, databases, clouds, storage arrays, load balancers, firewalls, content providers, and oh my this stuff is extremely complex to say the least. In fact, it’s so complex that you can’t even fathom what actually needs to be done to fix the problems that you are now responsible for solving (hence the third party solution provider).

Reflect upon that thought for a moment. Now, when Vendor “X” comes in and sells you the “magic snake oil” that is the answer to all your woes, why do you accept that this solution could really work as easily as you were shown in that mind-blowing demo that the sales guy with the “really fancy sox” gave you? In that demo, were you shown how cumbersome maintaining 5,000 agents can be, or what’s required to manage the agents from a policy level? Were you shown what it really takes to manage a CMDB with millions and millions of configuration items and relationships that change daily? Allow me to answer that for you, “No.” If you were made aware of these details, you would have asked the quintessential question that no vendor or solution provider wants to answer: “How does this solve my problem, without creating more problems for me to manage?”  Perhaps the reason you don’t ask this question is because you already know the answer: it doesn’t.

Implementing complex software in a complex IT environment leads to (guess what) exponential complexity. “WTF?!! This is chaos!! What can one man do to circumvent the evils of vendor fire hose syndrome?” That’s you again, asking the right questions.

The truth is that there isn’t one right answer (I know you were super pumped that I was going to get you that promotion you wanted). However, my experience in the IT operations space as a consultant and solution provider has led me to three of the most influential factors in determining the success of your IT projects.

–          The “bottom-up” approach doesn’t work.

–          Your organization is not a beautiful unique snowflake.

–          Expectations and perceptions of value exist. Understand them, or face the inevitable disappointment of reality.

If at this point you have no idea what I’m talking about, then I have succeeded and you will have to come back to understand what these three points are, and how to control them like the business savvy IT master that you are.

This article is an introduction to a larger series of articles that will follow these three findings and how they relate to IT operations projects. Next up, we will take a deep dive into expectations and perceptions of value. In preparation of the next article, what do you value when it comes to selecting an IT solution provider?

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