Create a hybrid IT strategy that delivers on organizational goals.
Hybrid IT is the go-to IT strategy for enterprise organizations. But if not strategically designed, hybrid operating environments can become unruly. The result is a chaotic and expensive mixture of infrastructure and technology that does not support business goals or provide ROI.
“From Accidental to Intentional: How to Align Your Hybrid IT Strategy with Business Goals” explores how to bring IT and business together to craft a strategic plan for designing and building an intentional hybrid IT environment.
ight-sizing hybrid IT requires a strategy that aligns technology choices with business goals. It is purposefully architected. It is intentional. It requires assessing where the organization is today and where it needs to go to achieve its goals.
- IT and the business have competing priorities and work in siloes, resulting in misalignment.
- Mixed operating environments evolve naturally and without strategic implementation.
- Technology barriers limit IT’s ability to deliver on strategic business goals.
- Conduct strategic planning workshops to bring business and IT stakeholders together to align on business goals.
- Identify enablers and barriers that will either advance your strategy or hinder its progress.
- Perform data center discovery for a holistic view of the current hybrid IT environment.
- Rationalize current IT assets to begin to develop your future-state hybrid IT environment and associated strategy.
For many organizations, hybrid IT occurred unintentionally or happened in isolation by accident. It can border on chaos when the environment isn’t strategically designed to align with business goals and objectives and tactically implemented utilizing business intelligence. From multiple owned and operated data centers, to colocation facilities, to IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS, a mixed infrastructure evolves and grows. Left unchecked, it can spiral out of control and result in wasted costs and inefficiencies that affect both IT and the business’s competitiveness in the marketplace. Without an IT strategy (hybrid or otherwise), your infrastructure and operational activities cannot be aligned with the business.
This white paper examines how to create a strategy for transforming ad hoc operations into a purposeful hybrid IT environment aligned to the business. The four-step process for developing the hybrid IT strategy begins with the business and ends with technology, culminating in a roadmap for mastering the hybrid IT environment:
- Understand the strategic business goals.
- Identify IT enablers and barriers.
- Assess the current state and develop future state options and requirements.
- Develop an IT roadmap and business case to implement the future state.
Understand the strategic business goals
The business’s goals are the driving force behind the strategic initiatives for IT, serving as the outline for IT to select technologies and architect the hybrid IT environment. In hybrid IT environments that evolved over time, without strategic direction and tactical implementation, businesses are often paying to support IT assets that are not bringing value to the business or are insufficient to support business goals, such as underutilized or antiquated technologies. In organizations where business and IT are not aligned, it can result in shadow IT, technology sprawl (application, server, cloud), workload redundancies, security breaches, unreliable services, poor data security controls, and poor technology choices that run counter to strategic goals.
A disconnect between IT and the business results when IT investments do not achieve ROI for the business’s strategic goals. The investments can fall short, and/or at times are directly in opposition to the business objectives. When the business doesn’t consider IT an integral part of the business, it risks losing the competitive advantage that can be gained from the technological innovations that IT brings to the table.
For business, information technology sometimes only exists to provide the capabilities the corporate staff need to achieve the company’s operational activities, and the business misses the opportunity to innovate alongside IT to further business growth, demands, and goals. In a hybrid IT enterprise that is strategically designed and intentionally implemented, IT can assist business with market penetration through technical innovation. For a fortune 500 financial institution, IT and business collaborated on a large scale data center transformation project that not only reduced IT capital costs and increased IT service delivery, but also improved business-IT relations. IT is an innovator and enabler when closely aligned with the strategic plans and goals of the business.
Key stakeholders from the business and IT have insight that should be used to create the hybrid IT strategy. Both groups should be brought to the table to align on the business’s goals. The process of bringing business and IT leadership together varies due to the history and structure of organizations. We find that for many, the conversation is most productive in a workshop setting with a third party present to facilitate the discussion. For others, it might be a business summit or a series of meetings held over the course of a few weeks. Begin by identifying the key stakeholders who will be responsible for implementing your hybrid IT strategy, invite them to the table, discuss your options, and document their goals and objectives. On the business side, stakeholders have the business intelligence to establish the requirements, but IT should determine the technical applications of meeting those requirements.
Questions to ask during this early stage include:
- How can IT improve service delivery in a way that aids the organization in achieving its goals?
- What IT services help or hinder business objectives?
- What processes and procedures are currently in place that are slowing delivery of IT services?
- How can we use technology to improve business efficiency?
- How can IT exceed the business’s expectations?
A workshop also provides an opportunity to identify market threats and opportunities. IT plays a large role in responding to both. To be successful, IT needs an agile, optimized operating environment to ensure that the business can respond to threats and quickly take advantage of opportunities.
Input from IT and business leadership will help to identify organizational roadblocks and the steps that must be taken to meet strategic goals. The steps can then be converted into near-, mid-, and long-term goals that IT will use to develop the hybrid IT strategy.
For example, if improving the customer experience is a top strategic goal, IT must architect an environment that is conducive to delivering those exceptional experiences.
Customers today expect instant responses to complaints, requests for services, service issues, and technical innovations. They are not content to wait, and they will move on or create solutions to fill those gaps and create innovations (e.g. shadow IT and projects), if their needs are not met.
When cutting costs is a top organizational goal, moving to the cloud or acquiring similar current infrastructure may be the wrong method to achieve that goal.
A recent David-Kenneth Group case study of several not-for-profit and for-profit organizations showed that the cost of cloud alone does not substantiate replacing current in-house infrastructure. Only through realizing the non-financial advantages of cloud solutions (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS) did it make sense to proceed.
While the business might be eager to capitalize on the benefits of cloud, IT must develop a comprehensive approach to ensure the overall health of the operating environment remains intact. Technology, however transformative, cannot solve all organizational problems, and it would be a mistake for the organization to invest in more technology without considering its impact on the organization as a whole. Not all application workloads belong in the cloud and, conversely, not all application workloads should remain on premise.
The series of workshops and conversations help reveal your hybrid IT strategy. In many cases, it is the process that helps reveal the right direction for aligning IT and business goals and objectives.
Once business and IT have aligned on the strategic goals and determined the direction the business will go, the next step is for IT to identify, document, and present the business’s current IT posture or as-is state. What do you currently have that can be better leveraged, consolidated, or optimized to meet your goals? What do you currently have that will stand in the way of achieving your goals? Depending on the organization, this technology discussion should include IT stakeholders with a firm technical understanding of the business’s IT capabilities.
Identify IT enablers and barriers
A hybrid IT environment is likely to have a number of barriers, both procedurally and technically, particularly if the environment is not intentionally designed and maintained. For organizations with multiple data centers and colocation facilities, and various forms of IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS, there’s no shortage of shadow IT and other technology barriers lurking in the data center at the infrastructure, application, and business layers.
Legacy systems, such as standalone point of sale systems, form a common type of barrier because they do not integrate with newer technologies. Where feasible, modernization of these legacy systems removes this common roadblock and keeps the business competitive. If not feasible to modernize, determine how to replace or retire the systems.
People also present a significant barrier to achieving strategic goals. Gartner reports that "through 2022, traditional I&O skills will be insufficient for 60% of the operational tasks that I&O leaders are responsible for." If there are skills shortages, consider whether you can provide the appropriate training or need to invest in new talent to manage hybrid IT.
Similar to barriers, you likely have technology enablers, assets that an organization currently has that could be used to meet or could accelerate meeting the organization’s strategic goals. To evolve from accidental to intentional hybrid IT, it’s critical to identify those technology earmarks that are indicators of where your hybrid IT can take you. What are your enablers, and how can they be used to support strategic goals? Do they need to be optimized to reach their full potential?
A process change that could help provide IT services more efficiently and effectively is an enabler. If an organization has technology in place that enables quick provisioning of environments, but a change control process that takes weeks, then how efficient has the IT organization really become? What process change can be implemented to make IT more efficient?
A second type of enabler identifies additional uses for equipment to reduce costs and improve service delivery. For instance, high resolution graphics require intensive numeric processing, which slows servers and workstations down when handling other tasks. In response, IT developed specialized Graphic Processing Units (GPUs) to offload this work. IT identified that GPUs could be successfully used as compute nodes. Doing so has reduced costs while improving performance for big data deployments.
All organizations have enablers or barriers that either increase or decrease their ability to deliver strategic goals. This review should be followed by a more in-depth technical analysis of your current state (as-is) to prepare the groundwork for planning a future state (to-be). The purpose of the hybrid IT strategy is not to start over or make significant IT investments, but to leverage current IT assets and rationalize them to achieve the desired state.
Assess the current state and develop future state options and requirements
Developing a current state profile or as-is understanding of your hybrid enterprise is elemental to planning for a future state. With an assessment of your current operating environment, including infrastructure and applications, you can begin to examine future-state technology options and determine what your IT roadmap will look like. Depending on your unique operating environment, it could be necessary to move application workloads, improve processes and procedures, and/or retire servers and other hardware, consolidate assets, or reduce the number of cloud services.
The below activities are performed through data center discovery, a process that leverages both an agentless auto-discovery tool and manual data collection through interviews, questionnaires, and direct manual inventory. Discovery provides a holistic view of your current environment and serves as the baseline for developing future state options and requirements:
- Review compute platform inventories.
- Review application portfolio inventories.
- Develop a summary of assertions, issues, and concerns about current operations.
- Review infrastructure capacity and utilization.
- Review workload and bandwidth requirements.
- Document application interdependencies.
- Document application to server mappings.
With this data in hand, a thorough understanding of the current operating environment is revealed, and the process of considering options and requirements for a future state can begin. It will reveal IT gaps that need to be closed and help prioritize IT projects vital to the desired future state. This is where the business case begins to take shape.
When developing and validating future state technology options, it’s important to document costs, staffing, security requirements, time to implement, and any potential disruptions to business. These details are foundational to helping the organization understand the necessary investments and potential risks associated with your hybrid IT strategy. The goal is to align your technology choices with the business’s strategic goals and to centralize your current hybrid IT assets to minimize additional software and hardware costs.
Future-state planning activities should include:
- Documenting future state application requirements
- Developing target architectures for on-premise and off-premise options
- Evaluating data center capacity, including leveraging cloud and colocation services
- Strategic analysis and placement of application workloads
The above activities are the baseline for your IT roadmap and business case. Your IT roadmap should detail how you will progress from your current to future state. Critical to your business case is to outline how your recommended future state aligns with business goals. To ensure business-IT alignment, involve business stakeholders throughout the development of the IT roadmap.
Creating a hybrid IT strategy that delivers on strategic business goals requires a shift in posture. A shift from seeing IT and the business as separate entities with differing or competing goals to strategic partners singularly aligned around common goals.
Having a full understanding of the business strategy is critical to IT’s ability to transform the hybrid IT environment from unintentionally designed to purposefully architected and methodically orchestrated. This strategic alignment is key to creating an organization that is competitive, innovative, agile, and hybrid by design.