This discussion continues my series of how a theoretical IT organization might be structured. Today’s topic is the Operations side of the house. For this group, the first order of business is to “Keep the lights on” and deliver the IT services the business needs as reliably as possible. They also experience an interesting dichotomy: reduce the operational risk for the organization while simultaneously providing more services for less money. Does that sound like fun to you? It can be, with the right mind-set. You can imagine, however, why many look upon operations jobs as thankless, meaningless, all-risk-for-no-benefit prospects – when the leader is uninspired.
IT Operations functions break down into three major categories: Infrastructure Management, Production Support, and Risk Management. Infrastructure Management focuses on the servers, storage, networking equipment, databases, and middleware that keeps the organization humming. Production support focuses on the customer’s daily experience. Risk Management provides information security and ensures the quality of the systems produced and maintained by IT. It is an interesting and worthy distinction that the DBAs in Infrastructure are responsible for the physical databases while Production Support owns the data inside them.
In many organizations I have seen, Infrastructure Support personnel are the least inspired to excel. There are many good, talented people here, but if they do their job right, no one notices. A friend of mine was fond of saying: How do you know when you have a good Database Administrator? He’s bored to tears and no one knows he exists. This principle is true of the whole Infrastructure Support group. They are almost always in the blame-chain for everything that goes wrong in their area of expertise. It takes a special management style to lead such a group effectively. I’ll cover that in a future article.
Production Support is the Operations Group’s proxy for the customer – both internal and external. This is a high-stress, interrupt driven organization. They advise other groups from the customer’s point of view, own the data and therefore are responsible for data quality and scheduling any production data changes.
Risk Management is responsible for protecting corporate assets. It controls the usual information security functions as well as some less-common functions that other IT organizations place in other functional areas: Change Management and Quality Assurance. These latter are typically the perview of either infrastructure or production support, but properly are risks to the organization that must be managed.
IT Operations is also the natural “home” of two process framework disciplines, ITIL and CMMi, due to their focus on daily operations. These frameworks are rarely successful in implementation if the sponsor/champion is not in the right sub-discipline of Operations. ITIL is often best championed from the Help Desk, but could be led from other Production Support areas. CMMi is best led from Change Management. These frameworks require strong buy-in from all of Operations, but the group with the most “skin in the game” is typically the best to lead it.
In future articles, I will expand more on the three focus areas of IT operations as well as a separate article on process frameworks. Let me hear your thoughts on this article so I can be sure to fully discuss areas of interest to you – and more importantly, include your feedback in designing this theoretic organization. What kinds of problems do you see with this organizational breakdown?