We don’t need another hero

Chris Moore knows a lot about the rush of adrenaline an IT crisis can bring.

I met the City of Edmonton’s CIO last week as part of an event I hosted with CA Inc. on its concept of “Lean IT.” CA is advocating a strategy that it says will bring more predictability and quality into IT services, and we asked Chris to join our panel discussion to provide a bit of a reality check.

CA’s infrastructure management principal David Haywood, for example, talked at length about the fact that most IT performance issues get reported in directly from users. Not the best situation if you want to position your IT department as a proactive service bureau. Haywood suggested that by focusing on the operational, transactional and assurance view of IT services, you could potentially reach the point where you could do away with what he called IT “triage” – essentially a Band-Aid approach.  

It took Chris Moore to get at the people issues behind that kind of thinking. “A lot of the people who are focused on those routine, operational tasks that you would automate – they really like doing those tasks,” he said. They weren’t necessarily interested in being focused on higher-level activities that greater automation and discoverability of service issues can bring.

One explanation for this, apart from the comfort of the familiar, is that performing triage is about as close as most IT people will get to the heroics we see on ER, Grey’s Anatomy or any number of medical TV dramas. Haywood, however, suggested that by focusing on root cause analysis and “inductive modeling” to ferret out the fundamental flaws in IT services, you could get the same level of fulfillment. Chris agreed.

“We finally managed to track down the root cause of a performance issue that had been affecting us for over a year,” he said. “It was like someone just had a baby or something – you just felt like celebrating.”

We talk a lot in IT about being preoccupied by just “keeping the lights on,” but in fact they don’t really stay on. They flicker from time to time, and occasionally comes go completely dark. If IT departments were really keeping the lights on, they would lose interest in the task. Real success is boring to a good performer. The task for IT managers in 2010 may be to find more exciting failures.

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